U.S. Unseats Chemical Weapons Regulation Leader

California Ruling May Halt Shipments of Nuclear Waste

* The head of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (or OPCW), the world's chemical weapons regulatory body, was dismissed from his position this week after the United States spearheaded a vote to oust him. José Bustani was accused of gross misconduct by the U.S., which also threatened to freeze funding to OPCW if Bustani were not removed. OPCW was established in 1997 to monitor the destruction of the world's chemical weapons stockpiles and their production facilities. The organization conducts regular inspections of suspected commercial chemical manufacturers and weapons stockpiles. OPCW receives 22% of its annual $60 million budget from the U.S.

The U.S. accused Bustani of threatening inspections of five unspecified countries "for political ends, as a punitive tool to coerce member states into acceding to his demands." OPCW said that Bustani does not have the authority to order inspections.

The U.S. also accuses Bustani of refusing to consult with them before making decisions, such as when he proposed anti-terrorism measures following September 11th without first informing the U.S. OPCW responded that Bustani's action was "a responsible action on his part in regard to the concerns being expressed." The U.S. State Department needed only a two-thirds vote to expel Bustani, and said that it was confident all along that it had sufficient support within the organization to remove him.

Activists claim that Bustani's crime was that he was "too good at his job." According to reports, Bustani has overseen the destruction of 2 million chemical weapons and two-thirds of the production facilities. Bustani responded to the U.S. proposal, saying, "I would define this as my being independent, not taking instructions from one particular country, simply because that country is a major contributor."

*A California judge issued a ruling this week challenging the state's easing of guidelines for dumping low-level nuclear waste into municipal landfills. The ruling will likely halt shipments of nuclear waste from the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, a Department of Energy (or DOE) facility located between Los Angeles and the Simi Valley. According to reports, the waste from the Laboratory had been dumped at the Bradley Landfill in the Sun Valley neighborhood of Los Angeles for upwards of a decade.

The ruling said that state officials had failed to comply with environmental laws when they issued regulations to allow dumping of nuclear materials into landfills. This means that the waste that Santa Susana generates, particularly in current cleanup efforts, will be kept on-site until the issue is resolved.

Santa Susana is operated by Rocketdyne, a division of the Boeing Company for DOE. Although some of Rocketdyne's testing created the waste at Santa Susana, most of the waste was generated by DOE activities in the area. Santa Susana, which was opened in the early 1950s, once operated as many as 10 nuclear reactors and a plutonium fuel facility. Nuclear research at Santa Susana ended in the late 1980s.

Daniel Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a California watchdog group, testified at the hearing. Following the judge's ruling, he said, "It is a great victory for everyone who wants to keep radioactive waste out of municipal landfills, schools, parks and farms."

Back to News Index