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No sea dumping

A major scientific advisory committee recommends that the United States consider dumping mildly radioactive waste in the sea. This is an unwise and probably impractical suggestion.

As the report itself admits, the long-term environmental risks of such ocean dumping ''are not well understood.''

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Why, then, should the committee recommend that the United States resume ocean disposal of radioactive material at a time that the rest of the world is seriously questioning the practice?

The 53-member London Dumping Convention, which regulates disposal at sea, has placed a moratorium on radioactive dumping while a scientific commission reassesses the risks. The US abandoned such dumping 14 years ago. But Britain, France, and a few other countries have continued the practice. For the United States to reconsider its policy now that a major international reassessment is under way would be diplomatically mistimed.

For its part, the US nuclear industry has little interest in trying to revive ocean disposal. An industry spokesman called it politically impractical.

The recommendation is part of a study report by the National Advisory Committee on Oceans and the Atmosphere. This is the committee that former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Anne Burford will soon head. It advises the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Its report on ''Nuclear Waste Management and Use of the Sea'' is a useful background document on a complex subject. But its recommendation to reconsider the US ban on dumping even weakly radioactive material at sea misses the mark.

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