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SUVA, Fiji Islands (December 14, 2000 - Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat)---Johnston Atoll, south of Hawai‘i in the central Pacific, could be used as a waste storage dump once its chemical weapons disposal system has been dismantled.

The warning comes from the Suva-based Pacific Concerns Resource Center, which reported that the fate of the island is being decided behind closed doors in Washington, D.C.

PCRC spokesman Nick McLellan said soil contaminated by radiation from failed nuclear tests is a problem for American authorities.

"There’s currently a debate going on within the U.S. Defense Threat Reduction Agency, the body responsible for cleaning up this plutonium contamination from the 1960s," McLellan said in an interview with Pacific Beat’s Bruce Hill.

"The expensive option is to ship the contaminated soil off the island and back to the U.S. mainland. The cheap option, however, is to bury it and create seawalls out of the soil and hope it survives for sometime," he said.

Many critics are worried that the seawall option may open the island up to contamination.

"There are examples of this. In 1994, when Hurricane John hit Johnston Atoll, the hurricane blew off surface soil and revealed radioactive hot spots from plutonium, which authorities had to clean up," he said.

He said it will take a lot of work and money to return Johnston Atoll to its earlier pristine condition.

Also, there is a debate in Washington regarding who will have authority over the island.

The chemical incineration plant on the island is run by the U.S. Army’s Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS).

JACADS will be decontaminating and cleaning up the plant through September 2003.

"But there’s a debate as to whether the island will then go to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for a bird sanctuary, or if other agencies want to use it," McLellan said.

For additional reports from Radio Australia/Pacific Beat, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Radio/TV News/Radio Australia/Pacific Beat.

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