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Archive for June, 2018|Monthly archive page

After decades of secrets, Rocky Flats still gives me pause

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Politics, Public Health, Rocky Flats on June 17, 2018 at 1:19 am

Denver Post, June 16, 2018

I most likely owe my very existence to the atomic bomb.

My father was in what was supposed to be the first wave of soldiers to occupy Japan in World War II. Based on the battles of Iwo Jima, Guam, and Okinawa, they had been told by their commanding officers that there was little chance they would survive. It had been estimated that the U.S. would lose at least a million soldiers in the occupation. My father figured he would be one of them.

My father strongly believed that more lives were saved than were lost by our use of nuclear weapons. Over the years he convinced me that was true.

I am, however, opposed to nuclear contamination.

Rocky Flats has become infamous for nuclear contamination. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and anyone else who has studied Rocky Flats admits that there was massive nuclear and hazardous waste contamination at the site. They also admit that the contamination was both inside and outside the boundaries of the plant.

The contamination, mostly from plutonium fires and corroding drums full of nuclear hazardous waste, was kept secret from the public by the DOE and its contractors until 1969. The highly visible billowing black smoke from a fire that year made it obvious to outside observers that nuclear contamination was escaping from the site. Independent tests were performed to assess the extent of contamination. When the civilian monitoring teams challenged government officials with the observed measurements, they were told that actually, most of the offsite contamination had come from a more catastrophic fire in 1957. It was the first time anyone in the public had been made aware of that disaster.

Due to Cold War fears and the growing number of military targets identified behind the Iron Curtain, DOE pushed its contractors hard to produce more and more plutonium triggers faster and faster. Safety for workers and the community was secondary, or an afterthought. The contractors were given blanket immunity by the federal government for most lawsuits, should problems occur. This attitude led to numerous accidents and unnecessary exposures for workers, as well as growing piles of waste that had to be stored onsite. Plutonium was handled in such a haphazard fashion that more than a ton of it was eventually lost, or unaccounted for. This culture led to Rocky Flats being ranked by the DOE as the most dangerous nuclear site in the United States. Two of its buildings made the list of the ten most contaminated buildings in America. Building 771 at Rocky Flats was number one.

In 1989, based on information from a plant whistle-blower alleging environmental crimes, the FBI and EPA raided Rocky Flats. This eventually led to the closure of the site and a special grand jury which, after more than 3 years of testimony, sought to criminally indict three government officials and five employees of the plant contractor. The Department of Justice refused to indict, however, and instead negotiated a plea bargain with the contractor, who was required to pay an $18.5 million fine. This was less than they collected in bonuses from the DOE that year, despite more than 400 environmental violations being identified. The evidence and findings of the grand jury were sealed by court order.

When Rocky Flats closed, the DOE estimated that it would take over $35 billion and 70 years to adequately clean the site. Congress appropriated them only $7 billion, and clean-up began.

What is contested is how much contamination remains on- and offsite after the clean-up, and what risk, if any, may persist. The government has reams of data and multiple exhibits supporting their claim that the risk is low. Concerned community groups and anti-nuclear activists also have data supporting their claim that the risk is not negligible.

I do not know where the truth lies. There is credible science and support on both sides. What I do know is that two of the men who have seen the most evidence concerning the level of contamination at Rocky Flats, the lead agent for the FBI raid and the foreman of the grand jury, continue to advocate for the prohibition of public access to the site. This gives me great pause.

When I was a kid, I guess I watched too many westerns.

They led me to believe that it was a noble thing to stand up to powerful forces when you thought they may be wrong, or when you felt you needed more information before you could support them. They lied to me. In real life, what I have found is that when I have the temerity to question the government’s claims, or ask for additional, independent information to help me decide where the truth may lie, I am labeled a “general of the scare brigade”, “reckless” and “irresponsible”.

I just wish I had the level of certainty that they have who feel so confident in publicly shaming my search for truth.

Mark B. Johnson, MD, MPH, is executive director of Jefferson County Public Health.

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A Blow to Interventionists, as US and North Korea Move Toward Peace by Jeffrey Sommers – Peter Paik

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on June 15, 2018 at 7:26 am
Critics and pundits have been reacting dismissively to President Donald Trump’s engagement with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. A few weeks ago Donald Trump was going to start World War III with the Korean peninsula’s “Rocket Man,” or so observers said. Now, the prospect for peace, which has never been formally codified by treaty with North Korea since 1953, seems to have critics equally vexed and upset.

Yet, hoping for peace to fail in order to prevent Trump from gaining a victory is to engage in precisely the type of behavior his critics accuse him of displaying.

It is premature to determine the ultimate outcome of this meeting between Trump and Kim. But such a meeting is precisely what President Barack Obama suggested doing in 2008. The GOP derided Obama for this proposal, and many Democrats likely scorned it at the time as well, and they certainly are now.

Engaging North Korea is challenging. First, there is the legacy of the war from 1950-53, in which the North was completely bombed into rubble. The end of the Cold War did little to alleviate tensions; indeed, North Korea had nowhere to turn when it suffered a deadly famine in the 1990s that took anywhere from 500,000 to 3.5 million lives in a country with a population of 22 million.

After 9-11, President George W. Bush named North Korea along with Iraq and Iran as the “Axis of Evil.” Bush intended to send a strong message to North Korea’s then-Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il. Yet, the elder Kim drew another conclusion, which was to accelerate development of nuclear weapons in order to prevent regime change. North Korea carried out its first successful test of an atom bomb in October 2006.

The fates of Saddam Hussein in Iraq, executed by hanging, and of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, whose killing and mutilation was filmed by a rebel militia, further fixed in mind the lesson that to protect one’s regime it is necessary to possess weapons of mass destruction. After all, Gaddafi unilaterally gave up his chemical and nuclear weapons programs to improve Libya’s relations with the West. The uprisings of the Arab Spring, however, led the liberal interventionists in Washington and Europe to back the forces seeking his overthrow.

But, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, according to President Trump, is willing to denuclearize. What might be his reasons for disarming and trusting the US, when doing so led Gaddafi to a bloody and gruesome end? And what are the grounds for trusting North Korea this time, when the arms control agreements of the past have fallen apart?

The current situation hints that conditions in North Korea may have shifted in decisive ways. Much of the population in the North appears to have attained a higher standard of living through illegal or semi-legal trade. Such gains are threatened by US-led sanctions, and the triage measures taken by North Korea in the past may not be as effective in keeping the country afloat. Although North Korea remains in principle a socialist state, nevertheless, the government has built complexes for its citizens to engage in this unofficial commerce.

Second, the US proposal to halt military exercises with South Korea is a goodwill gesture that assuages North Korea’s concern for its security and gives neighbors China and Russia greater incentive to cooperate with the US.

Third, Trump’s embrace of Obama’s 2008 strategy to talk with leaders “hostile” to the US, along with rejection of regime change policies of neoconservatives and liberal interventionists may bring about greater regional stability by reducing the risk of armed conflict, a prospect that China and Russia are certain to welcome along with the two Koreas.

Finally, the administration of Moon Jae-in in South Korea has committed itself to engaging the North, breaking with the hardline stances of the two previous presidents. What should not be expected is for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear industry. Nuclear technology can be used to generate electricity and is a prestige item for the North generally.

In short, neoconservatives and liberal interventionists aside in the United States, there is much to cautiously herald in the current moves by Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump toward peace in North Korea.


Jeffrey Sommers is Professor of Political Economy & Public and Senior Fellow, Institute of World Affairs of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. He is Visiting Professor at the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. His book on the Baltics (with Charles Woolfson), is The Contradictions of Austerity: The Socio-economic Costs of the Neoliberal Baltic Model.  

Peter Paik is a Professor at the Institute of Humanities at Yonsei University in Seoul; and Comparative Literature and Global Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Full Text of the U.S. – North Korea agreement signed by Trump, Kim

In Nuclear Policy, Peace, Politics, War on June 13, 2018 at 1:54 am

NBC News, July 12, 2018

President Donald J Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held first historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018.

President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted a comprehensive in-depth and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new US-DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Convinced that the establishment of new US-DPRK relations will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean peninsula and of the world, and recognizing that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un state the following:

  1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity
  2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula
  3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula
  4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.

Having acknowledged that the US-DPRK summit ­ the first in history ­ was an epochal event of great significance in overcoming decades of tensions and hostilities between the two countries and for the opening up of a new future, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un commit to implement the stipulation in this joint statement fully and expeditiously. The United States and the DPRK commit to hold follow-on negotiations, led by the US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, and a relevant high-level DPRK official, at the earliest possible date, to implement the outcomes of the US-DPRK summit.

President Donald J Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have committed to cooperate for the development of new US-DPRK relations and for the promotion of peace, prosperity, and security of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.