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Energy Department fights fine at Washington nuclear facility

October 29, 2004

Richland, Washington-- The U.S. Department of Energy and two contractors at the Hanford nuclear site have appealed a record $270,000 fine issued by the state of Washington last month.

The State Department of Ecology contends the federal government shipped unknown waste from another nuclear site to the south-central Washington reservation. The penalty was the largest the state has ever issued to the Energy Department.

In documents filed with the state Pollution control Hearings Board, the Energy Department, contractor Fluor Hanford and subcontractor Duratek Federal Services of Hanford contend the state is holding them to regulations that do not apply to plutonium tainted waste shipped to Hanford from the Savannah River nuclear site in South Carolina.

Even if the board does find the regulations apply, the fine is excessive, the documents said.

"Ecology would have the board believe that the Hanford Facility is an egregious violator of the state's dangerous waste regulations, but the facts simply do not support such an unfair proposition," according to the appeal documents.

The violations center on 83 drums of debris from Savannah River, which has been conducting treatment studies on waste from Hanford's 177 underground waste tanks. The waste is the remnants of decades of plutonium production for the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal.

Federal law allows the waste to be shipped to South Carolina for study and returned to Hanford, exempting it from provisions of state and federal hazardous-waste reg, clothing and supplies that may have been contaminated in the testing process.

Waste brought to Hanford also falls under state regulations for hazardous waste, which mirror federal regulations, state officials said.

The state fined the Energy Department and two contractors for not following regulations, which include requiring trained workers to observe the packing of the drums, verify the type of waste and place a tamper-resistant seal on the drums.

The Energy Department and the contractors say they managed the waste in a safe manner.