A recent poll shows that seven out of 10 likely voters in Washington state will vote in support of Initiative 297, which deals with the clean-up of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
However, not everyone in the state is getting behind I-297 and the clean-up efforts it suggests. In recent months, Congressman Richard "Doc" Hastings, who traditionally refrains from commenting on state initiatives, has come out against I-297.
"I'm making an exception because the political effect is so profound that I felt I had to come out against it," Hastings said.
According to Betty Means and Bob Cooper of the Yes on I-297 Committee, the initiative will prevent the U.S. Department of Energy from using the Hanford Nuclear Reservation as a national radioactive dumpsite and will require the Energy Department to properly clean up Hanford before dumping more radioactive waste at the site.
According to the Yes on I-297 Committee, Hanford is already one of the most contaminated places in the Western Hemisphere, housing two-thirds of the country's high-level nuclear waste.
If Initiative 297 is passed by voters in November, it will require the Department of Energy to clean up the radioactive contamination at Hanford before additional waste can be dumped at the site. It will also prevent the use of Hanford as a national radioactive dump site. Another issue the initiative tackles is the use of unlined soil trenches for the storage of nuclear waste. I-297 will make it illegal for the Department of Energy to dump waste into these trenches.
Hastings said one of the reasons he is opposed to I-297 is because the regulation of radioactive waste is something that has always been handled by the federal government. Hastings noted that if I-297 is passed by voters in November, the initiative will be regulating waste.
Hastings said he has no doubt in his mind that if the initiative is passed it will be challenged in court and if it is upheld in court, then there is nothing from preventing other states from passing similar legislation. Hastings explained that if this happens, it will mean only one thing - Washington will get stuck with the high-level nuclear waste that is already at the Hanford site. He added that it will also mean that all of the money being spent on the vitrification plant, which transforms volatile nuclear waste into a more stable glass-like substance, will end up being used to transform the chemical make up of the nuclear waste, only to have it housed at Hanford.
"It could all stay here," Hastings said.
Hastings is not the only person who has come out in opposition to Initiative 297. The Tri-City Industrial Development Council (TRIDEC) has also come out against I-297. According to TRIDEC, there are plans to ship the high-level nuclear waste out of Hanford to storage sites in other states. On the other hand, more waste will be shipped into the Hanford for storage at the local site, but according to TRIDEC and Hastings, the waste coming in will be low-level and mixed low-level waste.
The Yes on I-297 Committee claims that the passage of the initiative will not lead to other states not accepting any more nuclear waste because, according to the committee, the only standard a state can use to block waste is that it can be barred from contaminated sites that do not meet standards. The committee notes that there is no provision in the law that would allow the blocking of deposits in deep geological repositories. According to the Yes on I-297 Committee, processed waste from Hanford is currently being sent to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project in New Mexico, which is a deep geological repository.
At this point, I-297 has been endorsed by a wide range of groups and individuals, including U.S. Representative candidate Craig Mason, a Democrat running for office in the Fourth Congressional District; State Representative cadidate Warren Zesifer, a Republican in the Eighth District; the American Lung Association and the League of Women Voters of Washington.