President Reagan signed a bill yesterday that requires the federal government to issue recommendations by July for permanent burial sites for the radioactive nuclear waste that has accumulated in the nation since World War II.
However, environmental groups complained that the law sacrifices the environment, arguing that it is an effort to dispose of nuclear wastes quickly before a safe method of protecting the ecology around the burial sites can be found.
But the president praised the bill, the Atomic Energy Act Amendments, at a White House signing ceremony as being good for environmentalists as well as labor and industry because it is "good for America."
"The bill I'm signing today provides the long overdue assurance that we now have a safe and effective solution to the nuclear waste problem," said Reagan, as about two dozen members of Congress who had helped to pass the bill stood by him.
"This administration is committed to the use of nuclear energy as a crucial element in the enormous task of supplying America's energy needs. American industry has developed the strong technological base for the production of electricity from nuclear energy and we owe it to our people to make it possible to use this technology to better their lives."
Some environmentalists held a different view of the law.
"It will undercut current environmental protections, even as it authorizes an extremely hazardous $20 billion storage and disposal effort," said David Berbick of the Environmental Policy Center.
In addition to signing the Atomic Energy Act Amendments, Reagan:
* Met with a bipartisan group of congressmen on a bill to combat crime. The bill, which will die if Reagan doesn't sign it by Friday, is opposed by Justice Department officials who object to a provision that would authorize appointment of a new Cabinet-level officer as a "czar" to oversee the nation's drug enforcement efforts. Reagan was quoted as telling the congressmen that he would "soul search" before making a decision.
* Attended a meeting with leaders of American groups contributing to efforts to rebuild Lebanon. At that meeting he read a letter from Lebanese President Amin Gemayel in which Gemayel said the hope of Lebanon realizing its freedom "now hangs almost exclusively on the commitment of President Reagan to save the valiant Lebanese democracy from the external dangers that face it."
Reagan told the group that the United States stands behind Lebanon's efforts to rebuild. "Moreover," the president said, "we're committed to helping restore the government's sovereignty throughout all of Lebanon."
* Had lunch with former secretary of state Henry A. Kissinger. As he was leaving, Kissinger told reporters that the chances for a U.S.-Soviet summit meeting are good, with the main remaining question being "how much time it will take to prepare it."
Kissinger also said the Warsaw Pact initiatives offered by the Soviets are "not particularly new . . . .The major problem is to reduce these issues to some concrete terms and negotiate those rather than general proposals."
The congressmen who met with Reagan on the crime bill said they offered him a compromise under which he would sign the bill and they would then amend the legislation to meet the Justice Department's objection to creating a Cabinet-level officer to lead the fight on drugs.
This probably would involve assigning the task to a present Cabinet-level officer.
Members of Congress and administration officials proposed appointing a current member of the Cabinet to the position as a response to the Justice Department's objection to adding bureaucracy to the crime-fighting effort.
Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-Del.) said he told the president that liberals and conservatives had put away their "pet peeves" to achieve passage of the bill and if the president allows the bill to die there will not be any anti-crime legislation passed in the Reagan administration.
"I made it clear to the administration that there is no new bureaucracy involved here any more than there was when we created the director of the CIA," Biden said.
The bill also would establish mandatory 15-year sentences for criminals convicted of a third offense involving use of a handgun and provide $130 million for assisting local crime-fighting efforts.