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Environmental groups challenge DOE’s plan to manage nuclear arsenal

May 1, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A $40 billion, 10-year program aimed at assuring America’s nuclear arsenal is at the ready without actually exploding atomic bombs is under attack by critics who say it ignores environmental safeguards.

A broad coalition of anti-nuclear and environmental groups were expected to file a lawsuit today charging that the Energy Department has failed to make required environmental impact reviews in developing its nuclear stockpile management plan.

The suit, if successful, could delay the government program for years.

Barbara Finamore, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, one of 39 organizations bringing the action, said the suit would be filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The action asks that the department reassess its nuclear stockpile stewardship program _ a program costing $4 billion a year for the next 10 years _ to ensure that federal environmental laws are being followed and reasonable alternatives adequately considered.

The suit also asks the court to issue an injunction that would halt government plans to conduct two underground explosions later this year at its Nevada Test Site. The controversial chemical explosions use a small amount of plutonium but would not trigger a nuclear chain reaction.

The suit also asks the court to halt work on a sophisticated laser laboratory being built at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California that would user lasers to simulate nuclear detonations.

The planned underground explosions have prompted protests at the Nevada site as critics charge they _ as well as construction of the sophisticated laser laboratory _ are part of a broader strategy aimed at future development of more sophisticated nuclear weapons. The Energy Department denies this, saying the program is designed to maintain the current stockpile.

Department spokesman Patrick Dorinson said officials could not comment on the impending lawsuit because they had not seen it.

The lawsuit was being brought by the Washington-based NRDC, a leading environmental group, and 38 other organizations, many of them grassroots groups that have been active near federal nuclear weapons production and storage facilities around the country.

It alleges that the Energy Department has developed the broad $40 billion strategy for maintaining the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile without developing adequate environmental impact assessments and considering reasonable alternatives as required.

Finamore said a federal court in 1989 ordered the department to make detailed environmental impact assessments as part of its nuclear waste cleanup and warhead stockpile management programs.

``The department still hasn’t complied with its commitments,″ she maintained. She said in some programs no environmental impact assessments have been made and in other cases the department did not adequately analyze alternatives while exempting many programs entirely from environmental review.

Many critics of the weapons program say they oppose nuclear weapons and that the government’s warhead management plan goes far beyond is needed to meet U.S. defense needs.

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