Thursday, November 20, 1997

Nuclear waste storage facility sorely needed

THE nuclear power industry won two battles recently in the fight over nuclear waste storage. The U.S. House approved a bill to create a temporary waste storage facility in Nevada. And a federal appeals court reaffirmed that the federal Department of Energy has a legal obligation to move used fuel from nuclear power plants to a storage facility starting on Jan. 31, 1998. The court rejected the department's claim that it faces an unavoidable delay in disposing of used fuel.

The House action calls for construction of an interim storage facility near Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. High-level nuclear waste would be consolidated from temporary sites across the country. A similar bill passed the Senate in April. However, supporters in the Senate are two votes short of the margin needed to override a threatened veto. The sponsor, Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, says he believes the two votes could be picked up from states where nuclear waste is being stored.

The appeals court ruling opened the door for utilities to seek compensation from the government if it fails to meet its obligation to move used fuel under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. The Nuclear Energy Institute estimates the government's potential liability if the Energy Department defaults on its obligation between $34 billion and $56 billion.

Utility companies support the legislation because they are running out of room in storage pools for spent nuclear fuel. President Clinton says he will veto a bill that designates a temporary storage site before the government has assessed the viability of Yucca Mountain as the permanent burial site.

Because of political ramifications, Washington has delayed coming to grips with this problem so long that it has reached near-crisis proportions. By the end of 1998, 27 nuclear reactors in 14 states will have exhausted on-site storage capacity.

A majority in both houses of Congress believes that the time has come for the federal government to fulfill its obligation to store waste from the nation's nuclear power plants. Indeed it has. If the president makes good on his veto threat, he will be turning his back on that obligation and ignoring a festering problem.

Club memberships

FOUR of the five Bishop Estate trustees have honorary memberships in two country clubs that sit on estate land - a clear conflict of interest. It isn't as if they can't afford to pay for memberships in the clubs - Waialae and Mid-Pacific; they are accepting annual commissions in excess of $800,000.

The four trustees are Richard Wong, Henry Peters, Lokelani Lindsey and Gerard Jervis. The fifth, Oswald Stender, says he turned down the free memberships in 1995. In view of the fact that the clubs lease land from the estate, acceptance of such memberships could compromise the trustees in renegotiating the leases. The impropriety is obvious.

Extending honorary memberships in private clubs to public officials, including governors, mayors and legislators, is a long-standing tradition here, although a questionable one. In some cases the memberships are used rarely or not at all.

This apparently is true in the case of some Bishop Estate trustees. Still, the practice reflects an insensitivity to the obligation of trustees of a charitable trust to avoid any action that could compromise the integrity of their decisions.

The trustees are currently under strong criticism for their investments and administration of the Kamehameha Schools. By comparison, the issue of free country club memberships is a minor one, but it adds fuel to the fire. This problem should be solved by relinquishing the honorary memberships or converting them to paid memberships.

Paying for racism

RACIAL hysteria that resulted in the smearing of an attorney wrongfully accused of raping a black 15-year-old girl 10 years ago has returned as the man seeks compensation from his accusers. The civil trial is a reminder of how easily the public can be worked into a frenzy by racist rallying cries, and of how the judicial system can work to set aside such emotion.

In November 1987, Tawana Brawley was found inside a garbage bag near her home about 75 miles north of New York City. Racial epithets had been scrawled on her body, which had been smeared with feces. She accused six white police officers of abducting and raping her.

In the following months, the Rev. Al Sharpton and lawyers C. Vernon Mason and Alton Maddox, acting as Brawley's advisers, sought to stir up public outrage. In connection with the case, Maddox accused then-state Attorney General Robert Abrams of masturbating over photos of the girl, Sharpton compared Abrams with Adolph Hitler and all three linked then-Gov. Mario Cuomo to organized crime and the Ku Klux Klan.

However, a grand jury determined that the alleged crime had been a hoax. The panel determined that Brawley apparently burned a hole in her pants, scratched the racial epithets and smeared dog feces on her body and clothing and climbed into the garbage bag by herself. In making up the story, she may have been reacting to domestic problems involving her mother and her mother's boyfriend.

Steve Pagones, then an assistant district attorney, was at the center of Brawley's accusations and was among those exonerated by the grand jury. The trial of his $150 million defamation lawsuit against Sharpton, Mason and Maddox has begun in Poughkeepsie. The trio's army of demonstrators was at the courthouse to resurrect the fabricated allegations.

The girl's wild claims are no longer given credence by the public. Jurors should focus instead on how much damage the trio inflicted on Pagones and the punitive sanctions that will caution them against causing further harm to others.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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