Of all the far-flung installations of the Department of Energy, the farthest-flung may be the Kauai Test Facility at Barking Sands, on the western edge of Kauai, Hawaii. It's so remote that some senior officials at the department's headquarters in Washington have never heard of it.

But the people of Hawaii are hearing about it a lot, and they apparently don't like what they hear. The facility, known as KTF, is a rocket-launching site and missile test center operated by the department's Sandia National Laboratory. The Army is planning to use it next spring to test new missiles for the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Fearing damage to wildlife, disruption of the tourism industry and the possibility of accidents from the rockets' flammable liquid fuels, Hawaii's congressional delegation introduced bills in Congress in an attempt to forestall the tests.

The bills died when Congress adjourned, but are expected to be reintroduced in January. Meanwhile, the state of Hawaii and the Sierra Club have filed suit in federal court in Honolulu, asking that the Army be ordered to prepare a full-scale environmental impact assessment before launching the missiles. They said a smaller-scale "environmental assessment" conducted by the Army's Strategic Defense Command, which found that "environmental consequences were determined not to be significant," was inadequate.

KTF was built as part of the atmospheric nuclear testing program. Its primary function now is "research and development of materials and components" in support of the Energy Department's nuclear weapons manufacturing complex, according to a background paper published by Sandia. The Energy Department and several of the installations in its nuclear weapons manufacturing complex have been the targets of many lawsuits, but this time the department is just a spectator. Its customer, the Army -- one of what the background paper calls the "other organizations {that} may make use of the facility on a non-interface basis" -- is the object of the protests.

"We are dealing here with a situation involving extremely dangerous chemicals and old propellants that could be transported to Kauai by ocean, unloaded at Nuwiliwili Harbor, carred over Kauai's roadways and ultimately blasted into the atmosphere over Kauai," state Attorney General Warren Price said in announcing the filing of the lawsuit.

The planned missile tests "could have a devastating effect on the people of Kauai and its pristine environment," Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii) said in a fruitless appeal to Defense Secretary Richard B. Cheney to reopen the environmental question.

The Army has not formally responded to the lawsuits, but its position on the testing is unchanged, said a spokeswoman at the Strategic Defense Command in Huntsville, Ala. "Our finding is that there will be no significant impact from this work. It's a missile test facility that has been there for a number of years, firing other types of missiles. The impacts can be mitigated."

But Steven Aftergood, a researcher for the Federation of American Scientists, said the missiles to be tested are larger and more dangerous than those fired at KTF in the past.

"Over 30 years they have launched several hundred, maybe a thousand missiles there, but they were small, even hand-held," he said. "This would be a significant qualitative increase in the kind of missile that is being launched from that facility."

The proposed tests are part of the Army's Strategic Target System, or STARS. The missiles would consist of parts of retired Polaris missiles, with third-stage solid rocket motors added on. The test program would consist of as many as four launches a year for 10 years. The payloads, which Aftergood said will "simulate intercontinental ballistic missile re-entry vehicles," will land at Kwajalein atoll in the South Pacific.

The Army's environmental assessment said that the liquid fuels to be used "are highly toxic and injurious to humans, plants and animal life and may cause respiratory distress in humans if a spill or leak occurs," but said special safety procedures would prevent such an occurrence.

The Army has agreed not to truck the fuels across the island until after further tests, scheduled to be completed in February.