Change to state radioactive waste permit system proposed

Legislation has been proposed to increase the efficiency of state government by transferring the responsibility for issuing permits covering radioactive waste that is sent to US Ecology.

The authority would be transferred from the Washington State Department of Ecology to the state's Department of Health. The two departments support the move.

A hearing is planned by the House Government and Tribal Affairs Committee at 10 a.m. Thursday.

US Ecology is a commercial, low-level radioactive waste disposal site near the center of the Hanford nuclear reservation. It accepts waste from organizations like universities, hospitals, biotech firms and electric utilities.

The state leases 100 acres from the federal government for the waste disposal site operated under a sublease by US Ecology.

Now the Department of Health and the Department of Ecology share regulatory oversight of the US Ecology disposal site.

But in 2010, following Gov. Chris Gregoire's directive to look for efficiencies and consolidate agency functions, the two departments agreed to allow the Department of Health to review site use permit applications pending an anticipated transfer of permitting authority.

About 400 permits are issued each year to agencies that generate, package or broker waste that will be sent to US Ecology for disposal.

Now state law allows only the Department of Ecology to issue permits. The Department of Health reviews the applications and makes a recommendation, but the Department of Ecology must issue the permit.

Under the proposed legislation, the change to improve efficiency would be taken a step further and the Department of Health would issue the permits.

The Department of Health also inspects shipments of low level radioactive waste and approves of its disposal at the US Ecology site. It also has a senior resident inspector for site surveillance.

The Department of Ecology continues to serve as executive director and chairman of the Northwest Interstate Compact, a cooperative effort of eight states to share responsibility for low level radioactive waste management.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533;