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PANEL ALLOWS NUCLEAR WASTE FROM EUROPE INTO U.S. PORT

A federal appeals panel ruled Friday that European nuclear waste will be allowed into this country while a lower court irons out a dispute between South Carolina and the U.S. Energy Department.

But the head of the three-judge panel also blasted the Energy Department for trying to evade environmental rules."It is sheer sophistry to argue, as the Department of Energy does, that we are dealing with a single, isolated shipment," Judge Donald Russell wrote.

Two ships loaded with weapons-grade uranium have been waiting in the Atlantic for a decision from the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on whether they could dock near Wilmington, N.C.

The Energy Department had argued that accepting spent fuel from research reactors in Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands was crucial to the nation's nuclear non-proliferation policy.

South Carolina had sued to block the shipment until a detailed environmental impact study could be completed, usually a two-year process. The Energy Department has finished a less-detailed study and says the Savannah River Site is adequate for the 409 fuel elements it has promised to take.

A U.S. District Court judge issued an order Sept. 12 banning the ships from docking until he could hold a hearing on the environmental arguments.

But the appeals court said the state failed to show its environmental worries outweighed the federal government's efforts to bring the highly enriched uranium back to the United States, where it was manufactured.

The Energy Department has promised European reactor operators it will store a total of 409 fuel assemblies at the site within the next six months. The operators have said they no longer have room to store it at their reactors.