Rep. Newhouse urges DOE to uphold HLW interpretation

April 7, 2021, 7:02AMRadwaste Solutions


In a letter written to Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R., Wash.) has urged the Department of Energy to maintain its 2019 interpretation of high-level radioactive waste. Newhouse was responding to a letter sent to Granholm by several special interest groups and state leaders asking that the DOE immediately rescind the HLW interpretation.

That special interests/state leaders letter, sent on February 26—one day after Granholm was confirmed as energy secretary—was signed by Washington attorney general Bob Ferguson, Washington State director of ecology Laura Watson, and Phil Rigdon of the Yakama Nation, along with representatives from Natural Resources Defense Council, Hanford Challenge, and Columbia Riverkeeper. The letter said, in part, “We look forward to working with you on the Department’s cleanup of legacy nuclear waste at sites such as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation located near Tri-Cities, Washington. Washington houses 60 percent of the nation’s High-Level Radioactive Waste with 56 million gallons stored in 177 underground storage tanks at Hanford."

In response, Newhouse wrote in his March 30 letter to Granholm, “Not only was it unprecedented and seriously lacking in judgment for these officials to sign onto a letter alongside special interest groups, the letter also purports to attack the scientific grounds of the proposal in a misleading and false manner.”

Newhouse added that rescinding the HLW interpretation would not represent the best interests of the communities surrounding Hanford, and that the letter asking that the interpretation be thrown out was done so without the input of those communities.

“Even though these local leaders have made numerous attempts to share their perspective with the governor’s office, the attorney general’s office, and the Department of Ecology on this issue, state leaders still went forward with sending you a kneejerk letter without consulting the local community—thereby tarnishing and jeopardizing what should be the start of an important and productive working relationship with new DOE leadership,” Newhouse wrote.

HLW interpretation: Issued in June 2019, the DOE interpreted the statutory term HLW by classifying waste based on its radiological characteristics rather than its origin. As a result, not all waste from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel has to be considered HLW. Communities surrounding DOE cleanup sites, including the Hanford Site, have supported the interpretation, maintaining that it will reduce risk to the public and environment by allowing the DOE to complete its cleanup mission earlier and at a lower cost.

The Energy Communities Alliance (ECA), which advocates for communities adjacent to or impacted by DOE sites, said that the HLW interpretation’s science-based approach is the best avenue for reaching DOE cleanup milestones. “ECA has urged previous administrations and now the current administration to continue pursuing the high-level radioactive waste interpretation to allow nuclear waste disposal decisions to be made based on actual radiological characteristics and risk to human health arising from the waste, rather than existing artificial policy standards that base waste classification on origin,” the ECA said in an April 2 update.

Under the HLW interpretation, waste from the reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel may be determined to be non-HLW if the waste (1) does not exceed concentration limits for Class C low-level radioactive waste as set out in federal regulations and meets the performance objectives of a disposal facility; or (2) does not require disposal in a deep geologic repository and meets the performance objectives of a disposal facility as demonstrated through a performance assessment conducted in accordance with applicable requirements.

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