Protect the oceans

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Defense Department would do well to consider carefully their planned moves to allow dumping of radioactive waste in the world's oceans. Although the landmark Marine Protection Act of 1972 does not specifically preclude ocean dumping, such dumping has been considered contrary to federal policy. Indeed the only reason for the EPA's planned new rule is that citizens have stoutly resisted nuclear waste disposal near local communities. The Navy, meanwhile, is considering disposing of older nuclear submarines by deep-sixing them in ocean waters.

Congress and the Reagan administration have yet to come to grips with the whole question of atomic waste disposal. Merely dumping the problem in the world's oceans will not resolve the larger safety questions involved, and may in fact exacerbate them. That is not to say that low-level radioactive waste necessarily represents a threat to sea life. But that is one of the scientific issues to be resolved before any dumping policy is put in place.

The public cannot but be dismayed by the recent remarks of one administration official: ''We are running out of available space. So why not use the ocean; the ocean already has a lot of background radioactivity in it anyway.'' Such justification for public policy is short-sighted to say the least.

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