January 13, 2011, Nuclear Guardianship session
Our Rocky Flats: Call to Nuclear Guardianship series got off to a good start at Naropa’s Nalanda campus on the evening of Thursday, January 13, 2011, with my power-point presentation, “Rocky Flats: A Local Hazard Forever.”
About 40 very responsive persons attended. We had a good Q & A time after the presentation. On hand, among others, were two members of the board of the Rocky Flats museum, two former RF workers, several women who had been prominent in public participation during the cleanup phase of the site’s history, two scientists who are specialists on airborne releases of plutonium from RF, and, much to my surprise, the RF coordinator for the Colo. Dept. of Public Health and Environment.
I had this last person specifically in mind when I ended my presentation by referring to the necessity in our Guardianship work of moving beyond an adversarial approach to government agencies, the other side of which is that government personnel need to get serious about their responsibility for protecting public health and environmental integrity.
I will refer briefly to the two former RF workers who were present. One, a man close to my age (79), worked at RF from 1953 until closure in 2005 and was an administrator for much of this time. He took me aside after my talk to focus on two points, first, that I was wrong in saying that there was a plume of smoke from the 1969 fire. “I was there,” he said, “and there was no plume of smoke. You need to be correct about this or people will call you on it.” I thanked him, said I accepted his correction, though I’d certainly heard others say there was smoke visible across the metro area. His second point was that there was never any danger from plutonium. People got sick from exposure to beryllium, asbestos, various chemicals, but not from plutonium. He carries a plutonium body burden, had his third surgery for cancer late last year, yet is convinced that plutonium is no problem. On the one hand, no problem even if it’s present and, on the other hand, there’ve been only minor releases to the external environment. Such as the 1957 fire: insignificant. I had said this fire resulted in the largest single release of plutonium to the external environment in the history of the plant (the dose reconstruction study reached this conclusion). I listened, hardly knowing what to say. This man is the second old-timer who held a high-ranking position at the plant who has told me essentially the same thing about plutonium within the past two months. (This blog has my long response to Rocky Flats Facts, an online book written by the other of these two men.) Both these very likeable individuals have had cancer. Both deny that plutonium can be harmful, say it’s overrated as a danger. Of course I don’t agree, a central theme of my presentation that evening being the danger posed by particles of plutonium remaining in the RF environment that are too small to see but not too small to do harm. I refer the reader to my fact sheet on risk from plutonium in the RF environment, posted on this blog, also available at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org
The other former RF worker was a man I’d not previously met. He spoke for about five minutes at the very end of the evening, referring to the corruption and compromises made during the cleanup, especially with Kaiser-Hill’s practice of sub-contracting pieces of the cleanup work, which meant workers got paid for doing as they were told, no longer had the support of a union, no longer were obliged to follow the rules about safety, just do the work without complaint; complain and you’d be relocated or dismissed. He said he’d held a management position, was very familiar with safety protocols, but that the sub-contractors had no interest in these procedures. They were there to do a job and to pocket the money and run. I thought as I listened to him that it was rather like local outsourcing of work. He also spoke of the severe pre-cancer conditions that happened with RF workers exposed to toxins on the job. People whose immune systems have been harmed can have a wide range of strange sicknesses – reduced immunity, diabetes, kidney problems, etc. ¬ for which they cannot qualify for federal compensation. He dislikes the over-emphasis on cancer in the compensation program. I want this man to be interviewed for the RF oral history collection.
On the evening of Tuesday, March 8, I’ll do the “Rocky Flats: Local Hazard Forever” presentation in Nederland for the Mountain Peace Forum. Far more detail about environmental conditions at RF is available in my “Plutonium & People Don’t Mix,” on line at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org