Fast flux on a fast track

  Washington state officials have been firing warning shots at the federal Department of Energy, threatening fines for the sluggish pace of cleanup at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation (HCN, 5/11/98). "We have had a change of philosophy. We are going to hold their feet to the fire," says Democratic Gov. Gary Locke.

Yet Locke is ready to give the Department of Energy the go-ahead to restart nuclear weapons production at Hanford's Fast Flux Test Facility, a mission that many fear will further slow cleanup of leaking storage tanks (HCN, 9/1/97).

The reactor was shut down in 1993, but the Department of Energy placed it on "hot standby" in case the Defense Department needed tritium, a key component in nuclear bombs. The DOE says the reactor could also produce medical isotopes as well as bombs, and both the governor and Washington Sen. Patty Murray, D, believe this justifies a restart. The Washington State Medical Association disagrees, however; it says isotopes are not in short supply. Proponents say restarting the reactor could create some 1,000 jobs.

Opponents are most concerned about the reactor's effect on cleanup efforts. "They're robbing ($32 million a year) from the cleanup account to fund (the reactor) at a direct cost to the health and safety of the Columbia River and the public," says Gerry Pollett of the nonprofit group, Heart of America Northwest. Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, D, has also criticized funding the reactor.

The Washington State Department of Ecology is reviewing comments from public hearings and will take a position on the reactivation this summer. The Energy Department is expected to decide on the reactor's status in December.

* Chris Carrel

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