The Carter administration's idea of dumping nuclear wastes on the Pacific island of Palmyra has drawn strong protest from Hawaiian politicians as well as from the owners of the atoll.
Rep. Cecil Heftel (D-Hawaii), in a telegram sent to President Carter, demanded "a greater dialogue" with the people of the Pacific in mapping plans to store nuclear wastes in the area.
Heftel complained that both he and owners of Palmyra learned about plans to use the island for a nuclear dump from newspaper stories, not government consultation.
"It appears," said the congressman in his telegram sent to the White House Monday, "that the decision-making process" had been conducted "in an atmosphere of noncommunication with those who have the highest stake in the issue; namely, the people of the Pacific.
"I remain personally opposed to storage anywhere in the Pacific" of nuclear wastes, continued Heftel, "and I urgently request that the Department of Energy and the Department of Interior open a dialogue with concerned parties on the issue."
The administration, after studying a number of possible Pacific sites, concluded that the island of Palmyra, 1,000 miles southwest of Hawaii, looked like the most suitable place to store spent fuel from nuclar reactors.
The radioactive waste material would be encased in concrete towers on the island for 30 years and then moved, under administration plans, to another location not yet decided upon.
The idea is to provide Pacific countries with an alternative to reprocessing spent fuel, a procedure which provides plutonium. Nuclear bombs can be made out of plutonium, thus increasing the risk of proliferation.
Although administration officials have stressed that their plans for Palmyra are far from firm, the owners of the Pacific atoll said they will not sell it for a nuclear dump "at any price."
At a closed hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee June 5, Carter administration witnesses estimated that Palmyra could be purchased for between $16 million and $18 million.
"We do not feel we are being unpatriotic or un-American," said Ainsely Fullard-Leo, whose family owns Palmyra, but "we think Palmyra is the wrong place for storing nuclear wastes, and we don't want to have it used for this purpose.
"In fact, we don't think any of the Pacific islands with their fragile environment should be used to store nuclear wastes," he continued.
Fullard-Leo acknowledged that the U.S. government might try to condemn Palmyra to obtain it for nuclear storage. "But we don't think Washington wants to go this route" because of the opposition to the idea.
At the State Department, an official involved with the search for a Pacific storage site said that plans for Palmyra are still too tentative to consider the question of condemning the island to gain title to it.
Japan, which reprocesses spent nuclear fuel in plants in Britain and France is cooperating with the United States in looking for a Pacific storage site.
Although the State Department envisions Japan storing some of its wastes on Palmyra, if it is turned into a nuclear dump, the immediate users would be South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines to deter those nations from going into reprecessing.