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Officials Try To Stop Shutdown Of N-Reactor But Energy Department’s Going Ahead With Plans At Hanford At Least For Now

The Benton County prosecutor’s office worked Thursday on drafting a temporary restraining order to halt decommissioning of the Fast Flux Test Facility at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

And U.S. Rep. Richard “Doc” Hastings, R-Wash., introduced a bill in Congress on Wednesday that would overturn a 1993 Energy Department decision to decommission the nuclear reactor. The reactor’s fuel already has been removed.

The 15-year-old reactor was the Energy Department’s newest and one of its safest when the agency decided two years ago to shut it down because it never had had a mission to support its $100 million annual budget.

Sylvia Tarkenton, a deputy county prosecutor, said her office hopes to have the request for a restraining order filed in federal court before the Energy Department begins draining a sodium-filled cooling coil at the reactor next week, a step some scientists believe would be irreversible.”We’re working under some pretty heavy time constraints,” Tarkenton said Thursday.

Benton County commissioners ordered the prosecutor’s office to try to stop the shutdown process, she said.

“Benton County feels it’s in the interest of the citizens of this county as well as that of the citizens of this nation at large that this facility continue operating,” Tarkenton said.

She said she doesn’t know which federal District Court her office would file the request with. That decision will depend on which court can handle the request in the most timely manner.

But the Energy Department is going ahead with its decommissioning plan despite Hastings’ proposed legislation and Benton County’s plan, a spokesman said Thursday.

“We are not stopping our shutdown,” an Energy Department spokesman said in Washington, D.C.

“If some legislation is passed that says we have to look at this, then we would consider that. At this point in time, we are going to do this.”

The Fast Flux Test Facility was built in the 1970s as part of the federal government’s experimental breeder reactor program. When that program was terminated, the Hanford prototype was left without a mission.

For most of the past decade, the reactor has been used to test the durability of reactor equipment and components. It also was used to make some radioactive isotopes used in medicine.

U.S. Energy Secretary Hazel O’Leary said last month she is considering a plan to produce tritium, an ingredient used to boost the power of nuclear warheads, at a nuclear reactor at Savannah River near Aiken, S.C.

Hastings wrote O’Leary last week suggesting that the Fast Flux Test Facility could produce tritium for less money and that the reactor also could be used to produce medical isotopes that recently have shown great promise in battling cancer.

“We must not miss this opportunity to save FFTF for the potential production of tritium and medical isotopes,” Hastings said. “It’s an uphill battle, but we must try to overturn last year’s decision by the Clinton administration to kill this local and national asset.”

O’Leary has not responded to Hastings’ letter.

A spokesman for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said he thinks it unlikely Congress would support Hastings’ bill.

“What we’re dealing with these days in Washington, D.C., is a shrinking pot of money from which to fund these programs,” said spokesman Rex Carney.

“And the way I understand it about the FFTF is if we were to try to dedicate more federal funds to the FFTF today, it would mean getting those funds from different projects. And as you know, all of the different projects at Hanford today are fighting for those limited funds.”

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