Washington Radioactive Waste, Initiative 297 (2004)

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The Washington Radioactive Waste Initiative, also known as I-297, was on the November 2, 2004 election ballot in Washington as an as an Initiative to the Legislature, where it was approved. The initiative adds new provisions concerning 'mixed' radioactive and nonradioactive hazardous waste, requires cleanup of contamination before additional waste is added, prioritizes cleanup, and provides for public participation and enforcement through citizen lawsuits.

Election results

Washington Initiative 297 (2004)
Approveda Yes 1,812,581 69.09%

Election results via the Washington Secretary of State.[1]

Text of the measure

The language appeared on the ballot as:[2]

Initiative Measure No. 297 concerns “mixed” radioactive and nonradioactive hazardous waste.

This measure would add new provisions concerning “mixed” radioactive and nonradioactive hazardous waste, requiring cleanup of contamination before additional waste is added, prioritizing cleanup, providing for public participation and enforcement through citizen lawsuits.

Should this measure be enacted into law?[3]

Fiscal impact statement

The 2004 State of Washington Voters Pamphlet lists the fiscal impact statement, as prepared by the nonpartisan Washington Office of Financial Management, as follows:[4]

Initiative 297 would prohibit disposal at contaminated facilities, such as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, of mixed radioactive hazardous waste from off-site sources until on-site wastes are properly managed and the sites comply with all state and federal environmental standards. The initiative also would increase grant funding to help the public and local governments to evaluate whether these standards are being met, and to review funding priorities. Over the first five years of implementation, additional grant funding of $4.8 million and implementation costs of $3.5 million would be paid, primarily by the federal government through surcharges on current mixed waste fees.

Assumptions for Analysis of I-297

  • Start-up: A February 1, 2005, start-up date is assumed.
  • Grants: The annual public and local government participation grant program is calculated to be $1.2 million per year starting in 2006, the initiative’s formula for the current Hanford clean-up budget of $2 billion authorized by the federal government (.0015 times the first $200 million plus .0005 times the balance of $1.8 billion).
  • Fees: The initiative specifies a calculation for the Department of Ecology’s (Ecology) annual mixed waste management fee that could total $11 million per year, based on a $2 billion annual Hanford clean-up budget (not less than 1-percent of the first $200 million plus .0005 times the remaining balance of $1.8 billion). Ecology would bill the federal Department of Energy (Energy) for the actual costs incurred to implement its regulatory program. Based on Ecology’s current costs of approximately $5 million per year and the projected costs to implement the initiative, it is not anticipated that the annual billing would reach $11 million per year.
  • Regulatory implementation costs: Ecology’s implementation costs, other than the grant program listed above and the commercial low-level waste disposal facility costs listed below, are estimated to total $3.3 million for the first five years. These costs include amending existing laws, issuing permits, developing revised clean-up standards, and issuing an order that Energy stop additional disposal of mixed wastes at Hanford until the site meets the revised clean-up standards.
  • Permit appeals: Under Initiative 297, some of Ecology’s actions could be appealed to the Pollution Control Hearings Board (PCHB) or other courts. The PCHB estimates that five appeals may be filed each year, at an estimated cost of $49,000 per year beginning in 2005, until the appeals are resolved.
  • Environmental impact analysis: The commercial low-level waste disposal facility at Hanford also would be required to comply with the revised clean-up standards. The Department of Health and Ecology would complete a supplemental environmental impact statement for the site during the 2005-06 period due to the revised clean-up standards, at an estimated cost of $200,000. These costs would be paid for by fees charged for waste disposal at this site – or the state General Fund if fee implementation is delayed. Additional costs, if any, to implement the revised clean-up standards are not known at this time. Any additional costs would be paid from fees already collected from generators, packagers, and brokers who have disposed of waste at this site.[3]



Supporters of I-297 as listed in the official Voter's Guide included:

  • Peggy Saari, First Vice President, League of Women Voters - Washington
  • Adam Smith, U.S. Representative, 9th Congressional District, Armed Services Committee
  • Lisa Brown, Ph.D., State Senator
  • Toby Nixon, State Representative
  • Peter McGough, former President, Washington State Medical Association
  • Gerald Pollet, J.D., Heart of America Northwest, Chair - Protect Washington.

Arguments in favor

These arguments in support appeared in the official State of Washington Voter Guide:[5]


Over a million gallons of toxic radioactive waste have leaked from Hanford’s High-Level Nuclear Waste tanks. Contamination is spreading toward the Columbia River.

The federal Department of Energy wants to avoid cleaning up this contamination, while using Washington as a national radioactive waste dump. Their plan doubles the radioactive waste dumped at Hanford.

I-297 ends the dumping of waste directly into the ground in unlined soil trenches and requires cleanup before more waste can be trucked into Hanford. I-297 requires cleanup before adding more waste from other nuclear weapons plants.


High-Level Nuclear Waste has leaked from 68 of Hanford’s 177 aging underground tanks. Instead of emptying the tanks and cleaning up contamination, the Energy Department wants to leave the radioactive sludge and avoid cleanup.

Without I-297, the Energy Department will add more radioactive waste to Hanford — exposing our families to 70,000 truckloads driven through our communities along I-90, I-405 and I-5.


“...Tank waste at Hanford threatens to pollute the Columbia River. ...[Energy] needs to clean up nuclear waste fully, not evade public accountability.” —Seattle Post-Intelligencer “...[Energy] hatched a plan to transport radioactive waste from around the country and dump it into what might as well be called the Great Columbia River Landfill.” —Spokane Spokesman-Review “...The department simply cannot be trusted to act in the interest of Washington and its environment.” —Tacoma News-Tribune VOTE YES ON I-297: HOLD THE FEDERAL ENERGY DEPARTMENT ACCOUNTAB

Rebuttal of Statement Against

Enough is enough. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation is already the most contaminated site in the Western Hemisphere. Millions of gallons of leaking toxic radioactive waste threaten the Columbia River. It’s time for government accountability. It’s time to clean up this dangerous mess before trucking in more radioactive waste. Other states have adopted standards that require cleanup before new dumping. Washington can too. I-297 protects jobs and costs no new taxes. Vote yes on I-297.[3]


The name of the committee that supported I-297 was "Yes on 297. Protect Washington." They raised $737,855 for their campaign to urge voters to vote "yes."[6]



The people who signed the official Voter's Guide argument urging a "no" vote on I-297 were:

  • Michael R. Fox, Ph.D., Co-chair, science and technology consultant
  • Wanda Munn, Co-chair, engineer
  • Shirley Hankins, State Representative, 8th Legislative District
  • Jerome Delvin, State Senator, 8th Legislative District
  • Leroy Korb, M.D., physician
  • Sid Morrison, orchardist.

Arguments against

These arguments in opposition appeared in the official State of Washington Voter Guide:[7]

I-297 is not about health and safety. It does not protect the average citizen in any way. Its design will enrich the attorney/special-interest industry.

I-297 is a mechanism to provide funding for certain non- technical groups to “advise” the State on scientific waste issues for decades to come.

I-297 adds to the heavy burden of business-hostile tax and regulations in this state.

If implemented, this short-sighted law would:

  • Adversely impact nuclear medicine and patients in Washington and elsewhere;
  • Diminish, and possibly eliminate, the jobs of experienced working men and women who now safely handle and treat the materials of concern;
  • Add no more authority to the State than it already has in existing law; and
  • Probably destroy the agreements we currently have with other states for them to accept wastes from Washington.

The handling of hazardous materials is an important matter not merely to voters in Washington, but to all Americans. The current compacts and management practices have been carefully negotiated and codified to protect all members of the public. These reciprocal agreements are working properly. If Washington rejects or complicates legally permitted shipments from other states, why would those other states continue to accept materials from us? And we are, right now, shipping to other states’ repositories, just as our planned programs intended. We can not possibly “clean up existing contamination” in Washington otherwise.

The initiative is misleading in its title. Statements of belief are represented as fact.

I-297 would make a bad, unnecessary law.

Rebuttal of Argument For

The support statement is as misleading as much of the initiative itself. Proponents infer that:

  • Any wastes entering this state would have the same form and same level of hazard as liquid generated 50 years ago. Untrue.
  • Cleanup projects won’t continue or have adequate safeguards without I-297. Untrue.
  • Newspaper editorial opionion alone is a good basis for credible decisions. Untrue.

Your taxes already buy ample State protection. I-297 adds nothing. Vote no.[3]

Path to the ballot

Initiative 297 was filed on June 9, 2003 by Gerald M. Pollet. 227,060 signatures were submitted to qualify the measure for the ballot to be sent to the legislature. When the legislature did not take action on the proposed legislation, the measure was placed on the ballot as provided by the state constitution.[8]

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