Senate Passes Graham Amendment to Reclassify Radioactive Waste to Avoid Cleaning It Up

Statement by Karen Wayland, NRDC Legislative Director

WASHINGTON (June 3, 2004) - In a stunning 48-48 vote, the U.S. Senate today rejected an amendment to strike language in the Defense Authorization funding bill that changes the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA), allowing the Department of Energy (DOE) to reclassify lethal high-level radioactive waste as "Waste Incidental to Reprocessing" in South Carolina. The language in the bill, which was written by DOE and added in committee by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), will allow DOE to abandon potentially millions of gallons of highly radioactive waste in leaking tanks in South Carolina, and set an alarming precedent for similar nuclear waste cleanup sites in Idaho and Washington.

The following is a statement by Karen Wayland, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council:

"Despite strong bi-partisan support for Senator Cantwell's amendment to strike a dangerous provision from the defense authorization bill, the effort to prevent the Bush administration from weakening nuclear waste protections fell in a tie vote.

"Senator Graham has done the dirty work for the Department of Energy, rewriting nuclear cleanup laws behind closed doors despite the risks to South Carolina and other states.

"Thanks to Senator Graham, the Savannah River Site could become the most radioactive place on the planet.

"We're shocked that Senator Graham and some of his colleagues would sell their states down the river so the Department of Energy can avoid cleaning up millions of gallons of highly radioactive waste in corroding tanks next to drinking water supplies.

"This legislative fix is a cruel trick that allows the Bush administration to leave a legacy of radioactive pollution that could endanger drinking water for millions of Americans.

"Unlike the Senate, members of the House prevented the Department of Energy's dirty and dangerous deal from polluting the defense bill. The fight to protect the public from radioactive waste now moves to conference committee."


DOE is responsible for cleaning up 253 underground tanks containing approximately 100 million gallons of high-level nuclear waste in Washington, Idaho, South Carolina and New York. In July 2003, a federal district court ordered DOE to remove the highly toxic radioactive waste from the storage tanks, many of which have already begun leaking, to protect human health. The ruling prohibited DOE from arbitrarily "reclassifying" the waste as "Waste Incidental to Reprocessing" and abandoning the waste in tanks beneath a layer of grout as the agency had planned. DOE has appealed the district court decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco. Six states (South Carolina, Washington, Idaho, New York, Oregon and New Mexico) have written in support of upholding the district court's ruling.