Senate Backs Redefinition of Nuke Waste

The Senate voted narrowly yesterday to allow the Department of Energy to reclassify some high-level nuclear waste as “low-level” and leave it in place (albeit covered in concrete) rather than transport it to Nevada to be buried deep underground. The reclassification, contained in a provision inserted by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) into a defense authorization bill, technically applies only to the Savannah River nuclear complex in South Carolina. However, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) — whose amendment blocking the provision was defeated in a 48-48 vote yesterday — called it a “very, very, very dangerous precedent” and said it “leaves our state in jeopardy and it leaves all states with nuclear waste in jeopardy.” Cantwell and many enviros fear that the DOE will use the precedent to reclassify nuclear waste in Idaho and at Washington’s Hanford nuclear reservation — something it has attempted before, only to be blocked last July by a federal judge. The defense bill is far from finished, however, and Cantwell vows to continue fighting.