WASHINGTON - May 20 - American Rivers called on the Senate to strike a provision from the authorizing bill for the Department of Defense that would allow the Department of Energy to leave a lethal brew of nuclear and toxic waste along the Savannah River between Georgia and South Carolina. Conservationists oppose the exemption -- and fear that the precedent could affect the fate of similar material stored at the Hanford Nuclear Facility along the Columbia River in the state of Washington, and the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory near the Snake River.
More than 100 million gallons of high-level radioactive waste are stored in underground tanks at the three sites. Federal law currently requires that the Department of Defense relocate high- level waste from these vulnerable facilities to a safer location. However, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has attached a provision to the authorization bill for the Defense Department that would circumvent this requirement by fiat -- reclassifying high-level waste at the Savannah River site as low-level waste subject to different standards.
Conservationists support an amendment offered by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to strike the provision.
"The American people expect their leaders to preserve a healthy environment for our children, and we applaud Senator Cantwell for challenging this cynical effort to use name games to get around that responsibility," said Rob Masonis, Northwest regional director for American Rivers. "Radioactive waste isn't tap water no matter how you label the bottle, and as long as it's along the Savannah River it's an accident waiting to happen."
The Senate Armed Services Committee never held a hearing on the provision, denying the public an opportunity to scrutinize the consequences of leaving dangerous materials in vulnerable locations for indefinite time periods. Masonis noted that radioactive materials leaching from the Hanford site have already been measured in the Columbia River.
Conservationists pointed to the disturbing parallel between this Senate provision and a recent proposal from the Bush administration to reclassify hatchery-raised salmon as wild fish - - a transparent effort to inflate salmon numbers to the point where they would no longer merit special protection. That proposal appears to be motivated by a desire to make it easier for timber companies and developers to foul streams inhabited by the endangered fish.
"People in the Pacific Northwest are getting a lot of doubletalk out of Washington DC these days, and the result could be dirty water for them and their children," Masonis said.