U.S. fights tribal suit over pollution

November 25, 2006|By McClatchy-Tribune

RICHLAND, Wash. -- The Department of Energy is asking a federal judge to dismiss some claims in a lawsuit brought by the Yakama Nation for natural resource damage at the Hanford, Wash., nuclear reservation.

The Yakama Nation, joined by Oregon, Washington, the Nez Perce and the Umatillas, is alleging that the federal government has failed to adequately assess harm to natural resources caused by nuclear contamination at Hanford from the past production of plutonium for the nation's nuclear weapons program.

The suit asks the federal court to order the DOE to follow federal Superfund law and begin an assessment of how pollution has affected natural resources, such as vegetation, animals, groundwater and the Columbia River.

If the DOE does not do the assessment or otherwise cooperate, then the plaintiffs want a federal judge to require the DOE to pay their costs of doing the assessment.

If damage remains after cleanup is completed, then states and tribes that have treaty rights reserved at Hanford for hunting, fishing and gathering might file claims against the polluter, the federal government.

But the DOE argued in court papers that it is too soon to assess damage for most of Hanford.

Claims for natural resource damage may not be brought until final decisions are made on how to clean up different areas of the site if the federal government is diligently proceeding with studies of contamination and how to clean it up, the DOE said in papers filed in U.S. District Court.

The DOE has made mostly interim decisions on how to clean up key areas of Hanford, the DOE argued. Those areas include the 300 Area where fuel was manufactured, the 100 Area where nine reactors irradiated the fuel and the 200 Area where irradiated fuel was chemically processed to remove plutonium.

Without final cleanup decisions, what residual waste might remain after cleanup is unknown, according to court documents.

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