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Calling the Department of Energy's management of the nation's crippled nuclear weapons production complex “a 35-year secret chemical war waged against people living near DOE's sites,” Representative Thomas Luken (D-OH) opened a congressional hearing on February 23 with an appeal to DOE Secretary-designate James Watkins to release secret health records of workers at the plants. In testimony that followed, Comptroller General Charles Bowsher told a subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee that President Bush's new budget does not go far enough on the long and costly road of cleaning up and modernizing the contaminated and aging facilities. The renovation is expected to cost up to $155 billion.

By next month, 11 of the 17 installations that make up the DOE complex will be on the EPA's Superfund list of the nation's most contaminated waste sites. Some o f the DOE facilities, including the Rocky Flats plant in Denver, Colo., the Hanford Reservation in eastern Washington, and the Savannah River plant in South Carolina, are among the most polluted sites ever identified by EPA. The principal function of the facilities, the production of tritium and plutonium for nuclear weapons, has stopped, creating what DOE has characterized as a looming national security crisis.