SPOKANE, Wa./ IDAHO FALLS, Idaho - The U.S. government will reclassify some of the nation's most dangerous radioactive waste to lower its threat level.
The U.S. Department of Energy said Wednesday that the decision is intended to make it cheaper and easier to clean up nuclear weapons production sites in Washington state, Idaho and South Carolina.
The material has languished for decades in the three states. The waste is housed at the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina, the Idaho National Laboratory and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington state.
Critics say the change is a way for federal officials to walk away from their obligation to properly clean up a massive quantity of radioactive waste left from nuclear weapons production dating to World War II and the Cold War.
But, a spokesperson for Second District Congressman Mike Simpson disagrees with that assessment. Nikki Wallace said DOE was planning to reclassify some high-level waste based on radiological characteristics. The current system is based on where the waste originated.
She said some waste was classified as "high level" because of where it came from, even though it is probably low level TRU, or transuranic, waste based on its radiological characteristics.
She said the reclassification would allow that waste to be disposed of in current facilities, as opposed to a high level waste repository like Yucca Mountain, which does not yet exist and probably won't for some time.
It is unclear how the reclassification might affect legal cleanup agreements with the state of Idaho.