Government Accountability Project

Tom Carpenter, Director
Nuclear Weapons Oversight
Government Accountability Project

Hon. Bill Richardson
Secretary of Energy
Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20585


Dear Mr. Secretary:

We are writing to lodge the strongest possible protest against the Department's recent handling of our concerns regarding the meeting of the Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee (NERAC) subcommittee that is preparing advice to you about possible future missions for the Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF) reactor at Hanford.

This letter follows our communication to you dated Monday, February 8, 1999 regarding the same subject matter. Since that letter was sent, Director William Magwood of the Office of Nuclear Energy traveled to Richland to promote use of FFTF for future missions on Thursday, February 11. While in Richland, Mr. Magwood stopped by the Hanford Advisory Board and made himself available for meetings. Members of the Hanford Public Interest Network, including Mr. Pollet and myself, took advantage of the opportunity to meet with Mr. Magwood and discuss the upcoming NERAC subcommittee meeting. That meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, February 16, was to be closed to the public and press.

Mr. Magwood was informed in no uncertain terms that the groups were preparing litigation to stop the upcoming NERAC subcommittee meeting for failing to follow the public notice and openness requirements pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). His response to our warnings was to announce that he intended to cancel the afternoon portion of the NERAC meeting wherein the public interest groups had been invited to present our viewpoints about FFTF's future missions. As a compromise position, he offered to allow two members of HPIN to attend the first part of the NERAC subcommittee meeting, which was a briefing by DOE personnel and a tour of FFTF. We accepted this offer to attend the NERAC subcommittee meeting, but continued to insist that the DOE follow the FACA requirements for an open meeting.

On Friday, February 12, 1999, Mr. Pollet and I both received letters from Mr. James Wright, a manager with the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), who claimed he was acting on behalf of William Magwood. He wrote: "On behalf of Dr. William Magwood, Director, Office Nuclear Energy, Science and Technology, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), thank you for agreeing to serve as a member of the Nuclear Energy Research Advisory Committee (NERAC) subcommittee on Nuclear Science and Technology Infrastructure Roadmap. The subcommittee is scheduled to meet February 16, 199, in Pasco, Washington. The Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE) has been authorized by the Office of Science and Technology, to process associated travel expenses and make reimbursements . . . This letter represents the official authorization for you to travel to the meeting and begin your travel plans."

Mr. Pollet and I were instructed to meet in front of the Doubletree Inn hotel in Richland, Washington, at 8:00 a.m. on the morning of February 16, 1999, and a shuttle van would transport us to FFTF to participate in the NERAC subcommittee meeting. Although present at the appointed time, Mr. Pollet and I waited for the shuttle van in vain. We drove ourselves in a rental car to the FFTF facility, where we were informed by Al Farabee of DOE-RL that the shuttle van had left fifteen minutes earlier. We were not informed of the change in the schedule, perhaps deliberately.

After arriving at the meeting, Mr. Pollet and I began to listen to the presentation being given to the subcommittee. Several questions were asked by subcommittee members. Mr. Pollet and I both joined in the questioning. We both noticed increasing discomfort on the part of Mr. Farabee and other DOE officials. When Mr. Pollet asked about the vulnerability of the spent nuclear fuel stored in the parking lot of FFTF (specifically, whether the fuel met the Design Basis Threat for sabotage), Mr. Farabee interjected and informed Mr. Pollet and I that our role was not to ask questions, but that we were simply to listen and observe. We, of course, objected to being relegated the role of potted plants, and Mr. Pollet stated that, as members of the subcommittee, we had just as much right to ask questions as anybody.

At this point, Mr. Farabee expressed surprise at Mr. Pollet's assertion that we had been appointed members of the NERAC subcommittee, and so I produced our invitation letter (enclosed) and read the relevant portion. Mr. Farabee took the letter and, accompanied by other DOE officials, left the room.

Soon after, Mr. Farabee rejoined the meeting and announced that Mr. Pollet and I had indeed been appointed to the subcommittee of NERAC, and handed out copies of the letter I had brought with me. Mr. Farabee then announced that our appointment had been rescinded, and that a letter was forthcoming to that effect. Mr. Farabee said we could stay only to "observe" but could not ask any further questions. I have to say that the subcommittee members reacted with visible signs of relief. Clearly, our presence on the subcommittee was both unanticipated and unwelcome. Our summary dismissal was greeted with undisguised pleasure by DOE and subcommittee members alike. We were thus instructed to not ask questions and not to take up the time of the subcommittee. On several occasions, we did in fact raise questions and issues, but the Chair of the Subcommittee, Dale Klein, instructed the presenter to not answer the question, and to "move on."

Questions, however, needed to be raised. The subcommittee was not presented a shred of information as to wastes from proposed missions, impacts to Hanford clean-up facilities, or the existence of documented serious safety problems associated with some proposals. In fact, only questions from Mr. Pollet brought out that presenters had misrepresented the potential for release of radioactively-contaminated sodium and the economic feasibility of using the reactor for commercial power sales.

Our presence at the meeting did expose us, to the first time, to the attitude and makeup of this subcommittee which will soon be advising you on the merits of potential future missions for the FFTF reactor. We were quite disturbed by the failure of the subcommittee members to explore substantive issues of concern such as waste generation, safety and security, and future need for proposed materials. This, combined with the overt hostility towards our participation, leads us to question the balance and fairness of this panel. Upon inquiry, we learned that the Chair of the Subcommittee was a professor of nuclear engineering at a Texas university; another subcommittee member was a contractor employee for Lockheed Martin at the Idaho National Nuclear Engineering Laboratory; another a former Director of the Argonne National Laboratory; and yet another has done extensive consulting for the Hanford Site. What kind of recommendation can the public expect from such a biased group, especially when they display such a total lack of interest in the subject matter of most urgent concerns to the Northwest public - - waste generation, safety issues, diversion of site resources, cost of the proposed projects, further burden on the EM budget, security considerations, and the reneging on the promise of past Secretaries that Hanford was out of the production business. It is difficult to say which is more disconcerting: DOE- RLs failure to present any information on waste streams and these concerns, or the subcommittee's lack of interest on these concerns.

In summary, it is clear that certain high-level DOE officials have disgraced the Openness Initiatives that you have embraced by ignoring the requirements of the Federal Advisory Committee Act for open meetings and an opportunity for public comment. We have been treated shabbily, to say the least, by these same officials who stranded us at the hotel awaiting promised transport which never materialized, and who then summarily kicked us off of the subcommittee to which we had just been appointed. Our attempts to ask questions were rebuffed, and we were embarrassed in front of the subcommittee and subjected to humiliation by DOE officials.

Mr. Secretary, we implore you not to circumvent the NEPA process for the Programmatic EIS on plutonium-238 production. It is clear the this subcommittee is viewed as a means to illegally provide a basis for you to order a site specific EIS assigning use of FFTF without awaiting the results of the Programmatic EIS. A site specific EIS begun prior to the programmatic EIS, considering whether DOE should undertake proposed missions, and, if so, where, would be clearly illegal.

We are frankly shocked at the behavior and attitude of these DOE officials under the Office of Nuclear Energy towards members of the public interest community - - from Bill Magwood on down - - and are disappointed that public input has so little evident value to the agency. The NERAC process is obviously an attempt to railroad through restart of the FFTF without even the pretense of interest in the Northwest public perspective. Along with your rejection of efforts to short-circuit NEPA programmatic reviews, we suggest you rescind the rescission of our appointment to the NERAC subcommittee. We have higher hopes for your tenure as Secretary than this.

We await your response and sincerely hope for your repudiation of these acts which are an insult to the public participation process and to the concepts of openness.

Sincerely yours,
Tom Carpenter, Director
Nuclear Weapons Oversight
Government Accountability Project

Gerald Pollet, Executive Director
Heart of America Northwest

Cc: Senator Patty Murray
Senator Slade Gorton
Governor Gary Locke
Governor John Kitzhaber

Tom Carpenter
Government Accountability Project
West Coast Office
1402 Third Avenue, Suite 1215
Seattle, WA 98101
(206) 292-2850
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