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The Rocky Flats weapons plant stored hazardous waste illegally for a decade by claiming it was being saved for recycling, a federal judge has ruled, apparently making the plant subject to state regulations.

"This takes a big step toward making clear what they can and cannot store and what is and is not hazardous waste," said Maggie Fox of the Sierra Club, which sued the U.S. Department of Energy over storage of the material at the plant.The ruling, issued Monday by U.S. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock, does not call for fines or other penalties.

But it apparently will force the plant to meet state hazardous-waste regulations on storage of ash and other residue left over from waste incineration.

The plant shut down its incinerator last year as part of the lawsuit, but for years it had burned waste tainted with radioactive plutonium.

Plant operators had argued that the resulting ash was exempt from state regulation because the plant was storing the material for recycling of the plutonium it contained.

Court records showed that plutonium actually was recovered from less than 10 percent of the tons of residue stored.

Triggers for nuclear weapons were assembled at the plant, but most of the plant's plutonium-related operations have been shut down since late last year, partly for a seasonal inventory and partly because of technical problems.

Energy Department attorneys argued that any ruling designating the residue as regulated waste would jeopardize an agreement with the state over handling, storage and generation of hazardous waste at the plant.