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Disposing of Nuclear Waste

May 22, 1992



In the Opinion page article "Dismantling Nukes: as Serious a Task as Building Them," April 6, the author contends that the technical challenge of post-cold-war dismantling of nuclear weapons and the safe disposal of plutonium recovered from those weapons is beyond the skill of the United States government. This is an untrue assertion, supported, he indicates, primarily by the views of an unnamed Senate staffer. The author should have at least mentioned that the Department of Energy already had dismantled

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more than 50,000 nuclear weapons over the past 30 years without any serious accidents, in accordance with detailed, rigorous, and proven safety procedures and standards.

The author quotes the Senate staff person, who proclaims: "There are people in Pantex [Texas] walking around with a lot of plutonium in their bodies. They're going to become a new class of nuclear untouchables." This is also untrue. The Department of Energy and its plant operator, Mason and Hanger, are committed to a safe, secure, and responsible weapon-dismantlement program which simultaneously protects the workers and the environment. All workers are carefully monitored, and there is no evidence that a ny workers at present or in the 41-year history of Pantex have ever ingested any plutonium. Richard A. Claytor, Washington, Assistant Secretary, Defense Programs, Department of Energy

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