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Panel urges delayed restart of Savannah River weapons reactor

An Energy Department advisory panel is refusing to approve the department's plans for restarting one of its reactors at the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina next summer. The panel of 12 engineers and scientists appointed by Energy Secretary John Herrington to consult with him on safety issues said at a public meeting early this week that more complete inspections and analyses of newly discovered cracks at another reactor at the site are needed to determine whether the reactor can withstand an earthquake.

``This will be read, and read correctly, as our declining to endorse the restart strategy,'' said one panel member Harold Lewis, a physics professor at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

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The panel's decision comes as three environmental groups filed suit to force the US Department of Energy to prepare an environmental impact statement before restarting one of the three reactors at the Savannah River Plant. The groups also are seeking a comprehensive public review of all US nuclear weapons productions facilities.

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