Originally created 12/28/96

DOE chief's flip-flop



Even though she's departing her post next month, there appears to be no relief from Department of Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary's wobbly leadership. Once she makes up her mind, she's full of indecision.

The latest distressing "flip-flop" involves the surprising revelation that Washington state's Hanford nuclear weapons facility may be back in the competition for a new tritium mission after the turn of the century.

DOE dismissed Hanford as a player after last year's lengthy environmental impact study that prompted O'Leary to announce her agency would decide in two years whether to build a $3 billion accelerator at the Savannah River Site to produce tritium or to use commercial reactors for that purpose.

Until last week those were the only alternatives. Then came the flip-flop. Out of the blue O'Leary said she'll soon announce, perhaps as early as next week, whether to include Hanford's experimental Fast Flux Test Facility in the competition.

Citizens for Nuclear Technology Awareness, a group pushing for new SRS missions that speaks for many area residents, points out, "If you have three options instead of two you decrease the possibility of SRS becoming the tritium producer."

This prompted nine members of South Carolina and Georgia's congressional delegation to shoot off a letter to O'Leary demanding that Hanford stay out of the picture. "Reconsidering the FFTF at this late stage would at best further delay having an assured source of tritium and at worst jeopardize our nuclear deterrent," the letter warned.

They're right, of course. But what's at issue here isn't about what's best for national security. It's about politics.

There was little thought about putting Hanford back in the mix until Washington state's politicians raised Cain with the administration. That state, after all, went for Clinton-Gore Nov. 5, while Georgia and South Carolina went for the GOP ticket.

With more SRS layoffs in the offing, the Hanford option couldn't come at a worse time. Let's keep our fingers crossed that the nod toward Washington state is only temporary and O'Leary's original decision will stick.