Environmentalists alarmed over Trump's plan to reclassify nuclear waste

THE TRUMP administration is seeking to dispose of radioactive waste more cheaply and easily – reportedly by reclassifying it at a lower threat level at certain locations around the country.

The Energy Department has apparently proposed lowering the status of certain radioactive waste produced at the country’s nuclear weapons labs, stoking alarm among environmentalists, nuclear watchdogs and Democratic lawmakers.

The new rule would apply to nuclear waste at several sites around the country, including the sprawling Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington, which was established as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II and developed most of the plutonium for the nation’s nuclear stockpile, as well as Idaho National Laboratory and the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina.

Critics of the proposal warn that reclassifying radioactive waste could end up allowing authorities to simply leave it in the ground or in underground tanks – some of which have leaked – rather than sending it to a repository to be stabilized and buried. Hanford, notably, sits next to the Colorado River and is at risk of earthquakes.

There “is not much point in doing much else if they don’t clean up the high level waste,” Tom Carpenter, of the nuclear watchdog group Hanford Challenge, told the Associated Press, which first reported the Energy Department’s proposal.

The federal government has struggled for decades to find a long-term solution for disposing of nuclear waste. The new proposal would essentially allow the waste to stay in the ground at several locations around the country.

The Energy Department says the move would save as much as $40 billion. Cleanup at the most contaminated site in the U.S., the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington, has been underway since the 1980s and seen its costs balloon to $2 billion each year. Other sites include the Idaho National Laboratory and the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina.

Lawmakers and local watchdogs, however, contend that the proposal simply reduces current standards rather than putting forward a viable – and environmentally sound – long-term solution for radioactive waste. The proposal is the latest move by the Trump administration to loosen environmental protections, from air pollution standards to clean water regulations.

“No one disputes the difficulty of retrieving and treating high-level waste from Hanford’s aging storage tanks,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, wrote in a letter to the Energy Department . “However, lowering the bar for level of protection of future generations and the environment by changing the definition of what has always been considered high-level waste requiring permanent disposal is a significant change.”

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