Public Citizen Protests DOE Plan To Recycle Radioactive Metals

Flawed Hearing Process Indicates Nuclear Waste Recycling Is A Foregone Conclusion

ARLINGTON, Va. - The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is stacking the deck against the public in an effort to do the nuclear industry's bidding and ultimately authorize the recycling of radioactive waste into consumer products, Public Citizen said at a hearing today.

Even though there is virtually no public support for the recycling of radioactive waste, the agency has embarked on the process necessary to authorize it, Public Citizen said. As part of this process, the DOE is holding two public hearings today in Arlington. But the public was given just a month's notice - not enough time to study what is a complex issue and prepare comments, particularly during a time when so many people are away. The DOE is required to take public comments into account in determining the scope of its Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS).

The DOE - under heavy pressure from the nuclear industry - is developing a program to dump vast quantities of radioactive scrap metal into municipal landfills or to recycle it into everyday household products and industrial materials. Currently, some radioactive wastes and materials - except some metals - can be released from DOE nuclear weapons sites without restrictions. The DOE, in January and July 2000, banned the release of some radioactive metals, but the policy being discussed in the hearings would replace those bans. The DOE's process to authorize the release of radioactive metals begins with the PEIS being discussed at today's hearings.

The PEIS process has not had a promising start. The DOE initially contracted with San Diego-based Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) to perform an environmental review of the recycling plan. But SAIC would profit from radioactive recycling at a nuclear waste site in Tennessee - a clear conflict of interest. In late July, Public Citizen and others pointed out the conflict to the DOE, and the agency revoked the contract. A similar conflict involving radioactive recycling led to the termination last year of an SAIC contract with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"Today's hearings should have been postponed until another contractor was chosen," said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. "The agency should make all documents relevant to contractor selection available for review well in advance of any hearing. Evaluating the contractor is a crucial part of an open process."

Another flaw in the process was revealed this week. For a similar Cincinnati public hearing on Tuesday, a telephone conference was quietly set up to allow "interested DOE/contractor staff and stakeholders at Paducah and Portsmouth to participate," according to a DOE employee's e-mail. But members of the public who have expressed an interest in being kept up to date on issue and the PEIS process and who are on the PEIS distribution e-mail list were never notified or invited to participate by teleconference.

"It has become clear that the DOE really wants to hear only from its own employees and contractors who support this ludicrous plan," said Public Citizen policy analyst David Ritter. "When special notification regarding this issue is sent out to DOE staff, but not to those on the PEIS distribution list, it indicates the degree to which DOE wants to stack the deck at these hearings."

Yet another flaw in the process is evident in the DOE's choice of hearing facilitator: Holmes Brown, a longtime employee of Afton Associates, Inc. Afton Associates is a paid advocate for the interests of radioactive waste producers and has received funding indirectly from the DOE to promote nuclear programs. Public interest groups are requesting information from the DOE about Brown and about the conflict of interest in the now-cancelled SAIC contract.

"The hiring of a nuclear industry lobbyist to facilitate these so-called public hearings is clear evidence that the DOE is trying to push this plan through no matter what," Hauter said. "The DOE wants to help the industry follow the polluter's golden rule: The solution to pollution is dilution."

The DOE also has failed to make available to the public records indicating what radioactive materials have been and are currently being dispersed without restrictions or recycled into everyday products. Public Citizen is urging the agency to stop dispersing radioactive materials and to strengthen and expand its current bans on recycling radioactive metal.

The DOE hearings are to be held today from 2-5 p.m. and 8-11 p.m. at the Hilton Crystal City, 2399 Jefferson Davis Highway, in Arlington, Va. Public Citizen representatives will be available to consult with the public and the media at both sessions.

Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.

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