* WIPP hearings under way this week.

* Accidental nuclear strike still a possibility.

* International Campaign lecture for imprisoned anti-nuclear technician.

* The Environmental Protection Agency (or EPA) is conducting public hearings on licencing the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (or WIPP) to open a nuclear waste dump near Carlsbad, in southern New Mexico. The hearings will take place from January 5 through January 9, in Carlsbad, Albuquerque, and Santa Fe. The EPA announced in October that it proposed to certify that WIPP can contain radioactivity safely for 10,000 years. Critics of the WIPP proposal argue that the EPA's licencing process did not adequately review the application made by the Department of Energy (or DOE.) New Mexico Attorney General Tom Udall, who is scheduled to testify in Santa Fe on Thursday, plans to tell EPA officials "the proposed decision by EPA results from a defective process and reaches a wrong conclusion," according to Kay Roybal, his spokeswoman.

If the licence is granted, WIPP would be used for permanent storage of 6 million cubic feet of radioactive trash, tools, clothes and garbage contaminated with plutonium during the production of nuclear weapons. It would be stored in barrels, half a mile under the surface, in ancient salt beds 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad.

The EPA could issue a licence for WIPP in April. First, however, the agency is holding public forums in New Mexico, to get public comment on its proposed decision. February 27th is the deadline for written comment to the EPA. WIPP could open as soon as 30 days after the licence is issued, provided other requirements are met. The Department of Energy must also obtain a hazardous waste permit from the New Mexico Environment Department, as well as the EPA licence. State officials, after they issue a draft permit, will also schedule public hearings, so that members of the public can comment.

The EPA hearings began on Monday, January 5 in Carlsbad. They are scheduled in Santa Fe from 3 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, January 8 and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, January 9, in the Harold Runnels Building, 1190 St Francis Drive. Ironically, St Francis Drive, a main traffic artery, is the proposed shipping route for plutonium-contaminated waste through Santa Fe, should Wipp open as DOE has scheduled.

* According to a recent article inThe U.S. News and World Report, although fear of a nuclear attack is far less these days, the danger of an accidental launch is still present. During the Cold War, some U. S. policy makers were concerned about the dangers of a huge nuclear arsenal on hair- trigger alert, but most accepted the risks as an unavoidable price of deterring a massive surprise attack.

With the ending of the Cold War and the signing of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START I, nuclear arsenals in the U. S. and Russia have been cut by about one-third. Thousands of short-range tactical weapons have been mothballed and long- range bombers taken off standby alert. Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin further agreed, in 1994, to stop targeting strategic missiles at each other's country, although these missiles remain capable of being retargeted in minutes While many Americans now feel a lot safer, in fact, the danger of nuclear catastrophe has barely lessened. Both Russia and the U.S. still keep thousands of strategic nuclear warheads on hair-trigger alert, ready to be fired at a half-hour's notice.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin knows all about the potential for a disastrous mistake. In 1995, a Norwegian meteorological missile set off Russia's early warning system. The Norwegians had given notification, but it had not been passed to the Russian high command. Yeltsin and top generals came close to retaliating against what they thought could possibly be a surprise U.S. attack. Only the fact that the scientific rocket headed out to sea prevented a mistaken nuclear response with just moments to spare. And the risk of a horrible mistake icontinues to grow with the increasing political and economic turmoil in Russia. A recent Russian defense minister warned that defense spending cuts were eroding the integrity of Russia's safe guarding over its own nuclear weapons.

The Clinton administration is, for the first time, formally reviewing options for taking U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals off hair-trigger alert, increasing the amount of time needed to launch missiles. It would be possible to monitor compliance through on-site inspection or satellite images. De-alerting missiles would not only make the world safer, but might lead to a further disarmament that could eventually succeed in dismantling the nuclear balance of terror.

* The story of Mordechai Vanunu, a whistle-blowing nuclear technician now in an Israeli prison, will be told on Wednesday, January 28, at 7:00 P.M., at Cloud Cliff Cafe, 1805 2nd St., Santa Fe. The speaker is Sam Day, writer, editor, and peace activist, coordinator of the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu.

Vanunu, a nuclear technician employed by Israel's secret nuclear weapons program, is serving an 18-year sentence for telling British newspapers about the program. Israeli agents lured him to Rome and kidnapped him; he is now in his tenth year of solitary confinement, in a cell measuring six by nine feet. Vanunu is the subject of an international campaign calling for his release, and for Israel's acknowledgment of its never- declared nuclear arsenal. Amnesty International, the Jewish Peace Fellowship, Terry Anderson and other former Middle East hostages, and Joseph Rotblat, winner of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize, are among those calling for his release.

Sam Day has himself served state and federal prison terms for non-violent civil disobedience at U.S. military and nuclear installations. In 1992 he received the Martin Luther King Peace Award of the U.S. Fellowship of Reconciliation. The lecture is sponsored by Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety and The Los Alamos Study Group.

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