leroymoore

Archive for the ‘Democracy’ Category

NO to Jefferson Parkway

In Democracy, Environment, Jefferson Parkway, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on January 28, 2014 at 6:24 am

Published in the Boulder Daily Camera, 1-26-14

            A December 28 Camera article suggests that the proposed Jefferson Parkway is moving ahead. This toll road would add about ten miles to C-470, almost completing the loop around Denver. Some call it the “plutonium parkway,” because it would be built on the contaminated edge of the Rocky Flats site, where for four decades the explosive plutonium pits for nuclear warheads were made.

Plutonium released from Rocky Flats is present in soil on and off the plant site in the form of particles too small to see but not too small to do harm. Plutonium emits a type of radiation that cannot penetrate skin but that may wreck one’s health if it is inhaled or otherwise taken into the body. Lodged in the body, it continually irradiates surrounding cells, probably for the rest of one’s life. The result may be cancer or other ailments, including harm to offspring. Because it remains dangerously radioactive for a quarter of a million years, it poses an essentially permanent danger.

In 1970 P. W. Krey and E. P. Hardy, scientists with the Atomic Energy Commission (predecessor to the Department of Energy), sampled soil on and off the Rocky Flats site to a depth of 8 inches and analyzed it for its plutonium content. The heaviest concentrations were in soil along the eastern edge of the site in the area now intended for construction of the highway. In September 2011 Marco Kaltofen of the Boston Chemical Data Corp. collected soil samples along Indiana St. precisely where the proposed road would be built. He found plutonium concentrations roughly equivalent to what Krey and Hardy found in 1970.

Sampling done as part of the Rocky Flats cleanup on what is now the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge showed only a scant presence of plutonium near where the highway would be built. But these samples were collected in shallow surface soil, not at the deeper levels analyzed by Krey and Hardy.

Building the road would affect the environment. In 2004 U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service performed an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to create the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. But this EIS did not analyze the effect of construction of a highway in an area known to be contaminated with plutonium. Fish and Wildlife nevertheless provided land for the road.

The Camera article says proponents of the highway “cite a letter written by officials with the EPA and the Colorado health department in late 2011 stating that the risk of excessive cancer incidence for people who work at the refuge is below standards set by the state” and the federal government. This letter is meaningless, because there’s a latency period of 20 to 30 years before plutonium taken into the body produces cancer. Not until refuge workers have been at the site without interruption for at least this long will we have a better sense of the incidence of cancer among them.

People who live or work near the Rocky Flats site or who visit there may be unwittingly exposed to plutonium left in soil by those responsible for the ten-year Superfund cleanup completed in 2005. They made no effort to clean the site to the maximum extent possible with existing technology. Assuming incorrectly that plutonium left behind would remain in place, they willingly allowed an unknown quantity of plutonium to remain in the soil, with no limit on the amount allowed below six feet.

Plutonium particles brought to the surface by burrowing animals will be carried hither and yon by wind. They can be readily inhaled. The result decades later may be cancer or some other illness. Children are without question the most vulnerable. There is no certainty that any of us will be exposed or will become ill. But it is a definite risk. The inadequate cleanup done at Rocky Flats gambles with peoples’ lives. Constructing the Jefferson Parkway would up the ante on the gamble. The wise move is to avoid the site and to abandon the highway.

 

LeRoy Moore, PhD, is a consultant with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center. For more on Rocky Flats, see www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org

Government effort to silence critics of nuclear policy continues; Sentencing of Transform Now Plowshares resisters set for January 28, 2014, in Knoxville, TN

In Democracy, Human rights, Nonviolence, Nuclear Policy, Peace on January 24, 2014 at 11:16 pm

Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed and Michael Walli will appear before Judge Amul Thapar in federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee on January 28, 2014, to be sentenced for the Transform Now Plowshares action on July 28, 2012. The three were convicted in May 2013 on charges of depredation of property and sabotage; they have been jailed since the guilty verdict because the sabotage charge, by definition, is a “crime of violence.” The sentencing will commence at 9:00am with a consolidated hearing which will likely be followed by separate sentencing hearings for each defendant.

“The action of the government from the outset has had one aim: to silence these messengers of truth,” said Paul Magno, spokesperson for the Transform Now Plowshares support team. “They succeeded in banishing from the trial all testimony about the vast gulf between the United States’ legal obligation to disarm under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the ongoing activities at the Y12 Nuclear Weapons Complex in Oak Ridge, where production of nuclear weapons components is ongoing, and plans for a new $19 billion bomb factory are being drawn up.”

The message of the Transform Now Plowshares action was delivered in the early morning hours of July 28, 2012, when Walli, Boertje-Obed and Rice entered the ultra-high security area of Y12 and read an indictment charging the United States with failure to comply with its legal obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty. The opening paragraphs read:

 “Today, through our nonviolent action, we—Transform Now Plowshares—indict the U.S. government nuclear modernization program, including the new Uranium Processing Facility planned at Oak Ridge and the dedication of billions of public dollars to the continuation of the Y-12 facility.
“WHEREAS, This program is an ongoing criminal endeavor in violation of international treaty law binding on the United States under the supremacy clause of the U.S. Constitution (Article VI):
“This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in Pursuance thereof; and all Treaties made, or which shall be made, under the Authority of the United States, shall be the supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

The indictment delivered that morning was validated by U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark who testified at a motions hearing in federal court in Knoxville that ongoing weapon production activities at Y12 in Oak Ridge are “unlawful.” Clark, Attorney General when the United States signed the Nonproliferation Treaty, testified the US has failed to meet its legal obligations under that treaty and cited the 1996 opinion of the International Court of Justice that nuclear weapons states have an obligation to achieve nuclear disarmament. “It’s the single most important treaty we have ever had,” Clark told the court, adding, “The life of the planet is at risk from the one plant here in Tennessee.”

Contrary to the US commitment in the NPT, Y12 currently manufactures thermonuclear cores (secondaries, or canned-subassemblies) for W76 nuclear warheads under the Stockpile Life Extension Program. The purpose of the SLEP is to extend the life of warheads for decades; the ongoing W76 LEP is introducing significant modifications to the warhead’s military capability resulting in what some experts have called a new nuclear weapon. In addition, Y12 is planning to build a new bomb production facility, the Uranium Processing Facility, which will have as its sole mission the production of thermonuclear weapons components. The estimated pricetag for the UPF, originally $1.5 billion, is now $19 billion.

In an attempt to throw a blanket of silence over the Plowshares resisters’ concerns, the government chose to charge them with sabotage and, despite testimony about the symbolic nature of their action and the hopeful intent demonstrated throughout by their nonviolent behavior, an East Tennessee jury took less than three hours to convict them of all charges including the sabotage charge which carries a maximum penalty of 20 years.

Following the conviction, Rice, Walli and Boertje-Obed were taken into custody and labeled violent offenders. They were incarcerated in remote Ocilla, Georgia, to await sentencing. The government prepared a pre-sentencing report that recommended lengthy sentences, from 6 – 12 years, for the defendants; the US District Attorney in Knoxville has asked the judge to reject considerations of the nonviolent nature of the action and calls for downward departure from the sentencing guidelines, disingenuously characterizing the defendants and seeking penalties of at least six years—a sentence that would jail 84 year-old Megan Rice until she was nearly 90 years old.

“In this country, we often point to other nations, like China, Russia or Iran, where dissidents are imprisoned in order to silence their criticisms of the policies and practices of their governments,” noted Magno. “We like to think we are more enlightened, that in a free land like ours such draconian measures are out-of-bounds. But this case shows otherwise. The United States is determined to carry out its nuclear agenda, to continue to violate its treaty obligations, to build new bombs and new bomb plants, and they will even put an 84 year old nun in jail for the rest of her life if that’s what it takes to bury the truth.

“There is no mystery behind this action—the government simply knows its nuclear policy and practices can not bear scrutiny. They are, on their face, violations of our treaty obligations. They present a stunning double-standard—we refuse to allow Iran even to enrich uranium while we ourselves continue with full-scale bomb production and are spending billions on a new bomb plant.”

Witnesses expected to testify at the sentencing hearing include John LaForge of Nukewatch in Luck, WI; Mary Evelyn Tucker, Director of the Forum on Religion and Ecology at Yale University; Andy Anderson, Veterans for Peace in Duluth, MN; Kathy Boylan of the Washington, DC Catholic Worker community.

for more information: Paul Magno  202 321 6650

Ralph Hutchison  865 776 5050

Whistle-Blower at DOE’s Oak Ridge Lab Dies

In Democracy, Human rights, Public Health, Workplace exposure on August 6, 2013 at 8:52 am

Charles Varnadore, who in the 1990′s blew the whistle on questionable safety practices at DOE’s Oak Ridge Lab in Tennessee and was punished for his action to bring truth to light, died at age 71. One result of his effort was to strengthen laws to protect whistle-blowers. See New York Times article at http://nyti.ms/15FlzbJ

Great increase in cost of each nuclear warhead

In Cost, Democracy, Nuclear Guardianship, Uncategorized on July 8, 2013 at 2:00 am

Robert Alvarez, Senior Scholar for Nuclear Policy with the Institute for Policy Studies, shows that a U.S. nuclear warhead now costs in 2013 dollars 850% more than it did in 1985. escalating warhead cost  For details on Alvarez, see http://www.ips-dc.org/staff/bob

Rocky Flats and the Risk Society

In Democracy, Environment, Jefferson Parkway, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Uncategorized, Wildlife Refuge on July 1, 2013 at 2:16 am

In 1992 German social analyst Ulrich Beck offered a compelling critique of modern industrial society with his book Risk Society. As articulated by Beck, a “risk society” is one in which risks

  • are readily produced by human action,
  • are officially regarded as minor, and
  • are widely accepted by those affected.

This seamless disregard for risk is mirrored in the behavior of the several government agencies that bear official responsibility for conditions at Rocky Flats. Now, whether they enable residential development on contaminated land near Rocky Flats, support opening the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge to the public or clear the way for construction of the proposed Jefferson Parkway along the eastern, most-contaminated edge of the Rocky Flats site, they repeatedly tell the public:

a)    that operations in the past at Rocky Flats contaminated the environment with plutonium and other toxins;

b)    that the agencies responsible for public health regard present conditions on and off the site as “safe”; and

c)     that the public has therefore no reason for worry.

Beck suggests that those of us who accept these assertions without question are in denial, and of course there are commercial interests ready to profit from the sense of denial endemic in our risk society.

Beck presents a strong alternative to this disregard for risk. I believe we should carefully consider what he and others in accord with his view have to say. To begin with, the risks to which he refers typically are posed by contaminants that cannot be seen, tasted or smelled. This kind of risk is a relatively new phenomenon; its nuclear form dates only from the 1940s. In the case of Rocky Flats, the principal contaminant is plutonium in the form of minute radioactive particles released into the environment from routine operations and accidents at the now defunct nuclear bomb factory during its production years from 1952 through 1989.

The distinctive feature of our modern “risk society” is that the risk is ecological. It damages and destroys the natural ecosystem to which humans and all other creatures belong and on which we depend for our very existence. The resultant damage doesn’t necessarily happen immediately; more seriously, it happens over the long-term.

Physicist Fritjof Capra of the University of California in Berkeley shows quite graphically that, because of the toxicity and 24,000-year half-life of plutonium 239 (used in abundance at Rocky Flats), it should be isolated from the environment for half-a-million years.

Capra:Pu TimelineAt Rocky Flats the plutonium was not isolated from the environment but was deposited in it. Further, because a secret deal had been made with Congress to put a ceiling on how much could be spent on the Superfund “cleanup” of the Rocky Flats site, those responsible for the job made no attempt to remove as much plutonium as possible with existing technology. Instead, they knowingly left behind an unknown quantity in the form of minute particles that can be inhaled, ingested or taken into the body through an open wound – the likeliest ways of being exposed to plutonium.

Plutonium emits alpha radiation. Unlike other forms of radiation, such as gamma rays and x-rays, alpha particles cannot penetrate skin, but when plutonium particles find their way into the body, the damage they create can be much greater than damage caused by x-rays and gamma rays. Plutonium particles lodged within the body steadily bombard surrounding tissue with radiation, probably for the rest of one’s life. Over time, the result may be cancer, a compromised immune system or some other ailment, including genetic harm that can be transmitted to future generations.

Pu in lung image“The black star in the middle of this picture shows the tracks made by alpha rays emitted from a particle of plutonium-239 in the lung tissue of an ape. The alpha rays do not travel very far, but once inside the body, they can penetrate more than 10,000 cells within their range. This set of alpha tracks (magnified 500 times) occurred over a 48-hour period” (Robert Del Tredici, At Work in the Fields of the Bomb [1987], plate 39).

Herman Muller was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1946 for his discovery that radiation damage could affect future generations. He predicted gradual reduction of humankind’s survival ability due to exposure to radiation over multiple generations (“Radiation and Heredity,” American Journal of Public Health, 1964). His work suggests that radiation introduced into the world by humans may in time destroy our species. A British research team concluded that chromosomal damage from plutonium exposure is essentially “infinite,” because the extent of harm to the human gene pool is incalculable (M. A. Khadim et al., Nature, Feb. 1992). Commenting on the work of Khadim’s group, science writer Rob Edwards observed that the resultant “genomic instability” may account for illnesses other than cancer, illnesses so elusive that epidemiology is “powerless” to detect any relationship between their incidence and exposure to radiation (New Scientist, vol. 11, Oct. 1997, pp. 37-40).

What is clear is that the official incautious attitude toward the plutonium remaining in the environment at Rocky Flats after completion of what DOE called its “risk-based cleanup” means we are gambling with people’s lives now and into the deep future. The government agencies that approved hazardous conditions at Rocky Flats and removed most of the site from the national Superfund list are prime exemplars of the risk society. When they tell us that the contaminants left in the environment are “safe,” what they mean is that they meet official standards for permissible exposure. They rarely emphasize that exposure standards by their very nature allow some level of risk. Besides, their ways of calculating risk do not take into account the enormous range of individual susceptibility to exposure to radiation. What doesn’t harm one may very well harm another.

Microsoft Word - Krey-Hardy Clean.docDistribution of plutonium contamination from Rocky Flats in becquerels per square meter (one becquerel equals one disintegration or burst of radiation per second). The original version of this map was prepared by P. W. Krey and E. P. Hardy of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Health and Safety Laboratory, New York City, and published in their 1970 report, “Plutonium in Soil Around the Rocky Flats Plant,” HASL 235. Sampling done in September 2011 along Indiana St. by independent scientist Marco Kaltofen showed that present deposits of plutonium are roughly equivalent to the levels measured by Krey and Hardy in 1970. The dotted red line shows the route of the proposed Jefferson Parkway. If built, it will pass through the heart of the area shown by Krey and Hardy to be the most heavily contaminated. Recent residential construction is also on some of the more contaminated land.

Of course, those who establish and enforce standards for permissible exposure know as well as I do that the National Academy of Sciences, in its 2006 study Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation concluded categorically that any exposure to radiation is potentially harmful. This means there is no such thing as a safe dose of radiation, something that Karl Z. Morgan, “the father of health physics” at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, concluded during his studies that began with the Manhattan Project. And those who set and enforce standards for Rocky Flats must certainly be familiar with the British “Committee Examining Radiation Risks of Internal Emitters” that concluded in 2004 that the cancer risk from very low-doses of plutonium may be ten or more times more dangerous than allowed for by existing exposure standards (see www.cerrie.org ).

This last point is strongly reinforced from a different angle by research done by Tom K. Hei and colleagues of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University. They demonstrated that a single plutonium alpha particle induces mutations in mammalian cells. Cells receiving very low doses were more likely to be damaged than destroyed. Replication of these damaged cells constitutes genetic harm, and more such harm per unit dose occurs at very low doses than would occur with higher dose exposures. “These data,” they concluded, “provide direct evidence that a single alpha particle traversing a nucleus will have a high probability of resulting in a mutation and highlight the need for radiation protection at low doses” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 94, Apr. 1997). In a follow-up study, they found that “a single alpha particle can induce mutations and chromosome aberrations in [adjacent] cells that received no direct radiation exposure to their DNA,” what is often referred to as “the bystander effect” (Ibid, vol. 98, 4 Dec. 2001).

During more than a decade that I served on oversight and advisory bodies focused on the “cleanup” at Rocky Flats, when I asked government personnel responsible for protecting public health about such studies, I typically got a blank stare, as if I’d trespassed into sacred space.

For several years I was privileged to be a member of two committees of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), a non-government body that researches radiation health effects and makes recommendations to government and industry regarding exposure standards. I hoped, as a token outsider, that I could persuade this elite body of radiation health specialists to open their deliberations to people directly affected by the exposure standards they were calculating, especially to workers in the nuclear industry and people who live or work near nuclear installations. Two activist colleagues and I were invited to make a presentation at the NCRP annual meeting in 2003; there was a vigorous dismissal of what we proposed. Our paper was later published, under the title “Stakeholder Perspectives on Radiation Protection” (Lisa Ledwidge, LeRoy Moore and Lisa Crawford in Health Physics, Sept. 2004). The article garnered zero feedback. I soon thereafter resigned from the committees to which I had belonged.

Regarding those responsible for radiation exposure standards, Beck observes: “Whoever limits pollution has also concurred in it.” Official exposure standards “may indeed prevent the very worst from happening, but they are at the same time ‘blank checks’ to poison nature and mankind a bit” (Risk Society, p. 64). In other words, we give the agencies charged with protecting public health permission to poison us. Because susceptibility to toxins varies widely, who can say which one of us will be among the vulnerable that receive a lethal dose?

Of course, our friends in the animal kingdom that visit Rocky Flats or reside there are also susceptible. In 2002 a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service study found low levels of plutonium and other radionuclides in the bodies of deer from the site. This research was done not out of concern for the animals but for humans who might hunt and eat such deer; the study concluded that they’d not be likely to get cancer. Little is known about the effect on wildlife of radiation exposure. Few studies have been done. At Rocky Flats none have sought to determine genetic effects of exposure to radiation on wildlife. When Muller discovered genetic harm from radiation exposure he was examining a tiny insect, the tietze fly. Genetic specialist Dietard Tautz says that effects of radiation exposure on a given species of wildlife may not be readily apparent in individuals of that species until the passage of several generations. He calls this a “genetic uncertainty problem” (Trends in Genetics, vol. 16 [Nov. 2000], pp. 475-477). This finding suggests that wildlife at Rocky Flats could in the long term be hurt by conditions at the site, and that by the time humans realize what has happened, irreparable harm will have been done.

elk on leftElk and deer are present at Rocky Flats in sizeable numbers. No studies have been done to determine genetic effects of radiation exposure on these and other species of wildlife at Rocky Flats. The photo of the albino fawn was taken on the site.

Without question, of all creatures those most vulnerable to plutonium are human infants and children. This is so because:

  •    A human child is more likely than an adult to stir up dust, to eat dirt, to breathe in gasps, or to scrape a knee or elbow — all ways of taking tiny particles of plutonium into the body.
  •    Since a child’s body is smaller than an adult’s, internalized plutonium has more damaging power because the ratio of plutonium to body mass is significantly greater,
  •    Plutonium within a child’s body integrates with the child’s growth and tissue development.
  •    By contrast to adult humans or other beings, a child’s normal life span provides far more time for internalized alpha emitters to harm her or his health.

In the face of an environment at Rocky Flats contaminated with plutonium particles too small to see but not too small to do harm, the vulnerability of children was a major reason 81% of the 1,280 parties commenting in 2004 told U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service not to allow public access to the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Only 11% of commenting parties explicitly favored access. U.S. Fish & Wildlife (sometimes called “Fission Wildlife”) ignored this expression of public opinion and approved access (see U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge: Appendix H, Comments and Responses on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, Sept. 2004; for analysis, see http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/required-reading/public-rejects-refuge-access/ ).

Beck points out that the afflictions posed by high-tech and ecological risks “have  a new quality,” in that “they are no longer tied to their place origin, the industrial plant. By their nature they endanger all forms of life on this planet.”  This is especially true of nuclear pollutants, because “they outlast generations” and transcend space as well as time in that the harmful material has been and will continue to be carried by the wind great distances. Borders are no barriers to the free movement of invisible radioactive particles. “In the risk society, the unknown and unintended consequences come to be a dominant force in history and society” (Risk Society, p. 22).

The foregoing doesn’t square with the “cleanup” done at Rocky Flats, based as it was on the assumption that plutonium left behind will not migrate. This conclusion, reached by the multi-year Actinide Migration Evaluation done at the site, was derived mainly from computer modeling, not from empirical observation. But there are numerous empirical observations to counter this conclusion. The two most notable are, first, Dr. M. Iggy Litaor’s direct detection with instruments set up in the field at Rocky Flats of significant plutonium migration in surface and sub-surface soil in the unusually wet spring of 1995. Second is ecologist Shawn Smallwood’s 1996 study of burrowing animals at Rocky Flats. He identified 18 species that dig 10 to 16 feet below the surface and constantly take surface material down and bring buried material up, in the process disturbing in any given year as much as 11 to 12% of surface soil on the site. Their activity makes plutonium particles available for redistribution by wind, rain, traffic, animal, human and other forces (for references and more detail, see “Science compromised,” at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moores-blog/papers-by-leroy-moore-phd-2/ ).

digger animalsOne deep digger at Rocky Flats is the pocket gopher. Another is the harvester ant.

 

An unfortunate characteristic of risk society is that most scientists, especially in the nuclear field, have allied themselves with the centers of power in industry and government. The late Karl Z. Morgan, the “father of health physics” referred to earlier, pointed to this situation. He pioneered the field of radiation protection as part of the Manhattan Project and was for nearly thirty years head of health physics at the Oak Ridge National Lab. He was a founder of both the International Commission on Radiation Protection and the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, the two leading bodies responsible for recommending standards for permissible exposures to ionizing radiation. And he founded the Health Physics Society to protect people. Originally he and others in this new field believed that there was a threshold of radiation exposure below which harm would not occur, but he came to realize that there is no such thing as a safe dose and, crucially, that exposures at very low doses are more harmful per unit dose than exposures at higher doses. Toward the end of his long career he proposed reducing the maximum allowable lifetime plutonium body burden for nuclear workers 200-fold (American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal, August 1975). His proposal was ignored. After his retirement from the Oak Ridge Lab members of the Health Physics Society treated him as persona non grata. His autobiography explains how this organization came to be dominated by those more interested in protecting the industry rather than the exposed. He cites the moment when a president of the Health Physics Society told his colleagues, “Let’s all put our mouth where our money is” (Morgan and Ken M. Peterson, The Angry Genie: One Man’s Walk through the Nuclear Age, 1998, pp. 115-116).

Colorado was fortunate to have an outstanding public health servant in the person of Carl J. Johnson, MD, for several years Director of the Jefferson County Health Department. His best-known study, published in 1981 in Ambio, the journal of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, showed a direct correspondence between areas of plutonium contamination across the Denver metro area and cancer incidence within those same areas (see the map below). Though both the DOE and the State Health Department tried unsuccessfully to discredit this report, it remains as a work of integrity. By the time the study was actually published, however, real estate interests had gained the upper hand within the Jefferson County Commissioners and forced Johnson out of his job. (For a detailed analysis of Johnson’s work, see “Democracy and Public Health at Rocky Flats,” at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moores-blog/papers-by-leroy-moore-phd-2/ ).

Johnson map -1Carl J. Johnson studied cancer incidence for 1969-1971 among Anglos in three areas downwind of Rocky Flats defined by levels of plutonium contamination in millicuries per square kilometer as compared to the uncontaminated control Area IV. Area I on this map showed 16% more cancer than the non-contaminated area, Area II 12% more cancer, and Area III 6% more (Johnson, “Cancer Incidence in an Area Contaminated with Radionuclides Near a Nuclear Installation,” AMBIO, 10, 4, October 1981, p. 177).

Finally, Ulrich Beck says, “Risks of modernization sooner or later also strike those who produce or profit from them. They contain a boomerang effect, which breaks up the pattern of class and national society. Ecological disaster and atomic fallout ignore the borders of nations. Even the rich and powerful are not safe from them” (Risk Society, p. 23). As the effects of the risk society proliferate, populations will be increasingly divided between “the affected” and “the not-yet affected.” Beck’s prognosis for the risk society’s future is more pointed than Muller’s prediction of genetic collapse. “The escalating scarcity of health will drive even those still well off today into the ranks of the ‘soup kitchens’ . . . tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow into the pariah community of the invalid and the wounded. . . Freedom from risk can turn overnight into irreversible affliction.” (Risk Society, p. 40)

Dust at Candelas 6-17-11The author at Indiana St. and 96th Ave. (SE corner of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge) on a windy day, June 17, 2011. The proposed Jefferson Parkway would pass directly through the spot where he stands. Nearby is earth moved for the Candelas residential and commercial development slated to run across the southern edge of the Rocky Flats site. Photo by Robert Del Tredici.

The “cleanup” done at Rocky Flats could not have happened as it did had the “precautionary principle” been applied. Ditto for plans to build a highway on the most contaminated edge of the Rocky Flats site, or to build large residential developments on contaminated land near Rocky Flsts or to allow public access to the site. What is the precautionary principle?  Here is the January 26, 1998, Wingspread formulation:

“When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically. In this context the proponent of an activity, rather than the public, should bear the burden of proof. The process of applying the Precautionary Principle must be open, informed and democratic and must include potentially affected parties. It must also involve an examination of the full range of alternatives, including no action.” (http://www.sehn.org/wing.html)

The U.S. lags behind several countries and the European Union that have written this principle into their code of laws. Laws of course reflect consciousness, but laws also shape consciousness.

earth worksWhisper Creek residential development under construction near the southeast corner of the Rocky Flats site. Photo by Robert Del Tredici, May 2011.

Beck points to the necessity for fundamental cultural change, what eco-philosopher Joanna Macy and others refer to as “the great turning” from environmental risk-taking to ecological responsibility. Such a change happens as affected people — and we are all affected — awaken to the dangers of our risk society and join with others to do something about it. The Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship project of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center is devoted to this end. The first principle of the Nuclear Guardianship Ethic is: “Each generation shall endeavor to preserve the foundations of life and well-being for those who come after. To produce and abandon substances that damage following generations is morally unacceptable.” We invite others to join us in the work of Guardianship (see http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org ).

Colorado’s permissive standard for plutonium in soil

In Democracy, Environment, Jefferson Parkway, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on June 23, 2013 at 2:09 am

People often express shock at recent residential and commercial developments near Rocky Flats. I’m often asked, are there no restrictions on such development in that area? For an answer to this question, one needs to look at the history of the Colorado standard for plutonium in soil in areas off the Rocky Flats site.

The dawning of public awareness about Rocky Flats 

After a major fire in one of the plutonium processing buildings at Rocky Flats on Mother’s Day 1969, NCAR radiochemist Ed Martell and Stuart Poet sampled soil east of the facility and found elevated levels of plutonium. In February 1970 when they reported their results to officials from Rocky Flats and the Colorado Health Department (CDH) they were told that what they’d found came not from the 1969 fire but either from a fire that occurred on September 11, 1957, or from leaks from thousands of drums of plutonium-laced waste stored outside in the plant’s 903 area from 1954 till 1968. These two events had not been previously revealed by either Rocky Flats or CDH. Thus began public awareness that Rocky Flats endangered public health.
 
Government scientists map plutonium contamination

In 1970 Atomic Energy Commission scientists P. W. Krey and E. P. Hardy produced this map showing plutonium contamination in soil on and off the Rocky Flats site in becquerels per square meter (one becquerel equals one disintegration or burst of radiation per second).

Microsoft Word - Krey-Hardy Clean.doc

Colorado sets a standard for plutonium in soil
In response to these revelations, in January 1973 Colorado adopted a very stringent standard of 0.2 disintegrations per minute per gram of soil (dpm/g), declaring land that exceeds this standard is unfit for residential, commercial or industrial uses.”1 Less than two months later the state increased by tenfold the amount of plutonium to which exposure was allowed, from 0.2 to 2.0 dpm/g, while at the same time it dropped its prohibition against residential, commercial, or industrial uses in areas too contaminated to meet the new, more relaxed standard. Hereafter it would merely require “special techniques” for construction in such areas, such as plowing plutonium under.2 Thus the state gutted its initial fairly protective standard for one that is essentially worthless.

Dust sampling stops a residential development near Rocky Flats
In December 1974 a Jefferson County Commissioner asked Carl Johnson, Director of the Jefferson County Health Department, whether the commissioners should permit a new residential development on land just east of the Rocky Flats site. The CDH had already approved the project, despite having found plutonium in surface soil there up to seven times the state standard (they would require plowing prior to construction). Johnson and two U.S. Geological Survey colleagues employed the innovative method of sampling only respirable dust. Dust samples taken at 25 locations showed plutonium concentrations on average 44 times greater than what had been measured at the same locations by the state using whole-soil samples. Several readings exceeded previous ones by 100 times or more, one by 285 times.3 In
September 1975, when the County Commissioners saw the results, they vetoed the residential development.

Johnson proposes that the state sample dust, not soil

In October 1975 Johnson formally proposed that for, purposes of assessing health risk, the state set a new standard based on plutonium in respirable dust on the surface of the soil. “The coarser materials which are not inhaled and retained,” he pointed out, “have no bearing on the actual hazard to health and serve only to dilute the amount of radioactivity found by analysis, and may yield a spurious low concentration of plutonium that is misleading.”4   The CDH did not welcome Johnson’s proposal.  To resolve the issue, the Colorado Land Use Commission brought in Karl Z. Morgan, former chair of the internal dose committee of both the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements and the International Commission on Radiological Protection and recently retired from DOE’s Oak Ridge Lab. Morgan was asked whether for assessing the public health risk from plutonium in surface soil it was better to follow Johnson in using dust samples or the CDH in collecting whole-soil samples. Morgan sided with Johnson, in favor of using samples limited to “the respirable portion, less than 5 microns dust particles.” Employing Johnson’s method, he realized, would make the State’s 2.0 dpm/g plutonium standard far more protective, since, for samples taken at the same location, Johnson’s method shows concentrations 40 or more times greater than the CDH whole-soil approach.5 Colorado officials, having gotten from Morgan the advice they sought, chose to ignore it.

Ed Martell criticizes the state standard
At an EPA hearing in Denver in 1975, Martell said that the state standard of 2.0 dpm/g equals 0.9 picocurie per gram of soil. Rounding this number off, he said that allowing 1.0 pCi/g of plutonium in surface soil “will give rise to an estimated 10 to 100 pCi/g of insoluble airborne dust of respirable size.” It thus is far from clear, he said, that the state standard “is safe and acceptable.” It may be “at least 20 times too high.”6

Conclusion

This review shows that the Colorado standard for plutonium in soil fails to protect the public in several ways:
1. The shift from an initial strict 0.2 dpm/g standard for plutonium in soil to the 2.0 dpm/g standard increased by tenfold the quantity of unregulated plutonium in off-site soil.
2. Ending the original prohibitions against residential, commercial and industrial uses gave a green light for development on contaminated land near Rocky Flats.
3. The state’s refusal to adopt the method of sampling respirable dust on the surface of soil, as recommended by Carl Johnson and Karl Morgan, means, as Martell pointed out, that people in the area are far more likely to inhale airborne particles of plutonium, the worst way to be exposed to this highly toxic material.

Notes

1.  Cleere, R.L. 24 January 1973. Public notice of plutonium contamination in the area of the Dow Chemical Rocky Flats Plant, signed R. L. Cleere, Executive Director, CDH.
2.   Amendment to the State of Colorado Rules and Regulations Pertaining to Radiation Control, Subpart RH 4.21.1, adopted Colorado State Board of Health, 21 March 1973.
3.   Johnson, C., Tidball, R. R., and Severson, R. C., “Plutonium hazard in respirable dust on the surface soil.,” SCIENCE (6 August 1976), 193:488-490.
4.  Johnson, C., to Colorado Board of Health, “Proposal of a new interim standard to define the potential airborne-plutonium particle hazard in terms of concentration of plutonium in respirable dust on the surface of the land,” 14 October 1975.
5.   Morgan, K. Z., 21 January 1976, Transcript of Presentation, Colorado Land Use Commission Meeting, pp. 12-13.
6.  Martell, E. A. January 1975. Basic considerations in the assessment of the cancer risks and standards for internal alpha emitters. Statement presented at the public hearings on plutonium standards, US EPA, Denver, pp. 17, 20.

NO to Nuclear Power

In Democracy, Environment, Plutonium, Public Health on June 8, 2013 at 2:38 am

1) NOT GREEN

  • Nuclear power can’t take us to the necessary zero-carbon economy because even reactors emit some carbon dioxide, far less than coal or gas generation but decidedly more than zero.
  • Mining, milling and enriching uranium to produce reactor fuel generate huge amounts of greenhouse gases.
  • Also, reactors release large plumes of heat directly into air and water. Reactors in both France and the US have recently had to be shut down because they overheated adjacent rivers.
  • While certain well-known environmentalists have endorsed nuclear power, no significant environmental group has done so.

2) HIGH COST AND LONG LEAD-TIME

  • To replace coal power in the U.S. and stay at roughly equal electricity levels would entail building at least 200 reactors, at the rate of one every few months over the next 30 years.
  • Costs are escalating. While $6 billion per reactor is the number often cited, utilities now estimate that one 1500 MW reactor will cost from $6 to $12 billion to build.[1]
  • Decommissioning and managing spent fuel typically costs twice what was spent on construction.
  • The NRC has not certified any new reactor design of several proposed and won’t do so soon; cost and timeline therefore are up for grabs.[2]
  • A new reactor under construction in Finland, touted for its design, was 2 years behind schedule in 2008 and 50% ($2.5 B) over the fixed cost contract.[3] Who will pick up the tab?
  • It can take 10+ years to build a facility that may operate 30 to 40 years. Building 200 reactors in 30 years would cost $1.2 to $2.4 trillion for construction and $2.4 to $4.8 trillion for cleanup. And by the time it’s completed, we’d have to start a new round.
  • “Nuclear power, once claimed to be too cheap to meter, is now too costly to matter.” (The Economist, May 19, 2001)

3) A NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE? NUMBERS SAY NO

  • Despite industry projections, the number of reactors globally peaked at 444 in 2002 and dropped to 439 in 2008, while the nuclear share of electricity generation globally dropped by a full percentage point in 2007.[4]
  • The largest nuclear power station anywhere, a 7-reactor site in Japan, was shut down in 2007 by an earthquake that registered 2 points higher on the Richter scale than the reactors’ design basis.
  • In 2008 IAEA listed 35 reactors under construction globally; 11 have been in this category for 11 years. Watts Bar, the only U.S. reactor listed had been under construction since 1977.
  • In the half century of nuclear power’s existence in the US, of 253 plants ordered 132 (52%) were built; due to cost or reliability problems 21% of these were permanently shut down, while another 27% had one or more forced outages for at least a year.[5]
  • Industry says a reactor should operate 60 years, but few make it to 40. The average age to shutdown is 22 years. Worldwide, 117 reactors have been shut down. It’s unlikely enough reactors could be built to meet the timeline for dealing with global warming.
  • Southern California Edison just announced that two of its three San Onofre reactors will be decommissioned.

4) CRITICAL SHORTAGE OF TECHNICAL PERSONNEL

  • The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s Nuclear Energy Agency reported in 2004 that Finland, Germany, S. Korea, UK, and the USA require more nuclear competent engineers and scientists than are graduating.
  • Germany, which is phasing out its nuclear power program, faces a lack of enough competent personnel simply to maintain operations through closure and cleanup.
  • France needs 1500 new trained personnel per year but produces only 200.
  • US Labor Dept says a third of US nuclear industry workers are eligible to retire in the next 5 years. The industry will need to attract about 26,000 new employees over the next 10 years solely for existing facilities. The number of nuclear engineering programs at universities has declined from 65 to about 29, and these programs find attracting talented students difficult.
  • Mycle Schneider of WISE wants Greens (who are anti-nuclear) to go into this industry to help keep it safe.

5) WASTE PROBLEM

  • Reactor waste remains harmful for tens of thousands of years.
  • To build a new generation of reactors without knowing what to do with the huge quantity of radioactive waste generated by existing plants is highly irresponsible.
  • The US government has spent huge sums on an unsuccessful effort to solve this problem.
  • Yucca Mountain, touted as the solution for spent fuel, was a political, not a scientific, choice.
  • John Rowe, CEO of Exelon, the largest operator of reactors in the U.S., says nuclear power will have no future “major role” without “some federal solution to the waste problem.”[6]
  • Putting highly radioactive material in the environment, as proposed for Yucca Mountain, courts disaster.
  • The best solution to the waste problem is to stop producing it.

6) UNSAFE

  • Industry leaders like to say that new reactors are absolutely safe.
  • But all reactors routinely release some radiation to the external environment. The National Academy of Sciences affirmed in 2006 that any exposure to ionizing radiation is potentially harmful.
  • When accidents happen, they may be catastrophic.
  • The worst accidents yet, Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011, are downplayed by the industry. They estimate total deaths from the Chernobyl accident at about 4,000. Elizabeth Cardis of the International Agency for Cancer Research in Lyons, France, puts the number at 30,000 to 60,000. But a study done by Russian and Ukranian scientists estimates the global death toll from Chernobyl by the end of 2004 at 985,000.[7] The Fukushima accident continues to unfold, with latest reports in June 2013 citing problems with ever increasing quantities of radioactive water.
  • In 2002 the Davis-Besse plant in Ohio narrowly escaped a serious accident when inspectors found a football-size corrosion hole in the 6-inch thick steel cap. The plant had to shut down for repairs for 2 years at a cost of $600 million.
  • Charles Perrow’s Normal Accidents (1999) shows that we should expect accidents in high-risk technologies.[8]

7) TERRORIST TARGETS

  • An attack on a nuclear reactor or its cooling pond containing highly radioactive spent fuel rods could disperse radioactive debris over a large area.
  • The NRC said a fire in Vermont Yankee’s spent fuel pool could cause “25,000 fatalities over a distance of 500 miles if evacuation was 95% effective.”[9]
  • A British specialist calls nuclear power plants “pre-deployed radiological weapons” within countries terrorists may want to hit.
  • A terrorist attack on the Indian Point nuclear power plant 24 miles north of NYC could require the evacuation of as many as 10 million residents and result in untold instant and later deaths.

8) NUCLEAR PROLIFERATION

  • The technology for nuclear power can also be used to make weapons.
  • Israel, India, Pakistan, South Africa, North Korea and Iraq took this route to the bomb. Iran and others could follow.
  • Most of the world’s supply of fissile plutonium was produced as a byproduct of the operation of civilian nuclear reactors.
  • We’ll never rid the world of nuclear weapons if we don’t rid it of nuclear power.
  • Ending availability of nuclear fuel and technology would make starting a bomb program more difficult and more conspicuous and thus easier to detect and to penalize.

9) THE ALTERNATIVES

  • Large central plants – coal, gas, nuclear – are becoming more costly as more are built.
  • The alternatives to nuclear are what Amory Lovins calls “negawatts” and “micropower.”
  • Negawatts refers to electricity saved by energy efficiency or curtailment.[10]
  • Micropower comprises two types of less-centralized technologies:

a)   Generation or cogeneration of electricity onsite (not at a remote utility plant), such as gas-fired plus passive solar.

b)   Renewables (excluding big hydro) are tending to drop in cost, also to experience technological breakthroughs. The key is to mix renewables according to local and regional conditions, both to store energy and to get constant electricity generation.

  • Data compiled annually by the Rocky Mountain Institute shows that “micropower surpassed nuclear power in 2006 in total electricity production (each provides 1/6 of the world’s power), surpassed nuclear generating capacity in 2002, and is growing enormously faster.[11]
  • A recent German study confirmed that “integrated wind, PV, and biogas could reliably provide all German electricity.”[12]
  • “US windpower potential on available land is more than twice the entire US annual use of electricity.”[13]
  • Subsidies for renewables have vacillated wildly and been tiny by comparison to nuclear. The most plausible explanation for their comparative success versus nuclear and other central stations is “that they have lower costs and financial risks.”[14]
  • New nuclear is “so costly and slow . . . that it will retard the provision of energy services.”[15]
  •  In Carbon -Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy (Takoma Park, MD: IEER Press, 2007), Arjun Makhijani of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research shows how the US (and other countries) can achieve the goal of zero carbon emissions within the next 30 to 50 years without reliance on nuclear power. The effort entails a mix of weaning ourselves from carbon and nuclear, applying energy efficiency across the board, and determining the blend of renewables appropriate for the region where we live. Following IEER’s rigorous but possible carbon-free and nuclear-free path would eliminate most pollution and thus improve public health.[16]

10) A POOR INVESTMENT

  • Wall Street shuns nuclear power as too expensive and too risky.
  • The industry has survived only because it’s been highly subsidized. In 2008 the industry sought $50 B in loan guarantees but got only $20 B. The target for next year is loan guarantees and other subsidies that could cost up to $200 B; the industry did not get what it sought.
  • The Congressional Budget Office says the risk of default on these loan guarantees is “very high – well above 50 percent.”
  • On March 10, 2008, Gregory Jaczko of the NRC said the federal government must put up $500 B in loan guarantees if there’s to a nuclear renaissance.[17] This has not happened.
  • In September 2008, Rep. Peter Visclosky, chair of a key committee, said programs to subsidize nuclear power are “temporary.”
  • If the industry defaults, the taxpayers will pick up the tab.
  • Forbes magazine (Feb 11. 1985) called the US experience with nuclear construction in the 1970s and 80s “the largest managerial disaster in U.S. business history, involving $100 billion in wasted investments and cost overruns.”
  • No plant ordered after 1973 was completed and all but one order placed since 1978 were canceled. The exception is two reactors under construction at the Vogtle site in Georgia.
  • There are no current orders, only placeholders in the queue for subsidies.
  • “The US nuclear revival continues to lack a key element: buyers.”[18]
  • “Every dollar invested in nuclear expansion will worsen climate change by buying less solution per dollar.”[19]

11) NON-DEMOCRATIC

  • The nuclear industry requires a centralized command structure and an information system not readily accessible to the affected public.
  • The NRC’s new process to expedite licensing of new reactors is not friendly to local populations that question industry plans.
  • John Rowe of Exelon says “you don’t start building reactors unless you have a whole lot of political support.” Moreover, increasing support in general “doesn’t necessarily mean that enough people near to a new nuclear site are supportive.”[20]
  • “The European public is still strongly opposed to the use of nuclear power; those who are worried about climate change are even more fiercely opposed.”[21]

RESOURCES

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (Sept/Oct 2008), issue devoted to “The future of nuclear energy”

Helen Caldicott, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer (NY: New Press, 2006)

Richard Heinberg, The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2003)

Amory B. Lovins and Imran Sheikh, The Nuclear Illusion (27 May 2008), p. 24. Available under Nuclear Energy on the web site of the Rocky Mountain Institute (www.rml.org)

Amory B. Lovins interviewed by Amy Goodman, July 16, 2008 http://www.democracynow.org/2008/7/16/amory_lovins_expanding_nuclear_power_makes

Arjun Makhijani, Carbon-Free and Nuclear-Free: A Roadmap for U.S. Energy Policy (Takoma Park, MD: IEER Press, 2007) For an abreviated version, go to http://www.ieer.org/sdafiles/index.html then scroll down and open Volume 15, Number 1.

Christian Parenti, “What Nuclear Renaissance?” The Nation, May 12, 2008

Mycle Schneider, Status and Trends of the World Nuclear Industry, presentation for the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, Oak Ridge, TN, Sept. 13, 2008

Mycle Schneider, 2008 World Nuclear Industry Status Report (in three parts) http://www.thebulletin.org/web-edition/reports/2008-world-nuclear-industry-

Brice Smith, Insurmountable Risks: The Danger of Using Nuclear Power to Combat Global Climate change (Takoma Park, MD: IEER Press, 2006)

WISE (World Information Service on Energy)

Effects of resuming uranium mining in the western states of the USA: http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/174946/Tomgram%3A%20%20Chip%20Ward%2C%20Uranium%20Frenzy%20in%20the%20West


[1] FPL estimate in Feb 08 is $5,000 to $7,000/kW, or $13-$14 B for two unit plant; five months later FPL filed formal estimate of $12 to $24 billion for the two reactors. (Lovins 6) Lovins details reasons for cost increases, esp. for the US where qualified suppliers have declined from about 400 in the 1980s to 80 today.

[2] Harvey Wasserman, “New nukes not ready for prime time: Nuclear Regulatory Commission deals devastating blow to nuclear power industry,” CounterPunch, July 25, 2008

[3] Olkiliuoto-3, Finland (Areva): Environmental Impact Assessment 1998-99; application approved 2002; site selected 2003; construction began 2005. By 2007, running 24 months late; expected startup 2011. Lead time, 12-13 years since EIA. Guaranteed fixed price €3 B ($4.33 B); cost overrun 2 years after construction start, €1.5 B ($2.66 B).

[4] Mycle Schneider, Alliance for Nuclear Accountability presentation, 9-11-08.

[5] Amory B. Lovins and Imran Sheikh, The Nuclear Illusion (27 May 2008), p. 24. Available under Nuclear Energy on the web site of the Rocky Mountain Institute (www.rml.org)

[6] Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Sept/Oct 2008, p. 12.

[7] Alexey V. Yablolov, Vassily B. Nesterenko and Alexey V. Nesterenko, Chernobyl: Consequences of the Catastrophe for People and the Environment, Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, vol. 1181 (2009), p. 210.

[8] Notes based on chap. 3 of Helen Caldicott, Nuclear Power Is Not the Answer (2006).

  • Fissioning uranium in reactors creates more than 200 human-made nuclear elements.
  • In the USA we are routinely exposed to c. 100 mrem of naturally occurring radiation. If 125 people receive this dose annually for 70 years, one will get cancer.
  • Yet NRC allows an additional 100 mrem/y exposure from nuclear reactors.
  • Standards are set to protect the “standard man” not the most vulnerable – very young, very old, infirm.
  • There are some 80,000 chemicals in common use; little is known about the synergistic effects of mixing non-radioactive toxins with radiation.
  • NAS says man-made radiation accounts for 18% of human exposure. Caldicott thinks this percentage will increase with more leaks from radioactive materials in the environment.

[9] Christian Parenti, “What Nuclear Renaissance?” The Nation, May 12, 2008, p. 16.

[10] Every dollar invested in energy efficiency removes seven times more CO2 from the atmosphere than a dollar invested in nuclear power. But according to Richard Heinberg, The Party’s Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies (2003), “the curtailment of energy usage offers clearer benefits than improved efficiency. . . . (E)ventually curtailment means reducing economic activity. . . It means fundamental changes not only in the pattern of life but also in the quality of life that we have become accustomed to.” (p. 163)

[11] Lovins and Sheikh, p. 29. “Dismissed as unimportant, uneconomic, unreliable, and futuristic, micropower in 2005 provided from one-sixth to more than half of all electricity in a dozen industrial countries, including 53% in Denmark, 38% in Finland and Holland, 31% in Russia, 20% in Germany, 17% in Japan and Poland, vs. 6% in the United States, which still has many barriers to fair competition.” (p. 31)

[12] Lovins and Sheikh, p. 23

[13] Lovins and Sheikh, p. 23

[13] Lovins and Sheikh, p. 40

[14] Lovins and Sheikh, p. 35

[15] Lovins and Sheikh, p. 37

[16] See http://www.ieer.org/sdafiles/index.html and go to vol. 15, no 1

[17] Selena Williams, “US Government Loan Guarantees for New Nuclear Too Small — NRC,” Dow Jones Newswires, March 10, 2008

[18] Lovins and Sheikh, p. 49. In Jan 07 Standard and Poor’s said it “does not anticipate construction of new [US] plants to start in the next few years. . .  The challenges. . .can be extremely risky,” with operating risk “inherently” higher than average. (Lovins 46)  “Market behavior increasingly suggests that the ever more heroic nuclear subsidies wil elicit the same response as defibrillating a corpse: it will jump, but it won’t revive.” (Lovins, 49)   Under the Price-Anderson Act (initially passed in 1957), the federal govt. is responsible for major liability costs (over $10 B).

[19] Lovins and Sheikh, p. 15

[20] Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Sept/Oct 08, pp. 10, 13

[21] Gallup, April 2007; quoted in Mycle Schneider, ANA 13 Sept. 08

Very bad news: EPA posts new Protective Action Guides for nuclear events

In Democracy, Environment, Public Health on June 5, 2013 at 2:12 am

The EPA should be called the Enterprise Protection Agency for issuing new Protection Action Guides (PAGs) that greatly relax existing standards for protecting the public and the environment in the USA in the event of a major accident at a nuclear power plant (think Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island), attack with a “dirty” (radioactive) bomb, releases from nuclear fuel or weapons facilities, or major transportation accident. EPA is implementing these new PAGs even though it is still collecting public comments on them. For more detail on this see http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/312-16/17724-epa-dramatically-weakens-radiation-protection

Honoring Kristen Iversen’s FULL BODY BURDEN: GROWING UP IN THE NUCLEAR SHADOW OF ROCKY FLATS. Good karma and bad.

In Democracy, Environment, Public Health, Rocky Flats on May 5, 2013 at 11:41 am

Every year in the spring the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability presents awards in Washington, DC, to those who have made major contributions over the previous year to efforts to end production of nuclear weapons and get responsible management of nuclear waste and the maximum possible cleanup of contaminated sites. One award presented on April 16, 2013, went to Kristen Iversen for her book, FULL BODY BURDEN: GROWING UP IN THE NUCLEAR SHADOW OF ROCKY FLATS. I had the honor of presenting this award. Here is the text of my remarks honoring her.

It is my distinct pleasure to present an ANA award to Kristen Iversen. Kristen, as many here know, last year published to great acclaim a book called Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats. This beautifully written work intertwines two very personal narratives, one of life within a dysfunctional family residing in a sort of suburban paradise, the other one of gradually awakening to what it means to live immediately downwind of a dysfunctional nuclear weapons plant. No recent work in this field has attracted so large a readership so quickly. Critics are set back by its close documentation, especially on matters of ongoing controversy, while the open-hearted are won over by Kristen’s very direct communication.

I wish to address Kristen’s relation to karma. I refer not to her sister, Karma, but to the Hindu/Buddhist principle that what has been sown in past lives is reaped in present and future ones. People often think of karma as simply an individual matter, but it’s also a social reality, a very profound one. A society reaps what it has sown. It brings its fate upon itself. A given society – say the society of the USA – is at any given moment the inevitable and irrevocable product of its past. The culture of a society, the collective human habit of its people, shapes that society for good or ill.

Thus the USA of 2013 is a karmic expression of our imperial, racist, patriarchal, genocidal and ecocidal past. The nuclear menace that ANA addresses is a fateful expression of what has gone before. It exists not simply because our government corralled the scientists who could produce the bomb at just the time we had the political leadership willing, even eager, to use it, so use it we did to the applause of most of the people, who thereafter, with few exceptions, willingly paid the taxes to keep the nuclear behemoth alive, decade after decade, despite the local hazard and the global threat. We had conquered a continent; we could conquer the world. Collectively, some very large portion of the people of the USA created the karmic fate that now confronts us. How we respond creates the karma future generations must deal with.

Enter Kristen Iversen, a very gifted woman who applies her gifts in a frank, honest, compelling and compassionate addressing of the bad karma that Rocky Flats demonstrates. In Colorado, we are just now experiencing a renaissance of activism focused on the poisonous legacy of the defunct Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant. We are witnessing a new awakening of people who, very much because of Kristen Iversen, have a deep awareness of the karmic harm rendered by the DOE, its contractors and its regulators at Rocky Flats. And they are saying NO. Kristen’s good karma is already manifesting itself.

Thank you, Kristen.

Rocky Flats and the Risk Society

In Democracy, Environment, Jefferson Parkway, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Wildlife Refuge on March 3, 2013 at 9:20 am

In 1992 German social analyst Ulrich Beck offered a compelling critique of modern industrial society with his book Risk Society. As articulated by Beck, a “risk society” is one in which risks

  • are readily produced by human action,
  • are officially regarded as minor, and
  • are widely accepted by those affected.

This seamless disregard for risk is mirrored in the behavior of the several government agencies that bear official responsibility for conditions at Rocky Flats. Now, whether they support opening the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge to the public or clear the way for construction of the proposed Jefferson Parkway along the eastern, most-contaminated edge of the Rocky Flats site, they repeatedly tell the public:

  1. that operations in the past at Rocky Flats contaminated the environment with plutonium and other toxins;
  2. that the agencies responsible for public health regard present conditions on and off the site as “safe”; and
  3. that the public has therefore no reason for worry.

Beck presents a strong alternative to this disregard for risk. I believe we should carefully consider what he and others in accord with his view have to say. To begin with, the risks to which he refers typically are posed by contaminants that cannot be seen, tasted or smelled. This kind of risk is a relatively new phenomenon; its nuclear form dates only from the 1940s. In the case of Rocky Flats, the principal contaminant is plutonium in the form of minute radioactive particles released into the environment as a result of routine operations and accidents at the now defunct nuclear bomb factory.

The distinctive feature of our modern “risk society” is that the risk is ecological. It damages and destroys the natural ecosystem to which we belong and on which we depend for our very existence, but it does this not immediately but over the long-term.

In The Turning Point (1982) physicist Fritjof Capra of the University of California in Berkeley said that because of the toxicity and 24,000-year half-life of plutonium 239 (used in abundance at Rocky Flats), it should be isolated from the environment for 500,000 years. At Rocky Flats the plutonium was not isolated from the environment but was deposited in it. Because a ceiling was put on how much could be spent on the Superfund “cleanup” of the plutonium-contaminated Rocky Flats site, those responsible for the cleanup finished the job quickly because they made no effort to remove the maximum amount possible of this toxic material. An unknown quantity was purposefully left behind. That plutonium was left behind is bad enough; that the amount left behind has not been quantified makes matters worse.

Plutonium emits alpha radiation. Unlike other forms of radiation, such as gamma rays and x-rays, alpha particles cannot penetrate skin, but when plutonium particles find their way into the body, the damage they create can be much greater than damage caused by x-rays and gamma rays. Plutonium particles lodged within the body steadily bombard surrounding tissue with radiation, very likely for the rest of one’s life. Over time, the result may be cancer, a compromised immune system or some other ailment, including genetic harm that can be transmitted to future generations.

Pu in lung image

“The black star in the middle of this picture shows the tracks made by alpha rays emitted from a particle of plutonium-239 in the lung tissue of an ape. The alpha rays do not travel very far, but once inside the body, they can penetrate more than 10,000 cells within their range. This set of alpha tracks (magnified 500 times) occurred over a 48-hour period” (Robert Del Tredici, At Work in the Fields of the Bomb [1987], plate 39).

Herman Muller was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1946 for his discovery that radiation damage could affect future generations. He predicted gradual reduction of humankind’s survival ability due to exposure to radiation over multiple generations (“Radiation and Heredity,” American Journal of Public Health, 1964). His work suggests that radiation introduced into the world by humans may in time destroy our species. A British research team concluded that chromosomal damage from plutonium exposure is essentially “infinite,” because the extent of harm to the human gene pool is incalculable (M. A. Khadim et al., Nature, Feb. 1992). Commenting on the work of Khadim’s group, science writer Rob Edwards observed that the resultant “genomic instability” may account for illnesses other than cancer, illnesses so elusive that epidemiology is “powerless” to detect any relationship between their incidence and exposure to radiation (New Scientist, vol. 11, Oct. 1997, pp. 37-40).

Microsoft Word - Krey-Hardy Clean.doc

Distribution of plutonium contamination from Rocky Flats in becquerels per square meter (one becquerel equals one disintegration or burst of radiation per second). The original version of this map was prepared by P. W. Krey and E. P. Hardy of the Atomic Energy Commission’s Health and Safety Laboratory, New York City, and published in their 1970 report, “Plutonium in Soil Around the Rocky Flats Plant,” HASL 235. Sampling done in September 2011 along Indiana St. by independent scientist Marco Kaltofen showed that present deposits of plutonium are roughly equivalent to the levels measured by Krey and Hardy in 1970. The dotted red line shows the route of the proposed Jefferson Parkway.

What is clear is that the official incautious attitude toward the plutonium remaining in the environment at Rocky Flats after completion of what DOE has called its “risk-based cleanup” means we are gambling with people’s lives now and into the deep future. The government agencies that approved hazardous conditions at Rocky Flats and removed most of the site from the national Superfund list are prime exemplars of the risk society. When they tell us that the contaminants left in the environment are “safe,” what they mean is that they meet official standards for permissible exposure. They rarely emphasize that exposure standards by their very nature allow some level of risk. Besides, their ways of calculating risk do not take into account the enormous range of individual susceptibility to exposure to radiation. What doesn’t harm one may very well harm another.

Of course, those who establish and enforce standards for permissible exposure know as well as I do that the National Academy of Sciences, in its series of studies on Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation, has repeatedly concluded, most recently in 2006 (BEIR VII), that any exposure to radiation is potentially harmful. This means there is no such thing as a safe dose of radiation, something that Karl Z. Morgan, “the father of health physics” at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, concluded during his studies that began with the Manhattan Project. And those who set and enforce standards for Rocky Flats must certainly be familiar with the British “Committee Examining Radiation Risks of Internal Emitters” which concluded in 2004 that the cancer risk from very low-doses of plutonium may be ten or more times more dangerous than allowed for by existing exposure standards (see http://www.cerrie.org).

This last point is strongly reinforced from a different angle by research done by Tom K. Hei and colleagues of the Center for Radiological Research at Columbia University. They demonstrated that a single plutonium alpha particle induces mutations in mammalian cells. Cells receiving very low doses were more likely to be damaged than destroyed. Replication of these damaged cells constitutes genetic harm, and more such harm per unit dose occurs at very low doses than would occur with higher dose exposures. “These data,” they concluded, “provide direct evidence that a single alpha particle traversing a nucleus will have a high probability of resulting in a mutation and highlight the need for radiation protection at low doses” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 94, Apr. 1997). In a follow-up study, they found that “a single alpha particle can induce mutations and chromosome aberrations in [adjacent] cells that received no direct radiation exposure to their DNA,” what is often referred to as “the bystander effect” (Ibid, vol. 98, 4 Dec. 2001).

During more than a decade that I served on oversight and advisory bodies focused on Rocky Flats, when I asked government personnel responsible for public health at Rocky Flats about such studies, I typically got a blank stare, as if I’d trespassed into sacred space for which they held sole responsibility.

For several years I was privileged to be a member of two committees of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP), a non-government body that researches radiation health effects and makes recommendations to government and industry regarding exposure standards. I hoped, as a token outsider, that I could persuade this elite body of radiation health specialists to open their deliberations to people directly affected by the exposure standards they were calculating, such as workers in the nuclear industry and people who live or work near nuclear installations. Two activist colleagues and I were invited to make a presentation at the NCRP annual meeting in 2003; there was a vigorous dismissal of what we proposed. Our paper was later published, under the title “Stakeholder Perspectives on Radiation Protection” (Lisa Ledwidge, LeRoy Moore and Lisa Crawford in Health Physics, Sept. 2004). It garnered zero feedback. I soon thereafter resigned from the committees to which I had belonged.

Dust at Candelas 6-17-11

The author at Indiana St. and 96th Ave. (SE corner of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge) on a windy day, June 17, 2011. The proposed Jefferson Parkway would pass directly through the spot where he stands. Nearby is earth moved for the Candelas development slated to run across the southern edge of the Rocky Flats site. Photo by Robert Del Tredici.

Regarding those responsible for radiation exposure standards, Beck observes: “Whoever limits pollution has also concurred in it.” Official exposure standards “may indeed prevent the very worst from happening, but they are at the same time ‘blank checks’ to poison nature and mankind a bit” (Risk Society, p. 64). In other words, we give the agencies charged with protecting public health permission to poison us. Because susceptibility to toxins varies widely, who can say which one of us will be among the vulnerable that receive a lethal dose?

Without question, those most vulnerable to plutonium are human infants and children. This is so because:

  • A human child is more likely than an adult to stir up dust, to eat dirt, to breathe in gasps, or to scrape a knee or elbow — all ways of taking tiny particles of plutonium into the body.
  • Since a child’s body is smaller than an adult’s, internalized plutonium has more damaging power because the ratio of plutonium to body mass is significantly greater,
  • Plutonium within a child’s body integrates with the child’s growth and tissue development.
  • By contrast to adult humans or other beings, a child’s normal life span provides far more time for internalized alpha emitters to harm her or his health.

In the face of an environment at Rocky Flats contaminated with plutonium particles too small to see but not too small to do damage, the vulnerability of children was a major reason 81% of the 1,280 parties commenting in 2004 told U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service not to allow public access to the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. Only 11% of commenting parties explicitly favored access. U.S. Fish & Wildlife (sometimes called “Fission Wildlife”) ignored this expression of public opinion and approved access (see U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge: Appendix H, Comments and Responses on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, Sept. 2004; for analysis, see http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/required-reading/public-rejects-refuge-access/ ).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Beck points out that the afflictions posed by high-tech and ecological risks “have a new quality,” in that “they are no longer tied to their place of origin, the industrial plant. By their nature they endanger all forms of life on this planet.” This is especially true of nuclear pollutants, because “they outlast generations” and transcend space as well as time in that the harmful material has been and will continue to be carried by the wind great distances. Borders are no barriers to the free movement of invisible particles. “In the risk society, the unknown and unintended consequences come to be a dominant force in history and society” (Risk Society, p. 22).

The foregoing doesn’t square with the “cleanup” done at Rocky Flats, based as it was on the assumption that plutonium left behind will not migrate. This conclusion, reached by the multi-year Actinide Migration Evaluation done at the site, was derived from computer modeling more than from empirical observation. But there are numerous empirical observations to counter this conclusion. The two most notable are (1) Dr. M. Iggy Litaor’s direct detection with field instruments of significant surface and sub-surface migration of plutonium in the unusually wet spring of 1995, and (2) ecologist Shawn Smallwood’s 1996 study of burrowing animals at Rocky Flats. Smallwood identified 18 species that dig 10 to 16 feet below the surface and constantly take surface material down and bring buried material up, in the process disturbing in any given year as much as 11 to 12% of surface soil and doing so in a completely unpredictable way, making plutonium particles available for redistribution by wind, rain, traffic, animal, human and other forces (for references and more detail, see “Science compromised,” at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moores-blog/papers-by-leroy-moore-phd-2/ ).

earth works

Residential development just off Indiana St. near the southeast corner of the Rocky Flats site. Photo by Robert Del Tredici, May 2011.

An unfortunate characteristic of risk society is that most scientists, especially in the nuclear field, have allied themselves with the centers of power in industry and government. The late Karl Z. Morgan, the “father of health physics” referred to earlier, exemplified this situation. He pioneered the field of radiation safety as part of the Manhattan Project and was for nearly thirty years head of health physics at the Oak Ridge National Lab. He was a founder of both the International Commission on Radiation Protection and the U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, the two leading bodies responsible for recommending standards for permissible exposures to ionizing radiation. And he founded the Health Physics Society to protect people. Originally he and others in this new field believed that there was a threshold of radiation exposure below which harm would not occur, but he came to realize that there is no such thing as a safe dose and, crucially, that exposures at very low doses are more harmful per unit dose than exposures at higher doses. Toward the end of his long career he proposed reducing the maximum allowable lifetime plutonium body burden for nuclear workers 200-fold (American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal, August 1975). His proposal was ignored. After his retirement from the Oak Ridge Lab members of the Health Physics Society treated him as persona non grata. His autobiography, The Angry Genie, explains how this organization came to be dominated by those more interested in protecting the industry rather than the exposed. He cites the moment when a president of the Health Physics Society told his colleagues, “Let’s all put our mouth where our money is” (Morgan and Ken M. Peterson, The Angry Genie: One Man’s Walk through the Nuclear Age, 1998, pp. 115-116).

Johnson map -1

Carl J. Johnson studied cancer incidence for 1969-1971 among Anglos in three areas downwind of Rocky Flats defined by levels of plutonium contamination in millicuries per square kilometer as compared to the uncontaminated control Area IV. Area I on this map showed 16% more cancer then the non-contaminated area, Area II 12% more cancer, and Area III 6% more (Johnson, “Cancer Incidence in an Area Contaminated with Radionuclides Near a Nuclear Installation,” AMBIO, 10, 4, October 1981, p. 177).

Colorado was fortunate to have an outstanding public health servant in the person of Carl J. Johnson, MD, for several years Director of the Jefferson County Health Department. His best-known study, published in 1981 in Ambio, the journal of the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences, showed a direct correspondence between areas of plutonium contamination across the Denver metro area and cancer incidence within those same areas, as shown on the map above. Though both the DOE and the State Health Department tried unsuccessfully to discredit this report, it remains as a work of integrity. By the time the study was actually published, however, real estate interests had gained the upper hand within the Jefferson County Commissioners and forced Johnson out of his job. (For a detailed analysis of Johnson’s work, see “Democracy and Public Health at Rocky Flats,” at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moores-blog/papers-by-leroy-moore-phd-2/ ).

Finally, Ulrich Beck says, “Risks of modernization sooner or later also strike those who produce or profit from them. They contain a boomerang effect, which breaks up the pattern of class and national society. Ecological disaster and atomic fallout ignore the borders of nations. Even the rich and powerful are not safe from them” (Risk Society, p. 23). As the effects of the risk society proliferate, populations will be increasingly divided between “the affected” and “the not-yet affected.” Beck’s prognosis for the risk society’s future is more pointed than Muller’s prediction of genetic collapse. “The escalating scarcity of health will drive even those still well off today into the ranks of the ‘soup kitchens’ . . . tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow into the pariah community of the invalid and the wounded. . . Freedom from risk can turn overnight into irreversible affliction.” (Risk Society, p. 40)

Beck points to the necessity for fundamental cultural change, what eco-philosopher Joanna Macy and others refer to as “the great turning” from environmental risk-taking to ecological responsibility. Such a change happens as affected people — and we are all affected — awaken to the dangers of our risk society and join with others to do something about it. The Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship project of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center is devoted to this end. The first principle of the Nuclear Guardianship Ethic is: “Each generation shall endeavor to preserve the foundations of life and well-being for those who come after. To produce and abandon substances that damage following generations is morally unacceptable.” We invite others to join us in the work of Guardianship (see http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org ).

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 242 other followers