>SIGN ON BY August 5, 1999 to the following letter to VP Gore against >RECYCLING RADIOACTIVE WASTE INTO CONSUMER PRODUCTS and specifically >against the DOE/BNFL contract at Oak Ridge TN to recycle waste from 3 >massive uranium enrichment facilities. > >Dear Vice President Gore: > >We are opposed to the recycling of radioactive waste from atomic weapons >and power into consumer products, the marketplace and the environment. > > We are writing to call your attention to, and express our agreement >with, the findings in a recent Federal Court case, that the Department >of Energy's project to recycle some 112,000 tons of radioactively >contaminated metal from a nuclear weapons plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, >poses a "great" and unexamined potential for environmental harm. A copy >of the opinion is enclosed. > >The Oak Ridge project -- which you endorsed as an initiative that >"solves an environmental problem" -- involves recycling and selling >radioactively contaminated metals for use in commercial products, such >as cookware, furniture, and children's toys. It also establishes a >precedent for the Department of Energy ("DOE") and the commercial >nuclear industry to release more than 1.5 million tons of radioactively >contaminated metal from federal and commercial facilities throughout the >country. > >Our organizations oppose such releases of radioactively contaminated >materials. > >We request that you >(1) advise Secretary Richardson to discontinue the radioactive recycling >project until DOE completes an environmental impact statement; >(2) take steps to assure that DOE promptly prepares an environmental >impact statement pursuant to the requirements of the National >Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"); >(3) require DOE to provide information on companies and scrap metal >dealers that have received, are and will be receiving radioactively >contaminated metals and the products for which the metal is being used; >and >(4) direct the Council on Environmental Quality to investigate the >circumstances under which DOE proceeded with the project in the absence >of meaningful public participation. > >The Oak Ridge Radioactive Metals Recycling Project > >Just prior to the 1996 election, on October 30, 1996, DOE announced that >it was planning to award a contract to BNFL, Inc. ("BNFL") to recycle >and sell for commercial uses radioactively contaminated metals removed >from three nuclear materials processing plants at the Department's Oak >Ridge Reservation. At this time, you commended the Oak Ridge project in >a DOE press release for advancing your "reinventing government >initiative" and "clean[ing] up the environment." > > In 1997, prior to the award of the quarter-billion-dollar >cleanup >contract to BNFL, Robert Wages, then President of the Oil, Chemical & >Atomic Workers International Union ("OCAW") wrote to you opposing the >proposed project, arguing that it would "undermine the clearly stated >environmental values of this Administration." Mr. Wages sought a >meeting with you because he had serious concerns about the >Administration's decision to allow radioactively contaminated materials >into the marketplace -- particularly the potential impacts on workers. >You denied Mr. Wages' request for a meeting. > >At the same time, OCAW, other national environmental and labor groups, >and local citizens' groups raised similar concerns in a letter to the >Secretary of Energy, Federico Pena, and requested a meeting to discuss >the Oak Ridge recycling project. Secretary Pena also rejected the >proposed meeting; although in an effort to mollify their concerns, his >office assured the groups that "the Secretary feels strongly that >Department of Energy has a responsibility to the residents in all >communities in which DOE operates." > > Despite these efforts and others, DOE failed to provide any >opportunity for meaningful public review. As a result, OCAW, the >Natural Resources Defense Council, the Nuclear Information and Resource >Service, and two Tennessee groups determined that no other recourse >remained but to file suit seeking an order requiring DOE to prepare an >environmental impact statement for the Oak Ridge Project. On June 29, >1999, however, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler found that she >was barred from addressing the plaintiffs' National Environmental Policy >Act (NEPA) claims by a provision of the Superfund law, 42 U.S.C. >9613(h) ("Section 113(h)"), which denies federal courts jurisdiction to >hear any challenges to Superfund cleanups until they are completed. > >The Federal Court's Findings of Significant Environmental Impacts and >Serious Procedural Irregularities > >Judge Kessler found that DOE's recycling of radioactive metals for >products used in American homes and businesses poses "great" potential >for environmental harm, "especially given the unprecedented amount of >hazardous materials [DOE and BNFL] seek to recycle." Judge Kessler >concluded that there was "ample evidence that the proposed recycling >significantly affects the quality of the human environment," and that >"[i]n the absence of Section 113(h), an [environmental impact statement] >would clearly have been mandated under NEPA." > >Judge Kessler identified serious procedural deficiencies. Judge Kessler >found that DOE failed to provide an opportunity for public notice and >comment required under federal Superfund actions, and was "quite >troubl[ed]" that DOE "provided no adequate explanation" for this >omission. Judge Kessler went on to criticize DOE for limiting "public >scrutiny or input on a matter of such grave importance" and found DOE's >actions "startling and worrisome." These concerns were heightened >because the absence of "public scrutiny is [] compounded by the fact >that the recycling process which BNFL intends to use is entirely >experimental at this stage." > >Two years following the award of the contract -- after millions of >taxpayer dollars have been expended -- Judge Kessler found that >"Plaintiffs allege, and [DOE and BNFL] have not disputed, that there is >no data regarding the process' efficacy or track record with respect to >safety." Judge Kessler's concerns about safety were elevated again >because "no national standard exists governing the unrestricted release >of volumetrically contaminated metal," which includes contaminated >nickel at Oak Ridge. According to the Judge, "[t]he result is no >oversight by any federal regulatory agencies." > >In addition to the problems identified by Judge Kessler, we note that >the record in the case reveals many other troubling aspects of the Oak >Ridge project, including (1) the highly questionable process by which >the contract was awarded to BNFL; (2) DOE findings that the BNFL team >has operated in violation of basic environmental and worker safety >protocols -- indeed, several accidents this spring caused BNFL to halt >the project to address worker safety deficiencies; and (3) the secrecy >under which BNFL sought authorization from Tennessee to proceed with the >unrestricted release of volumetrically contaminated nickel. > > In sum, Judge Kessler's June 29 decision confirms that -- as >labor, >citizen, and environmental groups stated to you and Secretary Pena two >years ago -- the Oak Ridge recycling project is proceeding in blatant >and knowing disregard of basic principles of public participation, and >your own commitment to protecting the environment and human health. > >It is imperative that we meet with you as soon as feasible to discuss >the actions necessary to assure that the many health and safety issues >associated with the Oak Ridge project are addressed publicly and that >the public is given an opportunity to comment formally on the project. >Please contact Wenonah Hauter at 202-454-5150 to schedule a meeting. > >Thank you for your consideration of this critical issue. > >Sincerely, > >Public Citizen, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, US Public >Interest Research Group, Natural Resources Defense Council, >Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union >