Friday, 6 September 96 Washington, DC
1. ENERGY DEPARTMENT: THE ONLY THING WORSE IS A BILL TO KILL IT.
Well, Congress is back in town for a few weeks. Republicans are still talking about abolishing DOE (WN 30 Aug 96), but they won't get it done this year -- they can't agree on what to do with the pieces. The DOE Abolishment Act (S.1678), introduced by Senator Rod Grams (R-MN), would put the weapons labs under Defense and the other labs under NSF. At a hearing on the bill this week, Sen. Johnston (D-LA) pointed out that DOE labs produced 50 Nobel prizes; DOD has more than 500 labs and only one Nobel. Senator Domenici (R-NM) vowed to resist the transfer of nuclear-weapons responsibilities to DOD "with every ounce of capability I have." One of the few supporting the bill was former Defense Secretary Casper Weinberger, who opposed such a move when he was at DOD. He explained that Hazel O'Leary wasn't Secretary of Energy then. Even Bob Dole, speaking in Albuquerque, assured voters the New Mexico labs are safe; he just wants to abolish the bureaucracy.
2. TRITIUM: DOE WILL COMPARE ACCELERATOR AND REACTOR PRODUCTION
The United States has not produced tritium since the K-reactor at Savannah River was shut down in 1988. After spending $1B to reactivate it in 1991 (WN 27 Dec 91), the obsolete reactor kept springing leaks and was mothballed a few months later. The US is awash in tritium from dismantled weapons anyway, but a new source will be needed by about 2005 to replace gas in stockpile weapons. Right now it's a coin toss between an existing commercial light water reactor and construction of a linear accelerator. The linear accelerator concept will be demonstrated at Los Alamos. The judging will be in 1998; if the accelerator wins the playoff, a $3B accelerator will be built at the Savannah River site.
3. BUDGET '97: SENATE PASSES FY 97 VA/HUD/IA APPROPRIATIONS BILL
The House passed its bill way back in June (WN 28 Jun 96). Last night, the Senate passed its softer, gentler version (WN 12 Jul 96). Senator Smith (R-NH) led a bipartisan effort to block US funds from being used for the Bion Project. It failed, as did Senator Bumper's annual crusade to kill the space station. Bion is a Russian plan to study the effect of weightlessness on lower primates in a 14-day mission (WN 12 Apr 96). What's needed is a ban on launching higher primates into space. There is no word on when a conference committee will meet to resolve differences.
4. ANGELS OR ALIENS? IN NEW HAMPSHIRE IT DEPENDS ON YOUR PARTY.
New Hampshire, we all know, has a disproportionate influence on selection of Presidential nominees. That may not be such a good thing. A University of New Hampshire poll found that 73% of New Hampshire voters believe in angels. However, only 7% claim to have actually seen one; twice that many have seen a ghost. Those who have seen angels tend to be Republicans. Democrats, the few there are in the granite state, are more likely to see UFOs.