NUCLEAR DUMPING: A USE FOR BOMBED ATOLLS?

It has been nearly 30 years since the last of 66 United States atomic bomb tests convulsed these atolls. On one island, radioactive soil and debris has been sealed under a huge concrete dome. On others, the final cleanup remains to be done. But President Amata Kabua wants Washington to consider the Marshalls' contaminated atolls - Bikini, Eniwetok, and Erikub - as storage sites for US high-level nuclear waste.

Why? Annual compensation payments of $100 million.

But first, Mr. Kabua wants a US-funded feasibility study to determine if it can be done ``safely'' and to assess the pollution levels of the current storage site.

``I'm not so sure the method employed [for] encasing the waste on Eniwetok is adequately safe,'' he says.

Kabua has pursued this plan for more than a year. But Congress has already designated Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the preferred site. Unless geological factors disqualify that site, it's unlikely others will be considered. And no new feasibility studies can go ahead unless approved by the US nuclear waste ``negotiator,'' a now-vacant position filled only by presidential appointment.

``It's a long shot. And it gets longer, the longer there's no negotiator appointed,'' says a spokeswoman for Rep. Barbara Vucanovich (R) of Nevada, an advocate for the Marshall Islands storage option.

Of course, the US isn't the only source of nuclear waste.

``Japan hasn't approached us - yet,'' Kabua says.

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