Committee votes to halt restart of `N reactor'

The government's plutonium-producing N reactor will remain shut down, if a decision by the Senate Armed Services Committee is upheld by the whole Congress. The committee voted in closed session Wednesday to place the Hanford, Wash., reactor on ``standby'' and scrap plans to restart it July 1.

The reactor, the US facility most like the one involved in the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, produces nearly a third of the nation's plutonium for nuclear weapons. It has been shut down since Jan. 7, pending safety improvements.

If Congress approves the ``standby'' status, the reactor would remain shut down but would not be dismantled, says Mark Goodin, an aide to Sen. Strom Thurmond (R) of South Carolina.

Mr. Goodin says the standby proposal was intended as a compromise between a restart and a permanent shutdown should it be ``in the interests of national security'' to restart the reactor.

The Energy Department issued a safety plan for the reactor in March, calling for improved emergency planning, mandatory employee drug screening, and reduction of radioactive discharges into the soil.

After the Soviet Union's Chernobyl accident last year, the price tag for improvements of this sort was estimated at $50 million.

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