Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

A New Arms Race Threatens to Bring the U.S. and Russia Back to the Nuclear Brink

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Public Health on November 26, 2015 at 5:28 am


By Joe Cirincione
President, Ploughshares Fund; Author, ‘Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late’

The horror and reactions to the Paris massacre have overshadowed a troubling new twist in the U.S.-Russian rivalry that could prove even more terrifying. Russian state media recently “accidentally” revealed plans for a bizarre new nuclear torpedo. More of an underwater drone, it is designed to swim 6,000 miles — enough to span the oceans underwater just as long-range missiles do in the air.
It would detonate a huge warhead, a hydrogen bomb equal to a million tons of TNT or more but “salted” with special metals to vastly increase the amount of radiation it would pour into a U.S. port city.

The explosion would create a radioactive tsunami. The purpose, according to Russian TV, would be to devastate “the important components of the adversary’s economy in a coastal area and [inflict] unacceptable damage to a country’s territory by creating areas of wide radioactive contamination that would be unsuitable for military, economic or other activity for long periods of time.”

This is an insane, inhumane weapon that deliberately targets civilians. It deliberately seeks to turn a city into a radioactive wasteland that would last for decades. It is a throwback to the worse designs of the Cold War, long since abandoned.

Russia’s nuclear torpedo deliberately seeks to turn a city into a radioactive wasteland that would last for decades.
In the early 1950s, U.S. General Douglas MacArthur wanted to drop dozens of enhanced radiation “cobalt bombs” on the Korean border to create a poisonous barrier to advancing Chinese troops. In the 1970s, U.S. nuclear scientists designed a”neutron bomb” with intense bursts of radiation to increase the number of people killed but lessen the number of buildings destroyed by blast and heat. Then-Secretary of Defense James Schlesinger hoped it would make it more likely we would use nuclear weapons in a European war, thus theoretically adding to their deterrent value.

American presidents rejected these weapons. None were ever constructed. We thought that such grotesque concepts had been buried with the Cold War, along with notions of doomsday machines, featured in various sci-fi movies and at least one of which was actually built.

Well, they’re back. Indeed, that may have been the point of the Russian reveal. As Dr. Strangelove said in Stanley Kubrick’s epic film, “The whole point of a Doomsday Machine is lost if you keep it a secret.”

We thought that such grotesque concepts had been buried with the Cold War.
The Russians want us to know about it. The new Russian “dirty” H-bomb is the latest move in a new arms race that could bring Russia and America back to the nuclear brink.

The Russians are building new nuclear-armed missiles, bombers and submarines to replace those built in the 1980s and now reaching the end of their operational lives. They claim that they must modernize their arsenal and increase the role of nuclear weapons in their military doctrine to counter U.S. missile interceptors being deployed in Europe. These, they say, could “neutralize” their nuclear deterrent, allowing the U.S. and NATO to dominate Russia.

The U.S. is rearming as well. The Obama administration is planning to spend over $1 trillion in the next 30 years on an entire new generation of nuclear bombs, bombers, missiles and submarines to replace those built during the Reagan years. This is a staggering turn around for a president who promised “to put an end to Cold War thinking, [by reducing] the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.”

The Obama administration is planning to spend over $1 trillion in the next 30 years on an entire new generation of nuclear bombs, bombers, missiles and submarines to replace those built during the Reagan years.
First up, the U.S. will deploy almost 200 new nuclear bombs in Europe. More accurate than the current bombs, proponents argue they are more usable in battles.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy is developing 12 new submarines to prowl the world’s oceans, carrying over 1,000 warheads on missiles that can hit any spot on earth. The U.S. Air Force is developing a new strategic bomber and wants 1,000 new cruise missiles to go with them, plus a new fleet of almost 650 intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Individually, none carry a warhead as big at the Russian nuclear torpedo, but collectively they would unleash death and destruction on a massive scale. All of these systems deliver hydrogen bombs — weapons that are 10, 20, even 30 times more powerful than the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

We don’t know if the Russians think they can afford this new arms race, but we do know that there is great concern in the defense department. Pentagon Comptroller Michael McCord told Inside Defense last week that the price tag for all these new nuclear weapons “is the biggest acquisition problem that we don’t know how to solve yet.”

All of these systems deliver hydrogen bombs — weapons that are 10, 20, even 30 times more powerful than the atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
For example, when the Navy’s new nuclear sub goes into production, it will devour almost half of the Navy’s annual shipbuilding budget. These nuclear terror weapons threaten to siphon away funds needed for the conventional weapons actually used by troops in combat, to fight the self-described Islamic State for example.

This is a dangerous situation. In his new book, “My Journey at the Nuclear Brink,” former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry warns “far from continuing the nuclear disarmament that has been underway for the last two decades, we are starting a new nuclear arms race.”

What should we do about this new Russian weapon, for example? It won’t be long before someone calls for a massive new program to deploy underwater anti-torpedo drones to counter Russia’s concept.

Rather than build more weapons, Perry wants President Obama to build fewer. In a recent op-ed with former Director of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Council Andy Weber, the two urge Obama to kill the new cruise missile. Instead, they say we should champion a new effort to ban these “extremely destabilizing” weapons.

These nuclear terror weapons threaten to siphon away funds needed for the conventional weapons actually used by troops in combat, to fight ISIS for example.
A similar push could be made to ban weapons like the Russian torpedo. The U.S. could take the lead in denouncing these weapons as inhumane and incompatible with modern civilization.

We would be in good company. Pope Francis called for a ban on all nuclear weapons at the United Nations this September, saying their “threat of mutual destruction” was “an affront to the entire framework of the United Nations.”

Analyst Jeffrey Lewis argues passionately for just such an approach. The levels of destruction in the U.S. and Russian arsenals are far beyond anything needed for deterrence. “Why not admit that nuclear weapons are awful?” he asks. “And that it would be a humanitarian catastrophe if even a single bomb were ever dropped.”

It would be a powerful move. But unless Obama acts soon, his nuclear policy legacy may be the launch of a terrifying arms race that threatens destruction far beyond the horrors committed by ISIS.


Jefferson Parkway not dead yet, but dealt a blow that may prove fatal

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on October 30, 2015 at 6:45 am

In my October 20, 2015, entry I at first stated that the Jefferson Parkway had been canceled. This not true. A key highway transport group, the WestConnect Coalition,  has withdrawn its support from the parkway. What follows is the latest article from the Golden Newsletter, explaining in detail the current situation with the proposed parkway.

From: Dan Hartman, 10/20/15
As I mentioned at [Golden City] council on the 8th we had some concerns with the information in Dick [Sugg]’s article posted in your news letter about the WestConnect process and the Jefferson Parkway. I met with Dick and discussed it and he is updating information. I will continue to work with Dick regarding his concerns about the Jefferson Parkway, and specifically using public money to build it.
This Q and A sheet will give your readers the best information on the WestConnect process and Golden’s participation.
DRAFT 10/07/15 City of Golden
Questions and Answers Regarding the WestConnect Coalition Process
Members of the community have recently asked about the WestConnect Coalition, a regional transportation forum working to improve transportation through Golden and the entire northwest region of the Denver metropolitan area. Specifically, a resident asked whether the Coalition has eliminated the possibility of constructing the proposed Jefferson Parkway between SH 128 in Broomfield to SH93 in Arvada. The answer is no. A decision whether to build or not build the Jefferson Parkway will be made outside of the WestConnect process. Nothing the WestConnect Coalition is doing is designed to make the Jefferson Parkway more or less likely.
What is the West Connect Coalition?
The WestConnect Coalition is a cooperative effort of cities, counties, and agencies like the Colorado Department of Transportation to analyze mobility, environmental, and economic issues and solutions from C-470 and Kipling north to Boulder. Members of the Coalition include the City of Golden, Jefferson County, the City of Arvada, CDOT, the City of Boulder, the City of Lakewood, Douglas County, the City of Boulder, the Town of Morrison and the Town of Superior. Under the Coalition’s Charter, decisions will be made by consensus.
Is the Golden Plan part of the WestConnect study?
Yes, the Golden Plan will be considered as improvements to SH93 and U.S. 6. The City of Golden has also indicated that it is willing to consider implementing the Golden Plan in phases to secure its benefits as soon as possible. For example, the U.S. 6 and 19th Streetinterchange is proceeding now.
Has the WestConnect Steering Committee eliminated the Jefferson Parkway as a segment of the proposed “Western Beltway”?
No. The WestConnect Steering Committee concluded that the decision of whether to build the Jefferson Parkway should be made outside of the WestConnect process. Thus, WestConnect is neither eliminating nor promoting the Jefferson Parkway.
Will any analysis of the Jefferson Parkway be done in the WestConnect Planning and Environmental Linkages Study?
Yes, it is important to understand the effects of the proposed Jefferson Parkway on other highways in the region, such as U.S. 6 and SH 93, and the environment. Similarly, it is important to understand how different options for roads in the WestConnect study area (like U.S. 6 or SH 93) would have on the Jefferson Parkway concept. As a result, the WestConnect Study will consider two scenarios for the Jefferson Parkway: (1) that it will be built as proposed by the Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority; and (2) that it will not be built.
Will the WestConnect Planning and Environmental Linkages Study consider alternatives or modifications to the Jefferson Parkway?
No. The Study will only look at scenarios with and without the proposed Jefferson Parkway. Any consideration of alternatives to the Jefferson Parkway (such as different numbers of lanes, alignments, or interchange locations) will be done outside of the WestConnectCoalition process.
Who will make the decision about whether to proceed with the Jefferson Parkway and how will it be made?
The Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority will make the primary decision whether to proceed with that highway. However, to connect to SH 93, SH 72 and SH 128, the Authority will need permission from CDOT, which it will make only after analysis of the environmental impacts of the connections. The Authority has applied for this permission through the CDOT “1601” process. CDOT has assured that the public will have an opportunity to comment on the Authority application and the CDOT environmental analysis. In addition, the Authority will need approvals from sources of funds, such as private investors or public entities.
Has the WestConnect Coalition made any determinations regarding funding for the Jefferson Parkway?
No. Financing the Jefferson Parkway is outside of the scope of the WestConnect process. The Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority is still seeking private and public funds to construct the Jefferson Parkway. The WestConnect Coalition will not make any decisions regarding whether and how the Jefferson Parkway could be financed.
How can I find out more about the WestConnect Coalition?
Soon, the Coalition will have a stand-alone website. For now, some information on the Coalition can be found on the Jefferson County website, at http://jeffco.us/transportation-and-engineering/westconnect

A major but little known plutonium fire (in 2003) at Rocky Flats

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on October 21, 2015 at 2:15 am

On a beautiful morning in May 2003, at the height of the cleanup at Rocky Flats, Randy Sullivan, head of firefighters at the plant, received a message: “A “pyrophoric incident” in Building 371. The newest, largest and most expensive of the plutonium buildings at the plant, 371 was where all the plutonium that remained at the plant after the end of production was taken to to be stabilized and prepared for removal from Rocky Flats to DOE’s Savannah River site in South Carolina. DOE and cleanup contractor Kaisere-Hill didn’t refer to a fire but to a “pyrophoric event.” Misleading as this is, it was technically accurate. “Pyrophoric” means that a given material — in this case plutonium — ignites spontaneously and bursts into flames when it is exposed to oxygen, which is why all work with plutonium at Rocky Flats was done in an oxygen-free atmosphere inside glove boxes.  Now one of the glove boxes three floors below ground in Building 371 was on fire.

The fire was serious, large, hard to control. Workers were exposed. So were the firefighters. I learned about this fire not from anybody at the DOE, EPA or Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, though as a participant in the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement Focus Group I was meeting people from these agencies twice each month in meetings that lasted two-and-a-half to three hours. Neither I nor any of the thirty or so others in the Focus Group learned about this fire shortly after it happened. I learned about it from Kristen Iversen when she was writing Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats, published in 2012. Anyone who wants a graphic description of this fire, should read pages 289-298 of her book.

The point of this blog entry is to say that a serious plutonium fire — a fire similar to the ones at Rocky Flats in 1957 and 1969 (there were numerous smaller fires) — happened when the cleanup was nearing completion and concerned people were routinely meeting with government personnel who never said a word about the fire. They were repeating an old pattern, since no one from these agencies told the public about the 1957 and 1969 fires. The story of serious plutonium fires at Rocky Flats was first revealed to the public in 1970 by radiochemist Ed Martell of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder.

Why weren’t citizens paying close attention to Rocky Flats told about the May 2003 fire immediately after it happened? I don’t know the answer to this question. But I suspect government personnel didn’t want to reveal a serious plutonium exposure problem at Rocky Flats when they were so close to finishing the cleanup and shutting things down. The public might think the place was still dangerous and that they didn’t have things under control.

One lesson from this is that One should remain skeptical about what government personnel say about anything related to Rocky Flats. Verify first, then trust.


Horse Sense about Jeff Gipe’s Cold War Horse

In Art, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on October 20, 2015 at 9:45 am

Sunday, October 18, 2015, was a ceremony commemorating artist Jeff Gipe’s “Cold War Horse.” He prepared the horse for the 25th anniversary of the FBI raid on Rocky Flats event at the Arvada Center in June 2014. The large horse sculpture wears a red hazmat suit, goggles and a gas mask — to protect it from plutonium blowing on the breeze at Rocky Flats. He wanted to place the horse on a permanent location near the Rocky Flats site. Earlier this year he finally found a very good location on a high point along Highway 72, a short distance west of Indiana St., not far south of the Rocky Flats site, just across the road from the Candelas development. In the summer someone vandalized the horse, pulled it down and hammered on it, badly damaging it. Jeff Gipe rebuilt it, remounted it, put a fence around it with motion-sensitive cameras and lights. And Sunday, October 18, he held a commemoration ceremony. Speakers were author Kristen Iversen, Jon Lipsky who  led the FBI raid in 1989, Wes McKinley who was foreman of the Rocky Flats Grand Jury, Randy Sullivan a former fireman at Rocky Flats and myself. Presiding was Eric Fretz of Regis University.  Here is a copy of the poem I read.

Horse Sense about Jeff Gipe’s Horse

Jeff Gipe’s Cold War Horse

signifies a problem,

the problem of Rocky Flats,

more specifically the problem

of plutonium at Rocky Flats.

This problem is denied

by government personnel who favor

opening the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge

to the public, with some on horseback.

These government personnel do not honor

the truth about plutonium,

though they know that some quantity

remains in the environment

after the purported cleanup of the site.

They know too that the incomplete cleanup was done

against the will and wisdom of concerned people.

Of course it was impossible to remove

all the plutonium buried in soil on the site,

but the responsible parties made no effort to remove

as much as possible with existing technology.

Instead, they chose a quicker, cheaper cleanup.

One more point about the so-called cleanup.

When the EPA and the Colorado Department

of Public Health and the Environment

regulated the cleanup, the U.S. attorney

gave them the opportunity to examine

63 cartons of evidence of environmental crime

committed at Rocky Flats, documents collected

by the FBI, reviewed by a special grand jury

and sealed by the federal court.

Instead of reviewing this data the agencies declined,

preferring a cover-up to a real cleanup.

And now they expect us to forget

and to let the site be opened to the public.

No one can say

what beings will be harmed

by plutonium particles left behind –

particles too small to see

but available to be inhaled.

It is well known that once taken into the body

plutonium lodges in a specific location,

such as lung, liver, bone, brain, the gonads.

Thus lodged it will steadily bombard

with radiation the cells of nearby tissue,

typically for the rest of one’s life.

Tom K. Hei and colleagues at Columbia University

reported 18 years ago (in 1997) in the Proceedings

of the National Academy of Sciences

that inhaling a single particle of plutonium

can damage a cluster of cells

and that replication of these cells

constitutes genetic damage

that may not only wreck the individual’s health

but also harm future generations.

Instead of serving a harmful industry

and fostering an economy of urban sprawl,

why don’t government officials

act on the basis of such studies?

They are not ignorant,

but they do ignore the reality of such studies

and gamble with the health and well-being

of all creatures near Rocky Flats.

This is not a temporary problem,

since the plutonium-239 in the environment

remains radioactive for more than

a quarter-million years.

It will still be radioactive long after

the Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge

ceases to exist.

According to some random schedule

animals, plants and water will bring

buried plutonium to the surface

where the wind common at Rocky Flats

can distribute it near and far,

ready to be inhaled

by some unsuspecting person

who decades later may have cancer

or some other ailment.

The government’s gambles

with the permanent problem of plutonium

at Rocky Flats are careless.

Jeff Gipe’s horse reminds us

of the necessity of being careful.

This is the essence of Nuclear Guardianship.

Thanks be to Jeff Gipe.

Major Victory: Jefferson Parkway canceled (However, read my introductory note to this entry)

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Jefferson Parkway, Rocky Flats on October 20, 2015 at 8:57 am

The following expresses what I thought to be true, but the actual story is more complicated. The 10-4-15 Golden Newsletter reported that the West Connect Coalition was dropping the Jefferson Parkway. Others, however, continue to support it. So the highway is not dead yet, though it has suffered a defeat. See my October 29, 2015, blog entry for more details and update.

From the Golden Newsletter 10/04/15
From: Dick Sugg, Friday, October 02, 2015
A major decision was made in August that will prevent money from other organizations going to support the Jefferson Parkway toll road. Here is a draft article on the subject. Jim Smith is going to reword it for his Real Estate column and offer it to newspapers for publication.
Headline. WestConnect Coalition drops Jefferson Parkway
At the August meeting of the WestConnect Corridor Coalition the Steering Committee eliminated the Jefferson Parkway (JP) toll roadand an extension of the NW Parkway as segments of the proposed Western Beltway. Analysis and recommendations using the FHWA Planning and Environment Linkages (PEL) process will not be done for those two proposed segments. “These projects will be considered as future improvements to be implemented by others.” The US-6 and SH-93 segments through Golden remain as part of the PEL study.
The WestConnect Corridor Coalition was created with $750,000 of Jeffco taxpayers’ money to plan for completing a Western Beltway from C-470 to the NW Parkway that would include the JP toll road and the extension to the NW Parkway. The Jefferson Parkway Public Highway Authority (JPPHA) proposed building the JP toll road and for over seven years has spent millions of taxpayers’ dollars from Authority members; Jeffco, Arvada, and Broomfield; trying to implement the project modeled after the E-470 toll road. The reason that the proposed Public-Private-Partnership (PPP) has been unable to get an investor, foreign or domestic, is that toll revenue for the new four-lane highway will not come close to paying for designing, building, operating, and maintaining the highway. The shortfall is so great that, even with a grant from CDOT, additional money will be required to complete the project. Jeffco authorities have admitted that the project cannot be completed without raising taxes on residents and businesses in North Jeffco.
Jeffco formed the WestConnect Corridor Coalition to tie the JP toll road in with the lane additions being done by the C-470 Corridor Coalition in the hopes of getting some funding help for the JP from that relationship. The Steering Committee decision, however, has eliminated that possibility.
(Golden is one of six members of the Steering Committee. Although there are seven Affiliate Member communities and officials from CDOT, the FHWA, the Regional Transportation District (RTD), and DRCOG, the six Member communities are the sole decision makers. Now is the time for Jeffco taxpayers and responsible State authorities to convince the County Commissioners and the JPPHA to stop spending our money on an unneeded, unwanted, and too costly project that will not be built so long as there is such a shortage of funds for building new lanes in the state.)

Wrongheaded complaints

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on September 24, 2015 at 8:58 am

On September 2, 2015, the Boulder Daily Camera published an article of mine entitled “Prohibit Public Access to Rocky Flats.” It is available on this blog at https://leroymoore.wordpress.com/category/nuclear-guardianship/ My article said public access to Rocky Flats should be prohibited because visiting the site (now the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge) could expose one to plutonium remaining in the environment at the site, possibly wrecking one’s health. Plutonium is highly toxic for roughly 500,000 years. Tiny particles can be inhaled. Keeping the site closed will help protect wholly innocent people.

Here I will comment on two responses to my article that the Camera published. The first, by Dean Rundle, former Manager of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, challenged my analysis of public comments on the Environmental Impact Statement prepared for the Refuge in 2004. It shows that 81% of those commenting opposed public access at the Wildlife Refuge. Rundle dismisses this number because many of these people signed a petition and their identity is unknown. He says if one counts only local identifiable people, the division was about half for and half against public access. This is wishful thinking. Had he actually analyzed the comments of only identifiable individuals, he would have found that 64% opposed public access and 32% — or exactly half – favored it. My analysis is on line at http://media.wix.com/ugd/cff93e_a9cff9a4c30b4ac5bbfa27e93b91a9bf.pdf

The second response was written Reed Bailey, a former Rocky Flats worker. He says I have never “written a peer reviewed research paper on the physical effects of radiation on the human body, or any other scientific subject.” In fact, I published two peer reviewed articles in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, on in 2002 on setting standards for permissible exposure to radiation, the other in 2005 on the Rocky Flats Superfund cleanup. I was co-author with two colleagues of a paper on radiation exposure standards published in 2004 in Health Physics. A further peer-reviewed article by me, “Democracy and Public Health at Rocky Flats,” appeared in Tortured Science (2012). I also was the principal author of the Citizens Guide to Rocky Flats (1992). Most of these writings can be found on line at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org  In addition to actual publications, for four years I was a member of two committees of the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, the principal U.S. organization that studies radiation health effects and makes recommendations regarding standards for permissible exposure to radiation.

Bailey also in effect accused me of lying when I mentioned a Columbia University study showing that taking a single plutonium particle into a lung could result in physical harm. In fact, there were two studies done by a team headed by Tom K. Hei of Columbia, both published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in 1997 and 2001. Both refer to possible harm, one from direct exposure to a single plutonium particle, the other from indirect exposure. Were Mr. Bailey more careful, he would have found what could be found. Instead he spoke from ignorance.

Plutonium at Rocky Flats: Who is protected?

In Cost, Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on September 24, 2015 at 12:45 am

(Talk given at Naropa University, July 30, 2015)

The Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge came into existence in 2006 after completion of the Superfund cleanup at the nuclear weapons plant site. The Department of Energy transferred almost three-quarters of the roughly 10-square-mile Rocky Flats site to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the agency that would manage the Refuge. Recent additions to the Refuge bring its size to 9.75 square miles. The Refuge surrounds the former industrial area of slightly more than 2 square miles which has been retained by the DOE (Figure 1).

Today I will address one question about Rocky Flats: Who is protected by the Superfund cleanup completed in 2005? Stated differently, who did the government agencies responsible for the cleanup decide to protect? Did they pick the right person?

I invite you to consider ten truths regarding the cleanup done at Rocky Flats:

  1. Of all the contaminants released into the environment from the Rocky Flats plant when it was operating, plutonium-239 is of greatest concern, because it is highly toxic, endangers human health and was repeatedly dusted across the whole site.[1]
  2. Those responsible for the cleanup knowingly left some plutonium-239 in the environment when the cleanup was finished.[2]
  3. The plutonium left behind is in the form of particles too small to see.[3]
  4. Though plutonium particles may be too small to see they are not too small to do harm, especially if blown about by the winds common at Rocky Flats.
  5. The worst way to be exposed to plutonium – and also the easiest way – is to inhale one or more of these tiny particles.
  6. If you inhale plutonium or take it into your body through an open wound it is likely to lodge within your body; once this happens, the plutonium will constantly irradiate surrounding cells in a very small area for the rest of your life,
  7. This constant irradiation may in time lead to cancer, a compromised immune system or genetic harm to future generations.[4]
  8. Taking only one particle of plutonium into your body may produce the bad health-effects just mentioned.[5]
  9. Plutonium in soil does not stay in place; it migrates. From time to time tiny particles will be brought to the surface where they can be picked up by the wind.[6]
  10. Plutonium-239 in the environment is not a temporary problem, because it remains radioactive for a quarter-million years, or roughly 20 times the 12,000 years of recorded human history. Rocky Flats, thus, is a local hazard forever.

If you have lived in the area for several years and have been paying attention, you already know some or all of these truths. If so, you didn’t learn them not from federal and state agencies responsible for Rocky Flats. You learned from people who, like yourself, were paying attention. If, on the other hand, these truths are new to you, it’s not too late to join those paying attention.

As for personnel at the government agencies responsible for Rocky Flats, most of them say and do what others in the government strata say and do. If they want to keep their jobs, they have to go with the flow. They can’t go against the current. Collectively, they’re out of touch with reality.

A crucial example of their lack of realism is how they handled the Superfund cleanup. Superfund is a federal program to ensure that contaminated industrial sites are not simply abandoned when a plant is shut down but are cleaned up. When production ended at Rocky Flats, the site was regarded as one of the most contaminated in the country. Superfund requires that the cleanup of a given site protect future people from exposure to toxins that remain in the environment.

To do this, those responsible for a cleanup must identify the “reasonably maximally exposed individual.” The idea is that if you know who can reasonably be expected to be the most exposed individual at a site and the cleanup protects this person, others who would receive less exposure will be protected. At Rocky Flats, those responsible for the cleanup – DOE, EPA and CDPHE – together decided that the “maximally exposed individual” would be a wildlife refuge worker, a person who works outdoors at the site for 20 hours a week for 30 years.

U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, which manages the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, intends eventually to open the Refuge for public recreation. Allowing public access would very likely mean radiation exposure to wholly innocent people. The agencies responsible for the cleanup regard this as an acceptable risk, since the occasional visitor to the Refuge would be at the site only a fraction of the time spent there by the wildlife refuge worker. In theory, if the refuge worker would be protected, anyone who simply visits the refuge would also be protected.

The refuge worker scenario also had an economic aspect. Cleaning the site to protect a wildlife refuge worker would cost far less than cleaning it to protect, for example, someone living on the site. Turning most of the site into a wildlife refuge and protecting a wildlife refuge worker, thus, became the operating rationale for a quicker and cheaper Rocky Flats cleanup.

But cleaning the site to protect a wildlife refuge worker was unrealistic. It failed to take into account the toxicity and long half-life of the plutonium-239 left in the environment. When the Refuge is gone, when fences fall and memories fade and people move onto the site, who will be protected? Steve Gunderson of CDPHE said in a public meeting that the Rocky Flats cleanup was meant to take care of things for 200 years. But deciding to use the wildlife-refuge-worker scenario to establish the site’s legally binding cleanup standards in effect consigns some people to a slow and untimely death. This is a crime against humanity for which there is no statute of limitation. If Superfund law literally requires protection of the “maximally exposed individual,” shouldn’t the legality of the Rocky Flats decision be challenged in court?

An alternative was proposed. In 2001 the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research proposed a cleanup that would protect a farming family that lives on what is now the Rocky Flats site from birth to death, generation after generation, eats only food grown there and drinks local water. This proposal was realistic about the future, but it was rejected by the powers that be. They favored the cheaper, quicker, shortsighted cleanup that left us with a permanent danger.

What should be done? The Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship came into being to deal with questions like this. Some day perhaps the cleanup can be redone. But for now, the most straightforward move is to keep the Rocky Flats site closed to the public. We plan soon to ask Congress to enact legislation that will keep all DOE nuclear weapons production sites that undergo Superfund cleanup closed to the public for at least 250 years after completion of the cleanup. This would save some from being exposed to radiation. And it would provide time for all of us to find better solutions to the problem of plutonium in the environment. In the words of Terry Tempest Williams, “The eyes of the future are looking back at us, and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.”

[1] Harvey Nichols, a specialist on airborne pollen, was hired by the federal government in 1974 to study airborne particles at Rocky Flats. He found that routine operations at the plant deposited “tens of billions of plutonium particles per acre” across the site and that the air monitors around the site were deficient and did not measure what was being released. Nichols, Assessment of the Official Air Sampling Equipment at Rocky Flats during 1974 to 1976, 2-18-12.

[2] Final revisions of the Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement allowed the following amounts of plutonium to remain in soil after the cleanup (plutonium is measured in picocuries per gram of soil, abbreviated as pCi/g. A picocurie is a measure of radiation.

  • Top 3 feet of soil: up to 50 pCi/g allowed to remain in soil.
  • Soil 3 to 6 feet below the surface: 1,000 to 7,000 pCi/g allowed to remain, the amount dependent on the size of the contaminated area.
  • Soil 6 or more feet below the surface: no limit on amount of plutonium that may remain in soil.

Cleanup of plutonium elsewhere was more protective, ranging from a low of 8 pCi/g at Fort Dix, NJ, to 40 pCi/g at Enewetak Atoll bomb test site, with 200 pCi/g at a small portion of Nevada Test Site, all without respect to depth. For another comparison, average background deposit of plutonium from global fallout locally is 0.04 pCi/g. The 50 pCi/g allowed in top 3 feet is 1,250 times 0.04 pCi/g; 1,000 to 7,000 pCi/g is 25,000 to 175,000 times 0.04 pCi/g. Plutonium is not a part of natural background radiation. Natural background has been altered globally by the addition of fallout of plutonium and other radionuclides from the human activity of detonation of nuclear bombs.

[3] Meteorologist W. Gale Biggs found that the average size of plutonium particles released in routine operations at Rocky Flats was 0.045 microns. The average size of a human hair is 50 microns. Biggs, , Airborne Emissions and Monitoring of Plutonium from Rocky Flats (March 17, 2011).

[4] Herman J. Muller received the Nobel Prize in 1946 for showing that radiation produced genetic mutations. He later revealed that exposure to a very low level of radiation will eventually harm and prove lethal to future generations. This could result in extinction of the human species. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1254569/?page=9

[5] Tom K. Hei and colleagues at Columbia University demonstrated that a single plutonium alpha particle induces mutations in mammal 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 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, April 1997, pp. 3765-3770.

[6] In 1995 environmental engineer Iggy Litaor discovered rapid migration of plutonium in subsurface soil at Rocky Flats. In 1996 ecologist Shawn Smallwood identified 18 species of burrowing animals on the Rocky Flats site that dig down to as much as 16 feet and can bring soil and their contents, including plutonium, to the surface. For full discussion, see Moore, “Science compromised in the cleanup of Rocky Flats.” On line at http://media.wix.com/ugd/cff93e_1ae76276c5814bf8aa21dc530da95857.pdf

Pope Francis supports the Iran deal as a step toward nuclear abolition

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy on September 17, 2015 at 7:44 am

WASHINGTON — The Vatican endorsed the Iran nuclear accord Monday as a positive step towards its broader goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.

“We hope that the full implementation of [the nuclear deal] will ensure the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme under the [Non-Proliferation Treaty] and will be a definitive step toward greater stability and security in the region,” Archbishop Paul Gallagher, the Vatican’s foreign minister, said in a statement delivered at the International Atomic Energy Association in Vienna.

“The way to resolve disputes and difficulties should always be that of dialogue and negotiation,” he said, a possible allusion to opponents of the nuclear agreement who have called for military strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear sites.

Pope Francis’ vote of confidence for the Iran nuclear deal comes the week before he is scheduled to visit Washington, where he will address a joint session of Congress at the invitation of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

After a two-month debate, Republican lawmakers — all of whom opposed the nuclear accord — lost their fight last week to block the implementation of the agreement. Faced with defeat, Republicans have zeroed in on a set of confidential agreements between Iran and the IAEA, which detail the agency’s process for investigating possible past nuclear weapons development sites in the country.

House Republicans voted last week to pass a nonbinding resolution charging President Barack Obama with violating the law for failing to provide lawmakers with the text of confidential documents that only Iran and the IAEA are privy to. And Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is pushing to cut off funding to the IAEA until Congress gets copies of the agency’s secret agreements.

Without specifically targeting U.S. lawmakers, Gallagher noted on Monday that the success of the Iran nuclear accord depends on the international community’s willingness to implement the deal and the IAEA’s ability to hold Iran accountable to its obligations to curtail its nuclear activity.

“It is clear that the agreement requires further efforts and commitment by all the parties involved in order for it to bear fruit,” Gallagher said. “For its part, the IAEA’s indispensable role in nuclear safety and waste disposal, verification and monitoring will become ever more important as the use of peaceful nuclear energy expands and as the world moves toward nuclear disarmament.”

The distance between Pope Francis and the GOP on the Iran deal is not the only issue that could make Republicans squirm during the upcoming papal address. The pope is likely to push for greater action on climate change and call on lawmakers to address the rampant economic inequality in the U.S. But the Pope’s opposition to abortion could also bolster Republicans, particularly the 28 men who have vowed to shut down the government before allowing federal funding to go to Planned Parenthood.

Lawmakers have promised to keep partisan politics under wraps during the papal address and refrain from cheering the Pope for statements that reinforce their political preferences.

In addition to expressing support for the diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear program, the Vatican pushed nuclear weapons states to recognize their own responsibility to downsize their arsenal.

“The discriminatory nature of the NPT is well known. The status quo is unsustainable and undesirable,” Gallagher said, referring to the 1968 treaty aimed at preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. The NPT allows members to maintain civil nuclear programs, but requires states that have nuclear weapons to work towards disarmament and prohibits other states from developing weapons. Iran and India have charged in the past that the treaty is inconsistently implemented, noting that the U.S. and Russia have been slow to downsize their massive nuclear arsenals.

“Just as wealthy nations have incurred an ‘ecological debt’ that demands more from them in addressing the environmental crisis, nuclear weapons states have incurred a nuclear debt,” Gallagher said. “Because of the risks their nuclear arsenals pose to the world, nuclear weapons states bear a heavy moral burden to ensure that their nuclear weapons are never used and to reduce their stocks substantially while taking the lead in negotiating a nuclear ban.”

Prohibit Public Access to Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear Guardianship, Peace, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on September 4, 2015 at 5:27 am

Prohibit public access to Rocky Flats

By LeRoy Moore

Boulder Daily Camera, September 2, 2025


U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) did a “soft opening” to the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge. One can now join a group of 10 or fewer for a three-mile hike to see plants, wildlife and birds. To the aware public, the “soft opening” is an insult. It catches us unawares and preempts public input before the full opening mentioned in official documents. It flies in the face of broad opposition to public access expressed in 2004 when FWS sought public comments on its Environmental Impact Statement for the future refuge. Eighty-one percent of commenting parties opposed public access.

Refuge visitors could be exposed to radioactive plutonium-239 in the environment at the refuge and the Department of Energy (DOE) land that surrounds it. The two-square-mile DOE plot is the former industrial area of the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant, which for 37 years produced the explosive plutonium core of nuclear warheads. Fires, accidents and routine operations released billions of tiny, highly toxic particles of plutonium-239 into the environment.

For reasons known to the concerned public, FWS should not allow public access to the refuge — reasons also known to officials at DOE and the agencies that regulated the Rocky Flats Superfund cleanup: the EPA and Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment (CDPHE). DOE has routinely denied the scientific and medical reality at Rocky Flats. EPA and CDPHE went along, perhaps because they are paid by DOE to regulate DOE, a little noticed conflict of interest.

Key reasons for prohibiting public access to the refuge:

  • Plutonium-239, with a half-life of 24,110 years, is present in the environment at Rocky Flats in the form of particles too small to see.
  • The radiation from plutonium cannot penetrate skin, but if plutonium is inhaled or otherwise internalized it lodges in the body and constantly irradiates nearby tissue, endangering one’s health.
  • Columbia University researchers found that a single particle of plutonium taken into the body induces genetic mutations that may produce cancer or other ailments.
  • Those responsible for the cleanup assumed plutonium left in soil would remain in place, despite Dr. Iggy Litaor’s discovery in 1995 that plutonium migrates during rain events and Dr. Shawn Smallwood’s finding in 1996 that burrowing animals bring plutonium to the surface, where it can be redistributed by the wind common at Rocky Flats.
  • Plutonium on DOE land will migrate onto the refuge. This probably happened in the September 2013 flood, but DOE’s streambed monitors failed during the storm, leaving us in the dark about whether and how far the plutonium traveled. Sheet flooding, present in 2013, has never been monitored at Rocky Flats.
  • The Rocky Flats Superfund cleanup was designed to protect a wildlife refuge worker. But plutonium will far outlive the refuge. The greatest harm will be to future generations.
  • Genetic effects of plutonium on wildlife are poorly understood. There have been no genetic studies of wildlife at Rocky Flats.
  • The FBI raided Rocky Flats in 1989 to collect evidence of environmental law-breaking at the site. The documents were sealed. EPA and CDPHE were given the opportunity to review the evidence during the cleanup, but they declined. In the raid EPA took environmental samples that have never been revealed.
  • Although children are especially vulnerable to radiation, FWS expects them at the refuge.

Of the more than 600 national wildlife refuges, Rocky Flats is the only one on the radioactive site of a former nuclear weapons factory. To FWS, this doesn’t matter, as evidenced by the “soft opening.”

In the face of all this uncertainty, biology professor Harvey Nichols and former county commissioner Paul Danish generated a very sensible proposal. Congress should enact legislation requiring that all DOE nuclear weapons sites that undergo Superfund cleanup remain closed to the public for at least 250 years after completion of the cleanup.

Enactment of this proposal would protect the innocent and bring praise for supporting legislators. It would introduce into the nuclear realm the precautionary principle that where uncertainty regarding harm to public health and environmental integrity exists, as it does at Rocky Flats, caution should prevail over carelessness. People of future generations will be grateful. I strongly suggest that our current state and congressional delegations support this concept. By the time a site has been closed for two-and-a-half centuries, whether visiting it poses a danger or not should be known. Any questionable site could be kept closed permanently.


LeRoy Moore works with the Rocky Flats Nuclear Guardianship of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center.

Will Pope Francis call for Nuclear Abolition?

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace on August 30, 2015 at 2:19 am

  • Women participate in a memorial ceremony in Nagasaki, Japan, Aug. 9, the 70th anniversary of the day the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the city. (CNS/Paul Jeffrey)

Ira Helfand hopes Pope Francis will call for the abolition of all nuclear weapons when he addresses Congress in September and Helfand has reason for cautious optimism.

The Springfield, Mass., physician is co-president of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. It was awarded a Nobel Peace prize in 1985 “for spreading authoritative information and raising awareness of the catastrophic consequences of a nuclear war.”

Helfand has worked for years to raise consciousness regarding the devastating humanitarian impact of nuclear war. In this context, he and John Pastore, a Boston cardiologist, sat down with Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley in June to share details of recent studies that show even a limited nuclear exchange would lead to the starvation of some 2 billion people. By far, the greatest impact of such a nuclear exchange would be on the poorest people of the planet.

Helfand and Pastore said that O’Malley, taken by the findings, said he would pass the information on to Francis whom he was to meet in Rome three days later.

Pastore, a Catholic who has focused on eliminating nuclear weapons his entire adult life, explained: “We are trying to re-introduce moral considerations into the nuclear weapons discussions. They’re almost always viewed strictly as military or technical challenges. But nuclear weapons have enormous moral dimensions. We know this and so does Pope Francis.”

Pastore acknowledges that Francis has made economic disparities and climate change as his top social justice concerns. “Nuclear weapons have to do with both,” he said.

While the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, a non-partisan federation of national medical groups in 63 countries, has attempted to draw attention to the humanitarian impacts of nuclear war, it was in 2012 and 2013 that new climate studies showed that even a limited nuclear exchange, such as one involving 100 relatively small devices between India and Pakistan, would have enormous climate change consequences. Helfand took the conclusions of these studies and put together a report his group has spread across the globe. It is called “Nuclear Famine.”

It takes the work of several peer-reviewed studies done by atmospheric scientists Alan Robock of Rutgers University, Brian Toon of University of Colorado-Boulder, and Richard Turco of University of California, Los Angeles, who have found that if India and Pakistan each exchanged fifty 15 kiloton-size bombs — a tiny fraction of the size of the warheads in the U.S. and Russian arsenals — they would create immense firestorms that would quickly envelope the planet with layers of dense stratospheric smoke.

That black smoke would continue to circle the earth and remain in the stratosphere for a decade or more. It would block and prevent a large fraction of sunlight from reaching the earth’s surface. The sharp reduction of warming sunlight would shorten growing seasons that would reduce food crops, in turn, causing the starvation of up to 2 billion people, mainly those living in the poorest counties.

“The report underscores the urgent need to move with all possible speed to the negotiation of a global agreement to outlaw and eliminate nuclear weapons and the danger of nuclear war,” Helfand toldNCR.

Helfand spoke in December 2014 in Rome at the World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates. Sitting on stage next to the Dalai Lama and other laureates, he called the consequences of even a limited nuclear exchange “catastrophic.”

Any nuclear exchange involving the major nuclear weapons holding nations, he told the laureates, would send global temperatures plummeting.

“There would not be a frost-free day in the northern hemisphere,” he said. “These conditions have not existed on the planet for the past 18,000 years. Food production would stop and the vast majority of the human race would starve to death. It is possible we would become extinct as a species. This is not some nightmare I have cooked up. This is a danger we face every day that these weapons continue to exist sitting on missiles that can be launched in a few minutes time.”

Describing the impact of a limited nuclear exchange, Helfand told NCR: “This would not be the end of the human species, but it would be the end of civilization as we know it. No civilization has withstood a shock of this magnitude.”

He spoke of his frustrations to wake up the nation to pressing nuclear war issues. He said the “Nuclear Famine” report has faced a virtual “media blackout.”

“If the press talks about nuclear weapons at all, it’s only in the context of Iran and North Korea. I think this is an enormous disrespect to the public.”

“O’Malley appeared very concerned,” Helfand said. “The cardinal said he would return to Rome three days later and would immediately share the information with Pope Francis.”

That’s why Helfand and Pastore are pleased — and moderately hopeful — that Francis will say something about nuclear weapons while in the U.S.

Helfand, Pastore and Robock told NCR they think Francis can make a decisive difference in waking up the American public to the nuclear dangers.

Helfand acknowledges treaties have reduced the number of nuclear weapons in the global arsenals to around 16,000 warheads. Rather than being assured by this, he expresses worry that disarmament efforts have stalled and the nuclear weapons holding nations are moving ahead to modernize their weapons and weapon delivery systems.

“It makes no sense,” he said. “These weapons can never be used. To use them would mean assured self-destruction.”

Robock, a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences, told NCR that his research reaffirmed his belief that nuclear weapons pose the “greatest and most immediate threat to humanity.”

“As long as we have these weapons they can be used by some irrational person, by some terrorist, by miscalculation, or by accident,” he said. “The threat is real. Only by abolishing them can we rid ourselves of this threat.”

The Vatican has long opposed nuclear weapons, but Francis has made their abolition a key element in his global social concerns.

In December 2014, the Vatican submitted a paper at a conference in Vienna, calling for total nuclear disarmament.

In January, addressing the Vatican diplomatic corps, Francis said nuclear disarmament and combating climate change are at the top of his diplomatic agenda. He has prayed the Iran nuclear weapons agreement would be “a definitive step toward a more secure and fraternal world.”

In August, speaking in St. Peter’s Square, Francis recalled the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki 70 years ago. He said those events still arouse “horror and revulsion” worldwide, adding they serve “as a lasting warning for humanity to reject forever war and ban nuclear weapons.”

Pastore called Francis’ appearance before Congress Sept. 24 an “enormous opportunity,” saying the pontiff can take the issue of nuclear weapons from the level of “an often bloodless academic argument,” to the level of “immediate, pressing moral concern. Once Catholics in the parishes and others wake up, only then can there be a change of course of public policy.”

[Thomas C. Fox is NCR publisher and can be reached at tfox@ncronline.org.]


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