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Alaska Sues Reagan to Block Plutonium Flights

October 01, 1987|United Press International

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The state of Alaska sued President Reagan and four Cabinet members Wednesday in an attempt to stop a U.S.-Japanese nuclear accord that would allow shipments of deadly plutonium through the state.

The accord is classified, but Alaska officials charged it will give Japan blanket approval to ship bomb-grade plutonium from European processing plants to Japan for nuclear power plants and that flights will refuel in Alaska.

Federal officials are close to approving the 30-year accord even though there is no safe way to transport large amounts of plutonium by air, the suit says. It accuses the government of endangering the population of Alaska and violating the National Environmental Policy Act.

Alaska Gov. Steve Cowper sued in U.S. District Court to stop two agreements at least until the government studies the consequences of plutonium shipments. Named in the suit are Reagan, Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger, Energy Secretary John S. Herrington, a yet-to-be-named secretary of transportation, Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Lando Zech Jr. and their agencies.

Alaska wants an immediate order stopping Shultz and Herrington from forwarding the agreements to Reagan for approval. If the proposed pacts make it to the White House, Alaska asked the court to prohibit Reagan from approving them or submitting them to Congress until an environmental impact study is done and public hearings held.

Large air shipments of commercial plutonium have never occurred and defense shipments go by truck, according to a supporting affidavit by nuclear physicist Marvin Resnikoff. Plutonium may be the most toxic substance known, he said.

A few pounds of plutonium powder, dispersed in an air crash, could cause lung cancer in 500,000 people, the suit said.

Jumbo jet shipments would carry 500 pounds of plutonium from Europe to Japan every two weeks in protective casks so heavy that flights would have to refuel.

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