It is a sad comment on the priorities of our government that even as the Cold War evaporates, the Department of Energy continues to practice business as usual. While the Department of Energy has taken some small, grudging steps toward curtailing some of its more foolish projects {"Another Kind of Peace Dividend," editorial, Oct. 21}, Secretary James Watkins remains committed to weapons plant restart schedules that place a higher priority on nuclear weapons than on safety and the environment.

At Rocky Flats, Colo., where plutonium "triggers" for every U.S. nuclear weapon are manufactured, critical safety standards are being ignored because complying with the law would delay restart of bomb production, halted since last November. Plant workers recently told the press that many improvements ordered for the plant have been downgraded from items of critical concern to items not requiring immediate attention.

This is notable because on June 6, 1989, the day the FBI raided Rocky Flats, Secretary Watkins declared, "I have stated repeatedly that it is my intention to operate DOE facilities fully in compliance with all pertinent statutes and in such a manner that the primary concern for environment, health and safety of employees and public is satisfied."

Yet this past Aug. 9, in a written response to a report from his own safety panel, the secretary reversed himself and indicated that there will be "exceptions to full compliance" with "applicable standards." Secretary Watkins claimed these exceptions would "pose no threat to the health and safety of the public and on-site workers."

Such language embodies the lies that created the abysmal situation at Rocky Flats, Hanford, Savannah River and the rest of the weapons complex. One wonders why the Department of Energy even bothers to delineate safety standards when it blithely disregards those that prove too cumbersome to meet.

It is false and dangerous to assume that "in most instances entirely new installations are going to have to be built from the ground up," which The Post contends. Since 1967, the U.S. arsenal has shrunk by some 12,000 nuclear weapons, including a decrease of 3,800 warheads and bombs between 1980 and 1990. Yet more than $10 billion -- 60 percent of the Department of Energy's total budget -- continues to be spent on nuclear weapons activities (up from $4.8 billion -- 19 percent -- 10 years ago).

The complex we have today is sized for an arsenal that no longer exists. Congress and the media should question why a multibillion-dollar modernization effort is required at all.

STEPHEN I. SCHWARTZ Legislative Coordinator, Nuclear Free Future Campaign Greenpeace Washington