>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
>Our organizations oppose such releases of radioactively contaminated
>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;
>(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
>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
>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.
>Public Citizen, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, US Public
>Interest Research Group, Natural Resources Defense Council,
>Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical and Energy Workers Union