A recent decision in a federal lawsuit will result in the continued recycling of thousands of tons of radioactive metal for use in household products. Because of a loophole in the Superfund cleanup law, a federal judge said she could not order the Department of Energy (DOE) to stop the practice by which nuclear materials are recycled and used in everyday consumer products. The nuclear industry, in cooperation with the federal government, has been attempting to "deregulate" radioactive metals from weapon facilities and decommissioned nuclear power plants since the 1970s. Public Citizen and other citizens' organizations have successfully prevented this practice prior to the ruling.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit sought to force the DOE to conduct an environmental impact study of a $250 million DOE contract awarded in 1997 to British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. (BNFL) to "recycle" radioactive metals from uranium enrichment plants in Tennessee. Such a study would have delayed and possibly prevented the reuse of the radioactive metal.
In a June 29 decision, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler used strong language about the danger this recycling poses to the public, but said she could not order the DOE to write an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), thanks to a Superfund loophole. The judge described as "startling and worrisome" the absence of opportunity for
"public scrutiny or input on a matter of such grave importance ... the potential for environmental harm is great, especially given the unprecedented amount of hazardous materials which the Defendants seek to recycle."
The result: 100,000 tons of radioactive metals to be sold as scrap metal for use in items ranging from frying pans to baby c
arriages, said Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project.
Public Citizen and other groups are urging Congress and Vice President Gore to halt the nuclear materials recylcing contract between DOE and BNFL.