City of Santa Fe asks "Nuclear Laundry" to Return

Secret British Nuclear Weapons Program Documents Discovered on Street

Citizens Groups Protest Planned Restrictions on the Public's Rights at Hearing

*Unitech Services Group, a Massachusetts-based company, formerly known as Interstate Nuclear Services (or INS), ran a laundry in Santa Fe that washed radioactively contaminated uniforms from Los Alamos National Laboratory until it was forced to cease operations under a City order four years ago. Unitech was recently asked by the City of Santa Fe to return to town.

Ever since Unitech had to close its Santa Fe outlet for violating city sewage regulations in 1996, the company has fought the City's efforts to regulate its wastewater discharge in court. Earlier this year, the company won a federal court ruling striking down the city ordinance that regulates radioactive discharge on the grounds that the law usurped federal authority and was therefore invalid. The City's immediate attempt to appeal the ruling was denied by the U.S. district judge that made the decision. The case will remain open until a jury decides all 11 counts that are involved in the case.

The attorney representing the City of Santa Fe, Ellen Casey, and City Attorney Peter Dywer, have acknowledged that the City recently invited Unitech to return if the company is willing to adhere to guidelines set forth in the previous 1997 court settlement. "We're caught between a rock and a hard place," Casey said, meaning that the City of Santa Fe has to comply with federal wastewater regulations and at the same time not overstep the authority given to the City to regulate.

Following the recent ruling, representatives of Unitech announced that they would seek $3.5 million in compensation from the City of Santa Fe, a figure that far exceeds the city's insurance for lawsuits and may have to be paid from the city's general fund. The city is likely to file an appeal once the entire case is finished.

Unitech currently has a New Mexico Environment Department license to package contaminated laundry for shipment to a Unitech facility in California.

*A set of documents that allegedly contain secret information about Great Britain's nuclear weapons program were discovered on a street near the Aldermaston nuclear weapons factory in Berkshire last week. The papers, dated March 10, detail the country's nuclear weapons research, development and production goals and discuss plans for international collaboration with the U.S. and France.

Although the British government is under pressure to reduce its nuclear weapons stockpile under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has not publicly announced any intentions to build new weapons, the secret documents reveal plans for the development of new weapons such as a smaller precision warhead to destroy enemy bunkers. The papers also contain plans to assess employee skills within the British nuclear weapons complex to guarantee that enough professional expertise is available to design new weapons. Further, they detail the need for partnerships between weapons researchers and universities and staff exchanges with French and American nuclear weapons laboratories.

The British Ministry of Defense's public position on its nuclear weapons program is to merely "maintain a capability" for the deployment of nuclear weapons.

*A coalition of more than 100 consumer rights and environmental organizations appealed to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) last month to halt its plans to conduct informal public hearings instead of formal ones, a move which would severely restrict the public's opportunities to fully participate in the decisionmaking process on a variety of nuclear safety related issues. In formal hearings, the public has the right to obtain documents through discovery and to cross-examine hearing participants, whereas in informal hearings, those opportunities are not available.

"We believe that the Chairman's move to limit the public's rights is wrong and will further erode public confidence in the agency, the nuclear industry and any potential resolution of the high-level nuclear waste problem," says Wenonah Hauter, director of Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project. Some groups note that the nuclear industry promised in a deal made in the late 1950s to allow extensive hearings in exchange for being exempted from state and local regulation. James Riccio, senior analyst for Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project, says: "We see no reason to give away our rights to cross-examination and discovery. We do not accept the nuclear agency and industry notion that ignorance is bliss."

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