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LETTER: Shield North Dakota from radiation, not information

Do Herald readers know that the North Dakota Legislature is about to pass legislation making virtually any information about radioactive materials and radioactive waste in North Dakota confidential?

House Bill 1113 already has passed the House and is set for Senate action. This bill, introduced by the state Health Department, is part of an effort to dramatically weaken our laws regarding the disposal of radioactive waste from the oilfields.

The proposed rule changes by the Health Department would let the level of radioactivity disposed of in North Dakota increase by a factor of 10. It also would let this disposal take place in special industrial waste sites.

HB 1113 is a legislative companion to these rule changes.

Section 3 of this bill repeals a whole page of licensing and public-information requirements for handling radioactive materials. It substitutes one sentence instructing the Health Department to establish "rules" instead of laws for licenses and "as appropriate," provide for written comments and a public hearing.

In other words, the department can ask for public comment only when it wants to.

This effectively ends public participation in the licensing of disposal sites for radioactive materials. And no longer are requirements law; they are bureaucratic rules that can be changed without legislative action.

Section 7 is the most outrageous part of this bill. It is one very short sentence: "Section 23-20.1-09.1 of the North Dakota Century Code is repealed."

Section 23-20.1 deals with ionizing radiation. Subsection 09.1 is titled "Confidentiality of Records."

"Any record or report or information obtained under this chapter must be available to the public," the subsection begins. It then outlines a set of stringent rules for what can be declared confidential.

In short, the situation today is that very little can be kept from the public.But if this section is repealed, the Health Department will have carte blanche to declare virtually anything about radioactive waste confidential.

This bill is the very antithesis of open, honest and transparent government. I call upon Gov. Jack Dalrymple to order his Health Department to withdraw this bill. Failing this, I ask all senators to vote no.

This bill has nothing to do with the health and welfare of North Dakotans, and it needs to die.

Larry Heilmann