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DOE faces waste problem of nuclear proportions.

WASHINGTON - "Here we have an example of independent regulation (of radioactive nuclear weapons waste disposal programs) working," said Don Hancock of the New Mexico-based Southwest Research Information Center.

He was referring to the recent government cancellation of a $1.2 billion nuclear waste storage safety test on materials to be stashed 2,000 feet down a still-empty Carlsbad, N.M., salt mine.

The Clinton Department of Energy recently reversed a Bush administration plan and ordered the testing done in laboratories instead.

This is the second bold step for Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary, say nuclear ban advocates. She earlier had recommended to President Clinton that he not continue nuclear testing.

The Carlsbad project is known as WIPP - the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

"This WIPP decision is significant," said Hancock, "because the Bush administration had spent $200 million (on initial Westinghouse Corp.-contracted preparation of the salt mine site) and provoked a lawsuit that the federal government lost."

The suit contended that the Bush DOE was intending to place-nuclear waste in the ground for no technical or scientific reasons but was trying to demonstrate for political reasons, added Hancock, that the federal government was in the process of solving the nuclear waste problem.

Said a spokesperson for the Washington, D.C.-based Citizens Clearing House for Hazardous Waste, "given the Bush energy department, being the arrogant agency as usual," scientific and advocacy objections were not considered. "The energy department was doing what it wanted (at Carlsbad) with no concern for who it affects or what it does to the environment," he said.

Explained Hancock: "The Bush decision on WIPP was not supported by the courts or the scientific community. Even so, the Bush administration continued to badger the Congress to pass a law, which it did, permitting WIPP.

"But, for the first time in history," continued Hancock, "the law made DOE justify decisions like this to another agency, the Environmental Protection Agency. DOE didn't like that because it couldn't justify WIPP."

Thomas P. Grumbly, DOE assistant secretary for environmental management, primarily responsible for the decision, "listened to recommendations. At last we're getting people at DOE with a different perspective from the usual nuclear navy people," said Hancock.

Grumbly has announced that most of the laboratory testing may continue at Los Alamos National Laboratories.

Said Hancock, "Frankly, no one really knows where the lab testing will be. You don't need huge facilities for a maximum of 24 tests, 20 liters each. I'd argue for the Idaho National Engineering lab, which has so much waste (from Rocky Flats). I'm opposed to trucking waste around for no particular purpose."

California-based Livermore Laboratories watchers "support the groups in New Mexico concerned about WIPP," said Marylea Kelly of Tri-Valley Cares, "but we all agree the ultimate answer has got to be to stop producing this waste - because there is no safe disposal."
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Title Annotation:cancellation of US. Dept. of Energy Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Author:Jones, Arthur
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Date:Nov 5, 1993
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