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Archive for the ‘Public Health’ Category

Message from Beatrice Fihn, ICAN info@icanw.org

In Democracy, Environment, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Public Health on March 29, 2017 at 1:56 am

Yesterday, negotiations on a treaty to ban nuclear weapons under international law began in New York. The treaty is being negotiated based on the recognition that the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapon use is morally unacceptable and that the weapons themselves represent a significant risk to human security.

The treaty will finally ban weapons designed to indiscriminately kill civilians, completing the prohibitions of weapons of mass destruction.

While the majority of the worlds governments gathered in the room, Trump’s UN envoy, Nikki Haley, held a protest together with the UK, France and a number of Eastern European allies outside the negotiations.

The very unusual protest by Ambassador Haley and others demonstrates how worried they are about the impact of the treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. This treaty will also affect countries that fail to participate, by setting international norms of behaviour and removing the political prestige associated with nuclear weapons.

Over 115 governments, the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, the Pope and other faith-based leaders, over 3,000 scientists, and civil society agreed yesterday – this is the time to ban nuclear weapons.
There are many ways to follow the treaty negotiations:

Live stream from the proceedings in New York
ICAN’s blog
#nuclearban on Twitter
Daily video updates
This is a really exciting moment and negotiations of a new treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons would not have happened without the strong support from civil society around the world.

A Legal First: Japanese Government and Tepco found liable for Fukushima disaster

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Public Health on March 21, 2017 at 3:42 am

BY DAISUKE KIKUCHI, JAPAN TIMES, MARCH 17 2017
http://tinyurl.com/k3g3xy4

MAEBASHI, GUNMA PREF. – A court in Japan has ruled for the first time that the government and the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were responsible for failing to take preventive measures against the March 11, 2011, quake-triggered tsunami that killed scores and forced tens of thousands from their homes.
Friday’s stunning ruling by the Maebashi District Court was the first to recognize negligence by the state and Tokyo Electric Power Co. Holdings Inc. It called the massive tsunami predictable and said the major nuclear disaster could have been avoided.
The district court ordered the two to pay damages totaling ¥38.55 million to 62 of 137 plaintiffs from 45 households located near the plant, which suffered a triple meltdown caused by the tsunami, awarding ¥70,000 to ¥3.5 million in compensation to each plaintiff.
The plaintiffs had demanded the state and Tepco pay compensation of ¥11 million each — a total of about ¥1.5 billion — over the loss of local infrastructure and psychological stress they were subjected to after being forced to relocate to unfamiliar surroundings.
Citing a government estimate released in July 2002, the court said in the ruling that “Tepco was capable of foreseeing several months after (the estimate) that a large tsunami posed a risk to the facility and could possibly flood its premises and damage safety equipment, such as the backup power generators.”
It pointed out that the state should have ordered Tepco to take bolstered preventive measures, and criticized the utility for prioritizing costs over safety.
Of the plaintiffs, 76 who lived in evacuation zones were forced to move, while another 61 evacuated voluntarily even though their houses were located outside evacuation zones. The ruling was the first of 30 similar class-action suits filed nationwide involving more than 10,000 plaintiffs.
About 80,000 citizens who had lived in Fukushima reportedly left the prefecture after the March 2011 disaster.
“I believe that the ruling saying both the government and Tepco were equally responsible is an important judgment,” Katsuyoshi Suzuki, the lead lawyer for the defense said at a news conference following the ruling. “But thinking about the psychological distress (the plaintiffs faced) after being forced to evacuate from their homes, I think the amount is not enough.”
Takehiro Matsuta, 38, one of the plaintiffs who evacuated from the city of Koriyama, hailed the ruling, but called the damages “disappointing.”

“The ruling was one big step for my family, for those who evacuated from Fukushima to Gunma, and for tens of thousands of earthquake victims nationwide,” he said.
But called the payout “disappointing,” as his child, who was 3 years old at the time of the nuclear disaster, was not granted compensation. “My wife and I are struggling everyday, but it’s my child who suffers the most.”
The group of lawyers for the plaintiffs, which have had suits filed since September 2011, claimed that the Fukushima disaster resulted in serious human rights violations by forcing victims to relocate after the crisis caused widespread environmental damage.
The plaintiffs argued that Tepco could have prevented the damage if it had implemented measures, including the building of breakwaters, based on its 2008 tsunami trial calculation that showed waves of over 10 meters could hit the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
Those calculations took into account the 2002 estimate by the government’s Headquarters for Earthquake Research Promotion, which concluded that there was a 20 percent chance of a magnitude-8 earthquake rocking areas off Fukushima within 30 years.
However, the government and Tepco have argued that the massive tsunami was unexpected, claiming that there were different opinions among scholars over the long-term evaluation. Both attacked the credibility of the study, calling it unscientific.
The government also objected to the ruling, saying that because it had no authority to force Tepco to take such preventive measures as argued by the plaintiffs, it bore no responsibility.
According to the defense, a number of other class suits are inching closer to rulings, with one in the city of Chiba scheduled for Sept. 22 and another in the city of Fukushima involving 4,000 plaintiffs expected by the year’s end.

Note from Inside the EPA

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Public Health on March 10, 2017 at 1:38 am

This just came to me from one of my daughters.

From friend of a friend of a friend, I guess. Because the EPA staffers can’t talk to the media, and…we need to know this stuff:
From a friend in DC: Sharing with permission. From an Environmental Protection Agency staffer:
“So I work at the EPA and yeah it’s as bad as you are hearing: The entire agency is under lockdown, the website, facebook, twitter, you name it is static and can’t be updated. All reports, findings, permits and studies are frozen and not to be released. No presentations or meetings with outside groups are to be scheduled.
Any Press contacting us are to be directed to the Press Office which is also silenced and will give no response.
All grants and contracts are frozen from the contractors working on Superfund sites to grad school students working on their thesis.
We are still doing our work, writing reports, doing cancer modeling for pesticides hoping that this is temporary and we will be able to serve the public soon. But many of us are worried about an ideologically-fueled purging and if you use any federal data I advise you gather what you can now.
We have been told the website is being reworked to reflect the new administration’s policy.
Feel free to copy and paste, you all pay for the government and you should know what’s going on. I am posting this as a fellow citizen and not in any sort of official capacity.”

 

 

 

The Radium Girls — still glowing in their coffins

In Human rights, Nuclear Guardianship, Public Health on March 9, 2017 at 10:00 am

Kate Moore pays tribute to last century’s tragic factory workers, who suffered grotesque poisoning from luminous paint — to aid the war effort

By Maggie Fergusson, Spectator, June 11, 2016

On the morning of 15 October 1927, a dim, autumn day, a group of men foregathered at the Rosedale cemetery in New Jersey and picked their way through the headstones to the grave of one Amelia — ‘Mollie’ — Maggia. An employee of the United States Radium Corporation (USRC), she had died five years earlier, aged 24. To the dismay of her friends and family the cause of death had been recorded as syphilis, but, as her coffin was exhumed and its lid levered open, Mollie’s corpse was seen to be aglow with a ‘soft luminescence’. Everyone present knew what that meant.

‘My beautiful radium’, Marie Curie called the element she discovered in 1898. She was in thrall to it: it stirred her, she wrote, with ‘ever-new emotion and enchantment’. As she shared her discovery with scientists, and radium was found to be capable of destroying human tissue, it was enlisted in the battle against cancer — and not just cancer but fever, gout and constipation. Some claimed it could restore vitality in the elderly. Others took to drinking radium water, or visiting radium clinics and spas.

These treatments were strictly for the rich — gram for gram, radium was the most expensive substance on earth. But when radium-dial-painting ‘studios’ were set up in Newark, New Jersey, and Ottawa, Illinois, hordes of working-class girls, some as young as 14, applied for jobs painting luminous numerals on watchfaces. The work was congenial. They sat in rows, dipping fine camelhair brushes into a radium solution, then ‘pointed’ them between moistened lips before painting the numbers on the dials. After Congress voted America into the war in the spring of 1917, most of the dials were for military use, so the girls had the satisfaction of knowing they were serving their country. They were also extremely well paid: up to three times what they might have earned in factories.

And then there was the glamour of working with radium. Everything it touched glowed. If the girls blew their noses, their handkerchiefs glowed; they glowed like ghosts on their way home; their clothes glowed from their wardrobes at night. Some girls wore evening dresses to work so that they would glow on their dates. One painted her teeth to impress her man. There was no reason for them to think this was in any way sinister — rather the reverse: ‘Radium will put rosy cheeks on you’, they were told.

It took time for the girls to sicken. Some, like Marguerite Carlough and Hazel Vincent, suffered chronic exhaustion. Others, like Albina Larice, produced stillborn babies. For many, like Mollie Maggia, it started with severe tooth decay. The dentist would remove the rotten teeth, already practically falling out of the girls’ mouths, but the gums wouldn’t heal. Instead, agonising ulcers sprouted in the holes left behind. Very often their jawbones crumbled to the touch. The girls’ breath became foul-smelling, and their skin so paper-thin it would split open if simply brushed by a fingernail. Death, when it came, was usually accompanied by violent haemorrhaging.

The first legal suit against USRC was filed in September 1925, but when it came to getting justice the radium companies held all the trump cards. First, there was the variety of the girls’ symptoms: surely they couldn’t all be traced to one source (diphtheria, angina and TB were among the recorded causes of death). Then there was the fact that radium poisoning was not officially a ‘compensable’ disease. And finally there was money: what little the girls had was going to pay doctors; there was nothing left for lawyers.

In the end, it took a remarkable lawyer, Leonard Grossman, willing to work pro bono, and an extraordinarily courageous dial painter, Catherine Donohue, prepared to fight the cause literally to the death, for justice to triumph. After eight appeals, victory came on 23 October 1939.

Kate Moore learned about the ‘radium girls’ when she directed a play about them, and she writes with a sense of drama that carries one through the serpentine twists and turns of this tragic but ultimately uplifting story. She sees the trees for the wood: always at the centre of her narrative are the individual dial painters, so the list of their names at the start of the book becomes a register of familiar, endearing ghosts.

In a final chapter she pays tribute to their legacy. Following Catherine Donohue’s case, safety standards were introduced to protect not only a whole new generation of dial painters, but also those working with plutonium in making atomic bombs. ‘The radium girls did not die in vain,’ Moore writes: their influence lives on. But then so does the radium. Impossible to destroy, it has a half-life of 1,600 years. The girls will be glowing in their graves for a good while yet.

Maggie Fergusson is literary adviser to the Royal Society of Literature and has written biographies of George Mackay Brown and Michael Morpurgo.

What Is the Anthropocene?

In Environment, Justice, Peace, Public Health, War on March 5, 2017 at 3:36 am

By Tom Mayer, Peace Train, Colorado Daily, March 3, 2017

Geologists divide the history of the Earth into time periods based upon the nature of the rocks formed during that period. The Holocene epoch began about 11,700 years ago after the last Ice Age. Seventeen years ago the Nobel Prize winning Dutch scientist Paul Crutzen claimed that human beings have changed the Earth’s environment so drastically that we now live in a very different geological period. He called this new period the Anthropocene, which means resulting from human action. Crutzen argued that industrialization, intensive agriculture, population growth, and the destruction of biodiversity were the main forces transforming the Earth’s ecology.

Most scientists date the Anthropocene from the atomic era, which began in 1945 and has left radioactive traces in sediments around the globe. The post World War Two period also experienced “The Great Acceleration”, a huge global expansion of economic production, human population, and energy consumption. The magnitude of environmental destruction during and before the Anthropocene is truly shocking.
Greenhouse gases, which trap heat in our atmosphere, have increased dramatically since 1750 (end of the preindustrial era). Carbon dioxide has increased by 43%, nitrous oxide by 63%, and methane by 150%. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that the maximum tolerable temperature increase over preindustrial levels is 2°C. Without radical social changes, the IPCC predicts average temperature will increase between 3.7°C and 4.5°C by 2100, and between 8°C and 12°C by 2300. This would mean the end of organized human life on planet Earth.

But global warming is only part of the Anthropocene crisis. Around 90 million tons of plastic junk has been dumped into our oceans, not to mention mountains of raw sewage and toxic fertilizer runoff. Ocean acidification is 26% above the preindustrial level causing brutally high mortality of sea life. Biologists estimate that overall species extinction now occurs at about 1,000 times the natural rate. At the current pace, 20% of animal species will disappear by 2030. Human beings and their domestic animals now constitute 97% of all land vertebrate biomass, leaving only 3% of biomass for the remaining 30,000 land dwelling vertebrate species. In light of these realities, paleontologists often speak about a looming “sixth extinction” (the fifth was the extinction of dinosaurs 65 million years ago).

Energy use has also leaped ahead during the Anthropocene era. Between 1800 and 2000 human energy consumption increased by a factor of 40. Agricultural land and cities covered about 5% of the Earth’s land area in 1750. They now occupy almost one-third. It is estimated that 84% of the Earth’s ice free land is presently under direct human influence. A few years ago a team of Swedish scientists specified nine ecological parameters which must not be crossed if the Earth’s biosphere is to avoid catastrophic decline. Four of these tipping points are already passed: greenhouse gas emissions, extinction of biodiversity, nitrogen cycle, and phosphate cycle.

Former Vice President Al Gore says that “the climate crisis is the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced.” Indeed, it is not clear that humanity will survive two more centuries of the Anthropocene epoch. Many rational observers would bet against it. In contrast to Paul Crutzen, some ecologists think the Anthropocene should be re-named the Capitalocene (Bonneuil and Fressoz, The Shock of the Anthropocene (2016)). This seems appropriate because the current environmental crisis is largely caused by a tiny fraction of humanity: owners of capital and their rabid addiction to capital accumulation.

Marshalls marks 71st anniversary of first Bikini tests

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Public Health on March 3, 2017 at 7:22 am

Category: Pacific/Regional News
02 Mar 2017
By Giff Johnson – For Variety

MAJURO — “Grief, terror and righteous anger” has not faded for Marshall Islanders despite the passage of 71 years since the first nuclear weapons test at Bikini Atoll, President Hilda Heine told a Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day ceremony Wednesday in Majuro.

The event included a parade, ringing of a bell 71 times to mark the years since the first Bikini tests, and speeches to mark March 1, the anniversary of the Bravo hydrogen bomb test at Bikini Atoll in 1954. It is a national holiday in the Marshall Islands.

This year’s nuclear test commemoration did not end as usual with the morning program. A three-day “Nuclear Legacy Conference: Charting a Journey Toward Justice” kicked off Wednesday afternoon in Majuro with a keynote address by Ambassador Tony deBrum, and presentations by Marshall Islanders and experts from the United States and Japan who traveled to Majuro to attend the conference.

At Wednesday morning’s ceremony, President Heine said the U.S. government had not been honest as to the “extent of radiation and the lingering effects the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Testing Program would have on our lives, ocean and land.”

She pointed out that U.S. government studies kept secret from the Marshall Islands during negotiations on a compensation agreement reached in the 1980s “have now shown that 18 other inhabited atolls or single islands were contaminated by three of the six nuclear bombs tested in Operation Castle, as well as by the Bravo shot in 1954. The myth of only four ‘exposed’ atolls of Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap and Utrik, has shaped US nuclear policy on the Marshallese people since 1954, which limited medical and scientific follow up, and compensation programs.

“As your president, I cannot and will not accept the position of the United States government. Unlike the U.S., we acted in good faith. That is why ours is a moral case for which we are more than justified to seek redress.”

U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart honored islanders who suffered from nuclear testing and said “we will never forget Marshallese who sacrificed for global security.” Speaking about those who had already passed away, she said she was “encouraged by their and your courage for justice and your courage to build a better society.” Stewart said the U.S. “will continue to be your partner…for a brighter future for the Marshall Islands.”

Enewetak Sen. Jack Ading, speaking on behalf of other nuclear-affected atolls, pointed out that few survivors of the 1940s evacuations and nuclear weapons tests are still alive. “For most of us, the paradise that God created is just a legend from our elders,” he said. “By the time most of us were born, our paradise was a paradise lost.”

Ading said the 67 weapons tests left a “toxic legacy” that will affect the Marshall Islands for generations. Although 43 of those tests were at Enewetak, Ading said “my homeland was gone after the first nuclear device was exploded in 1948.”

The testing vaporized three islands in Enewetak, and a crater from one test was turned into “a massive dump for radioactive waste” that is now “leaking and devoid of warning signs or barriers. It is a constant source of concern.”

A number of doctors, scientists and researchers from the United States and Japan are participating in the three-day Nuclear Legacy Conference that started Wednesday afternoon.

In age of Trump, apocalyptic rhetoric becomes mainstream

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Peace, Politics, Public Health, War on February 23, 2017 at 9:06 am

By Jessica Mendoza, Christian Science Monitor,
Staff writer | @_jessicamendoza
FEBRUARY 22, 2017 LOS ANGELES

The longer President Trump is in office, the more Cat Deakins worries about the future – for herself and her children.

With every executive order and cabinet appointment, she envisions another scenario: an America that rejects immigrants, that succumbs to climate change, that erupts in war.

“It’s scary to me that [people within the administration] are promoting this idea of, ‘We are at war with Islam.’ That’s the kind of thinking that leads to World War III,” says Ms. Deakins, a cinematographer in Los Angeles. “I don’t think we can be alarmed enough.”

It’s a strain of thought that’s begun to take root in leftist narratives as the Trump administration enters its second month. The idea is that since taking office, the president has led the nation – and continues to lead it – down a path that will culminate in a dictatorship, a police state, or both. As Slate columnist Michelle Goldman writes, “To talk about Trump as a menace to our democratic way of life understates the crisis.”

To some degree, such statements reflect the pendulum swing of political power; conservatives made similar claims during former President Barack Obama’s tenure. And observers warn against reacting in an apocalyptic way to policies that are merely partisan.
Still, Mr. Trump is unpredictable, a president unprecedented in modern times, who has already used an expanded set of executive powers to pursue his agenda – one that many see as threatening widely held democratic principles.

“There is legitimate basis for concern,” says John Pitney Jr., a professor of politics at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. “While apocalyptic rhetoric might be exaggerated, there have been real invasions of civil liberties, deep threats to civil rights. It’s perfectly appropriate to be watchful and wary.”

A sense of alarm

Sinister talk and ominous rumors are not new to American politics – from Ronald Reagan’s supposed propensity toward nuclear war with the Soviet Union to the Clintons’ purported involvement in the death of White House attorney Vince Foster.

“It was on the fringes,” Professor Pitney says. “But what we’ve seen since the turn of the century is the mainstreaming of apocalyptic rhetoric.”

During former President Barack Obama’s tenure, conservative pundits regularly made apocalyptic pronouncements about his heritage and religion. Some on the far right predicted his presidency would transform America into an Islamist or communist state.

Those prophecies proved groundless – and fed into a dangerous cycle of partisan antipathy, political analysts say.

Today, the sense of alarm has trickled down into the lives of some Americans who face a constant barrage of headlines and disputes, especially on social media.

Olaf Wolden, a documentary filmmaker in New York City, says he worries about Trump’s strained relationship with the press and the truth. “When information doesn’t fit the narrative he needs, he attacks it,” Mr. Wolden says. “That’s a classic move out of the playbook of [Joseph] Stalin or [Augusto] Pinochet.”

Others, like Deakins, are troubled by the upheaval in the administration’s early days, such as the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. “It’s horrifying to watch it roll out,” she says.

Still others point to the president’s attitude toward immigrants, which they say stokes racism and xenophobia.

“Building a border wall, scapegoating immigrants as one of the major problems for folks here in America – that is a threat to democracy,” says Alex Montances, an advocate for the rights of Filipino migrants in Long Beach, Calif.

That said, a line must be drawn between critiques of poorly crafted policies and apocalyptic concerns, says Peter Berkowitz, an expert on US conservatism and progressivism at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.

There’s a difference, he says, between those who harshly criticized Mr. Obama because they saw the Affordable Care Act as government overreach and those who cast him as un-American and a tyrant based on false allegations about his race or religion

Likewise, a distinction must be made between those who are horrified by Trump’s immigration policy – like his border wall and temporary ban on refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries – and those who say that the US is now a fascist state.

Journalists remain free to cover the news as they see fit, the Supreme Court to block executive orders it deems unconstitutional, and Congress to wrangle over laws they disagree about, he points out.

“Some of Trump’s rhetoric provides reason for heightened concern,” Berkowitz says. “That we are already fascistic – none of the evidence I see brought forward suggests that.”

Not being judicious in one’s criticism risks losing credibility, says Erik Fogg, co-author of the 2015 book, “Wedged: How You Became a Tool of the Partisan Political Establishment, and How to Start Thinking for Yourself Again.

“Regardless of what party you come from – but in particular for the left right now – the key is to be very, very selective about where they raise the alarm,” says Mr. Fogg.

A dangerous cycle

A key consequence – and driving factor – of apocalyptic rhetoric is political polarization.

In 2004, only about 1 in 10 Americans were consistently liberal or conservative across most values, the Pew Research Center reports. By 2014, the figure had doubled. The same year, Pew found that 27 percent of Democrats saw the Republican Party as “a threat to the nation’s well-being.” Thirty-six percent of Republicans said the same of the Democratic Party.

Such mistrust has paved the way for more extreme partisanship.

In one of countless tirades against the former president, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh – whose program remains one of the most popular talk shows on the air today – lambasted Obama in 2012 for saying that the rich often have help earning their wealth.

“Barack Obama is trying to dismantle, brick by brick, the American dream,” Mr. Limbaugh said. “This is what we have as a president: A radical ideologue, a ruthless politician who despises the country and the way it was founded and the way in which it became great.”

Progressive pundits have since made their own proclamations of Trump’s evil intentions.

In January, Salon politics writer Chauncey DeVega accused the GOP of mobilizing “anti-black and anti-brown animus for political gain” and blamed “obsolete journalistic norms of ‘fairness,’ ‘balance,’ and ‘objectivity’ ” for failing to call out Trump’s fascism.

“Donald Trump and his supporters represent the tyranny of minority opinion,” Mr. DeVega wrote. “Consequently, they are the worst example of the will, spirit and character of the American people.”

“You have extremity on both sides of the spectrum. That’s what leads to apocalyptic thoughts about politics,” says Barbara Perry, director of presidential studies at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center. “But there are probably apocalyptic thoughts that lead to polarization. It’s all rather cyclical.”
By making caricature monsters of the other side, “you make reconciliation harder and harder,” says Fogg, the author. And it also could affect both parties’ ability to see the real threat, he adds.

“You can’t write off the other team’s apocalyptic ideas as pure hysteria and embrace our own, and then when it doesn’t come to pass let it go,” he says. “I think the trick is going to be … figure out the real threat, and counter that. If we don’t, we’ll be scattered.”

Flatlining: Exploring hidden toxic landscapes and the embodiment of contamination at Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, USA.

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Public Health, Workplace exposure on February 9, 2017 at 9:44 am

Stephanie Malin, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Colorado State University and Becky Alexis-Martin, Senior Research Fellow in Human Geography at The University of Southampton, February 8, 2017

Within the boundaries of the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, black bears prowl, elk tussle, prairie dogs burrow and porcupines forage. A diverse array of wildlife, wedged between the cities of Boulder and Denver. Within this diverse habitat, small animals nestle into the grass and burrow into the dusty alluvial soil. Superficially, this site has been transformed from military industrial complex into an ordered wilderness. However, the heart of this refuge contains a burden of atomic mass, for this bleakly lovely space encircles a Superfund site with a startling and intrusive legacy of nuclear pollution. Welcome to Rocky Flats, a disquieting relic of the American military industrial complex.
Originally, Rocky Flats was occupied by swathes of pastoral farmland. It was selected for weapons manufacturing due to its underlying geological stability and its proximity to uranium sources and other nuclear installations, and was therefore purchased by the US Atomic Energy Committee. Beginning in 1952, Rocky Flats became an all-American home for manufacturing plutonium pits, which are the triggers that detonate nuclear weapons. Local residents were grateful to have well-paid jobs and production quietly ensued, the site itself wrapped in the furtiveness of Cold War industry. Within this culture of secrecy, little transgressions gradually emerged on-site at Rocky Flats. These grew in severity, and complete technological failure eventually occurred as human errors were silenced, accidents were hidden and toxicity was concealed.

Major fires occurred in 1957 and 1969, whilst unsealed barrels of radioactive waste leached and dispersed across the surrounding hinterland (Krey and Hardy, 1970). In 1972, US Congress authorised the purchase of a buffer zone of land around the site, when traces of plutonium and elevated levels of radioactive tritium were discovered within local reservoirs (Krey, 1976). Elevated levels of plutonium were identified within the topsoil beyond this zone, and so further land was purchased to expand this buffer zone. On-site regulation was used as a technology of control, to ensure that off-site contamination was never recognised.

Protests began when local residents became concerned about the safety of the facility. Activist mobilization escalated throughout the 1970s and 1980s, as several thousand people showed up to organized protests and sit-ins. Eventually, a large-scale protest occurred in August 1989, which attracted thousands of participants. This sustained public outcry was ignored by the nuclear sector. However, it was not possible to stifle the covert material that was provided by Rocky Flats workers to the Environmental Protection Agency, and a case was gradually built up through FBI agent Jon Lipsky’s extensive work with informants. The whistleblowing reached an apogee by June 6th 1989. Operation Desert Glow was implemented by the US Department of Justice to investigate the Rocky Flats plant. This raid issued a search warrant to the manager of Rocky Flats, and led to the discovery of multiple toxic violations of anti-pollution legislation.

An array of contaminants has been discovered at the Rocky Flats site, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chromic acid, beryllium and radionuclides. Whilst chromium metal has little toxicity, chromic acid and similar hexavalent chromium compounds are both toxic and mutagenic (Barnhart, 1997; Baruthio, 1992). Symptoms of human exposure to hexavalent chromium can include: dermatitis, allergic and eczematous skin reactions, skin and mucous membrane ulcerations, allergic asthmatic reactions, bronchial carcinomas, and gastro-enteritis (Baruthio, 1992). Hexavalent chromium compounds also have ecological impacts, due to toxicity to plant life (Singh et al., 2013). Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are organochlorine compounds, and also have detrimental environmental and human health effects (Robertson and Hansen, 2015, Longnecker et al., 1997). PCB compounds are toxic and can cause abnormalities of liver function; skin and the nervous system; neonatal hypotonia or hyporeflexia; and increase the likelihood of exposed persons developing cancer. The detrimental effects of heavy radionuclides, including isotopes of plutonium, americium and curium, are also well documented within medical and environmental literature (Bair, 1974, Nénot and Stather, 2013, Newman, 2014). This includes genotoxic and stochastic effects that can increase the likelihood of the development of solid body tumours and blood cancers (Durakovic, 2016).
Unfortunately, it is not possible to access the final records of contamination for Rocky Flats. Like other places that have been squatted by the Cold War military-industrial complex, there is a notable absence of publically available information that documents the exact times, quantities and conditions of contaminant release. Even when the first special Grand Jury in Colorado’s history was convened in 1989 to hear the post-raid federal case against Rocky Flats’ corporate facility operators, Rockwell, the company paid fines amounting to less than they had earned in federal bonuses for operating the plant. The Grand Jury itself contested the trial and sentencing outcomes and felt that their recommendations had been illegally ignored (McKinley and Balkany 2004).

Rocky Flats has received relatively little international attention as a significant place of atomic and industrial toxicity. Somehow, its messy atomic history has been redacted, swallowed up alongside that of many other military nuclear installations and laboratories worldwide. Whilst the wildlife flourishes across Rocky Flats, despite a legacy of contamination, the local communities suffer invisibly.

A contaminated community?

Tiffany Hansen is a member of the down-winder community and founder of Rocky Flats Downwinders. She grew up in the shadow of the Rocky Flats plant. She remembers her father and brother working there. However, Tiffany did not realise the nuclear and covert nature of manufacturing, the military significance of the work that was undertaken, or the potential health effects that surrounded the site. She remained unaware of these risks until she developed ovarian and thyroid cancers as a young woman, and became acutely aware that her experience was not unique. She soon began organizing a community of people impacted by potential environmental health impacts of living near Rocky Flats. As Tiffany explains:

“It was a challenge to connect with former residents, there was no support, the research available was limited and difficult to find, and there was no organized advocacy… Since launching our website in 2015, I have heard from thousands of people, many like myself, who felt there was a strong connection between our health problems and the close proximity to the facility… I hear from people whose entire families are sickened, many lost loved ones, others are fighting or lost the fight for their lives.”
Tiffany’s observations echo the contested yet compelling evidence of cancers associated with toxic exposure, clustered within the communities that surround the site. These communities are the embodiment of their experiences of exposure (Brown, 2016).

It is challenging to design statistically significant epidemiological studies of the health effects of long-term, low-level toxic exposure to local communities due to confounding lifestyle factors, a neoliberalized, privatized healthcare system that cannot provide answers, and the economic migration of populations away from the plant after its closure. Whilst occupational health studies of exposure to Rocky Flats employees exist, they do not reflect community health, especially that of local women and children (Gilbert et al., 1989, Viet et al., 2000, Brown et al., 2004). Further, broader environmental and community health concerns highlight the related losses of livelihood, contamination concerns, anxieties, and somatic conditions associated with trauma such as those experienced by residents around Rocky Flats, steeped in uncertainty.

Thus, public health risks remain stressfully uncertain and undefined. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment recently released a study showing elevated rates of certain cancers in the communities surrounding Rocky Flats, but without the community-based component that people have requested. The study did not examine cancers such as thyroid, despite community-based requests to do so, and some critics assert that the agency works with large state-wide samples that dilute evidence of cancer clusters and hot spots due to the chosen methodological approach.

Access to information about the site has been difficult to acquire – particularly for people moving in to new homes on and around the former plant grounds. To some, this is the most significant concern. Dedicated community activist, Alesya Casse, who co-founded the group Candelas Glows, leads actions and community meetings to educate the community and speaks regularly about keeping new construction and the public off of the site and the Wildlife Refuge. Casse states:

“It’s disheartening to see government agencies continue with their legacy of turning ‘weapons into wildlife’ in the face of community opposition and concern. People have a right to know the history of the area and to make informed decisions for themselves and their families. What happened at Rocky Flats is both tragic and unfortunately common, but we have an opportunity to make it right by informing the public of the risks and doing comprehensive testing to address ongoing concerns and questions that continue to arise.”

The future is unwritten

It has been 28 years since the FBI first raided Rocky Flats, and eleven years since the US Environmental Protection Agency announced the completion of on-site remediation activities. Whilst some of its clandestine toxic secrets have been unveiled, many mysteries still surround the on-going and long-term effects of this multi-contaminant environmental and social disaster. It is impossible to say what the future holds for the local community of Rocky Flats in the face of landscape regeneration, contested diagnoses, unmedicalised conditions, and denial of people’s experiences. Importantly, the long-term outcomes for this community could still yet be affected by the presidency of Donald Trump, as he has already called for sites such as Rocky Flats to be repurposed yet again as repositories for nuclear waste or even revitalized nuclear production.

In response, collaborative social science and public health research by Metropolitan State University and Colorado State University aims to discern the social and cultural impacts to health of being a Rocky Flats downwinder. Already, the health survey component of this study has found that 46% of the reported cancers are defined as ‘rare’ and are often directly related to radiation exposure. Whilst we cannot anticipate if this unique community will ever truly gain environmental or social justice, we continue to develop our understanding of the significant influence that nuclear accidents and nuclear defence has had upon their lives. In the meantime, the Rocky Flats downwinders continue to exist, without a true understanding of the future implications of their toxic fate.

References

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BARNHART, J. 1997. Chromium chemistry and implications for environmental fate and toxicity. Soil and Sediment Contamination, 6, 561-568.

BARUTHIO, F. 1992. Toxic effects of chromium and its compounds. Biological trace element research, 32, 145-153.

BROWN, K. 2016. The Last Sink: The Human Body as the Ultimate Radioactive Storage Site. Mauch, Christof (Hg.), Out of Sight, Out of Mind. The Politics and Culture of Waste, RCC Perspectives, München, 41-47.

BROWN, K. L. 2013. Plutopia: Nuclear families, atomic cities, and the great soviet and American plutonium disasters, Oxford University Press, USA.

BROWN, S. C., SCHONBECK, M. F., MCCLURE, D., BARÓN, A. E., NAVIDI, W. C., BYERS, T. & RUTTENBER, A. J. 2004. Lung cancer and internal lung doses among plutonium workers at the Rocky Flats Plant: a case-control study. American journal of epidemiology, 160, 163-172.

DURAKOVIC, A. 2016. Medical effects of internal contamination with actinides: further controversy on depleted uranium and radioactive warfare. Environmental health and preventive medicine, 21, 111-117.

GILBERT, E. S., FRY, S. A., WIGGS, L. D., VOELZ, G. L., CRAGLE, D. L. & PETERSEN, G. R. 1989. Analyses of combined mortality data on workers at the Hanford site, Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant. Radiation research, 120, 19-35.

KREY, P. W. 1976. Remote plutonium contamination and total inventories from Rocky Flats. Health Physics, 30, 209-214.

KREY, P. W. & HARDY, E. P. 1970. PLUTONIUM IN SOIL AROUND THE ROCKY FLATS PLANT. New York Operations Office (AEC), NY Health and Safety Lab.

LONGNECKER, M. P., ROGAN, W. J. & LUCIER, G. 1997. The human health effects of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and an overview of organochlorines in public health 1. Annual review of public health, 18, 211-244.

MALIN, S. A. 2015. The Price of Nuclear Power: Uranium Communities and Environmental Justice, Rutgers University Press.

NÉNOT, J.-C. & STATHER, J. W. 2013. The Toxicity of Plutonium, Americium and Curium: A Report Prepared Under Contract for the Commission of the European Communities Within Its Research and Development Programme on Plutonium Recycling in Light Water Reactors, Elsevier.

NEWMAN, M. C. 2014. Fundamentals of ecotoxicology: the science of pollution, CRC press.

ROBERTSON, L. W. & HANSEN, L. G. 2015. PCBs: recent advances in environmental toxicology and health effects, University Press of Kentucky.

SINGH, H. P., MAHAJAN, P., KAUR, S., BATISH, D. R. & KOHLI, R. K. 2013. Chromium toxicity and tolerance in plants. Environmental chemistry letters, 11, 229-254.

VIET, S. M., TORMA-KRAJEWSKI, J. & ROGERS, J. 2000. Chronic beryllium disease and beryllium sensitization at Rocky Flats: a case-control study. AIHAJ-American Industrial Hygiene Association, 61, 244-254.

Japanese nuclear plant just recorded an astronomical radiation level. Should we be worried?

In Cost, Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Public Health on February 8, 2017 at 10:50 pm

By Anna Fifield and Yuki Oda, Washington Post, February 8, 2017

TOKYO — The utility company that operated the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan — the one that went into triple meltdown after the enormous 2011 earthquake and tsunami — has released some jaw-dropping figures.

The radiation level in the containment vessel of reactor 2 has reached as high as 530 sieverts per hour, Tokyo Electric Power Co. — or Tepco, as it’s known — said last week. This far exceeds the previous high of 73 sieverts per hour recorded at the reactor following the March 2011 disaster.

That was the world’s worst nuclear disaster since the one at Chernobyl, in Ukraine, in 1986. Almost 16,000 people were killed along Japan’s northeastern coast in the tsunami, and 160,000 more lost their homes and livelihoods. The cleanup is taking much longer than expected.
At this level of radioactivity, a person could die from the briefest of exposures.

Tepco recorded the radiation near the reactor core, suggesting that some melted fuel had escaped, using a long, remote-controlled camera and radiation measurement device. It was the first time this kind of device has been able to get into this part of the reactor. There it found a three-foot-wide hole in a metal grate in the reactor’s primary containment vessel.

So, how dangerous is this?

At this level of radiation, a robot would be able to operate for less than two hours before it was destroyed, Tepco said.

And Japan’s National Institute of Radiological Sciences said medical professionals had never even thought about encountering this level of radiation in their work.

According to the Kyodo news agency, the institute estimates that exposure to one sievert of radiation could lead to infertility, loss of hair and cataracts, while four sieverts would kill half the people exposed to it.

This measuring device hasn’t even gone into reactors 1 and 3 yet — that’s still in the works.

Robot explores damaged nuclear plant reactor in Japan Embed Share Play Video
Plant operators for Tokyo Electric Power company used a small cable-operated robot to film inside a damaged reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. (Reuters)
So should the people who live in Japan, who live on the Pacific basin be freaking out?

Not yet, some analysts say.

Although the radiation level is “astoundingly high,” says Azby Brown of Safecast, a citizen science organization that monitors radiation levels, it doesn’t necessarily signify any alarming change in radiation levels at Fukushima. It’s simply the first time they have been measured that far inside the reactor.

Here’s what Brown wrote on Safecast’s website:

It must be stressed that radiation in this area has not been measured before, and it was expected to be extremely high. While 530 Sv/hr is the highest measured so far at Fukushima Daiichi, it does not mean that levels there are rising, but that a previously unmeasurable high-radiation area has finally been measured. Similar remote investigations are being planned for Daiichi Units 1 and 3. We should not be surprised if even higher radiation levels are found there, but only actual measurements will tell.

Hiroshi Miyano, nuclear expert and visiting professor at Hosei University, also warned against overreacting. He said the radiation reading might not be particularly reliable since it was only an estimation based on the image analysis. (Tepco said there was a margin of error of 30 percent.)

“It’s not something new to worry about,” he said, although he added that it underscored how difficult the next steps would be.

But some think there is cause for concern.

Fumiya Tanabe, nuclear safety expert and former chief research scientist at the Japan Atomic Energy Research Institute, said while experts expected the radiation reading inside the Daiichi reactors to be high, it was still “shocking” to learn how high it was six years on.

“It will be very difficult to operate robots in there for a long time to come, and to remove the melted fuel. So the finding might greatly affect the decommissioning time schedule,” he said.

Tepco had been hoping to start taking out the fuel out in 2021.

Japan now estimates Fukushima nuclear cleanup cost at $180 billion Embed Share Play Video0:54
Japan’s trade ministry has almost doubled the estimated cost of compensation for the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and decommissioning of the damaged Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear plant to more than 20 trillion yen. (Reuters)
Could the radiation level be even higher?

Possibly. The 530 sievert reading was recorded some distance from the melted fuel, so in reality it could be 10 times higher than recorded, said Hideyuki Ban, co-director of Citizens’ Nuclear Information Center.

He agreed with Tanabe, saying that the findings underscore how difficult the decommissioning process will be.

“It definitely shows the path towards decommissioning will be very difficult, and the time frame to start taking out the fuel in 2021 will most likely be delayed as more investigations will be necessary,” Ban said.

Still, he cautioned against overreacting, saying, like Brown, that Tepco had simply not been able to measure this close to the fuel before.

So what does this news portend?

Tanabe said that the level of the reading should give pause to proponents of nuclear power in Japan, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been pushing to restart reactors shut down after the 2011 disaster.

“It’s unbelievable that anyone would want to restart nuclear plants when Japan hasn’t learned how and why the Fukushima Daiichi accident happened, or learned lessons from it,” he said.
Indeed, Ai Kashiwagi, an energy campaigner at Greenpeace Japan, said the findings showed how little the government and Tepco knew about what was happening inside the reaction.

“The prime minister said everything was under control and has been pushing to restart nuclear plants, but no one knew the actual state of the plant and more serious facts could come out in the future,” she said. “It’s important to keep an eye on radiation-monitoring data and how Tepco’s investigations go.”

Anna Fifield is The Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, focusing on Japan and the Koreas. She previously reported for the Financial Times from Washington DC, Seoul, Sydney, London and from across the Middle East.

Radiation levels in the Fukushima reactor are soaring unexpectedly

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Public Health on February 5, 2017 at 11:15 pm

Fiona MacDonald, Science Alert, 4 February 2017

Radiation is at its highest since the 2011 meltdown.

The radiation levels inside Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor No. 2 have soared in recent weeks, reaching a maximum of 530 sieverts per hour, a number experts have called “unimaginable”.

Radiation is now by far the highest it has been since the reactor was struck by a tsunami in March 2011 – and scientists are struggling to explain what’s going on.
The previous maximum radiation level recorded in the reactor was 73 sieverts per hour, a reading taken not long after the meltdown almost six years ago. The levels are now more than seven times that amount.

Exactly what’s causing the levels to creep upwards again is currently stumping the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco). But the good news is that they say the radiation is safely contained within the reactor, so there’s no risk to the greater population.

The latest readings were taken near the entrance of the No. 2 reactor, immediately below the pressure vessel that contains the reactor core.

To get an idea of the radiation levels inside, the team used a remote-operated camera to take photos of the area – the deepest point in the reactor to date – and then analysed the electronic noise in the images to measure radiation levels.

The technique has an error margin of plus or minus 30 percent, which means that it’s not highly accurate. But even at the lowest end of the measurements, the levels would still be 370 sieverts per hour – and could be as high as 690 sieverts per hour.

These unexpectedly high levels are complicating Tepco’s plan to decommission the nuclear reactor. The most recent aim was to have workers find the fuel cells and start dismantling the plant by 2021 – a job that’s predicted to take up to half a century.
But the levels within reactor No. 2, at least, are in no way safe for humans.

The Japanese National Institute of Radiological Sciences told Japan Times that medical professionals have no experience dealing with radiation levels this high – for perspective, a single dose of just 1 sievert of radiation could lead to infertility, hair loss, and sickness.

Four sieverts of radiation exposure in a short period of time would kill 50 percent of people within a month. Ten sieverts would kill a person within three weeks.

Even the remote-operated camera sent in to capture these images is only designed to withstand 1,000 sieverts of radiation, which means it won’t last more than two hours in the No. 2 reactor.

It’s not yet clear exactly what’s causing the high levels either. It’s possible that previous readings were incorrect or not detailed enough, and levels have always been this high. Or maybe something inside the reactor has changed.

The fact that these readings were so high in this particular location suggests that maybe melted reactor fuel escaped the pressure vessel, and is located somewhere nearby.

Adding to that hypothesis is the fact that the images reveal a gaping 1-metre (3.2-foot) hole in the metal grate underneath the pressure vessel – which could indicate that nuclear fuel had melted out of it.

On Monday, Tepco also saw “black chunks” deposited on the grating directly under the pressure vessel – which could be evidence of melted fuel rods.

If confirmed, this would be a huge deal, because in the six years since the three Fukushima reactors went into meltdown, no one has ever been able to find any trace of the nuclear fuel rods.

Swimming robots were sent into the reactors last year to search for the fuel rods and hopefully remove them, but their wiring was destroyed by the high levels of radiation.

Naturally, Tepco is reluctant to jump to any conclusions on what the black mass in the images could be until they have more information.

“It may have been caused by nuclear fuel that would have melted and made a hole in the vessel, but it is only a hypothesis at this stage,” a Tepco spokesperson told AFP.

“We believe the captured images offer very useful information, but we still need to investigate given that it is very difficult to assume the actual condition inside.”

Given the new readings, Tepco is now putting their plans to further explore reactor No. 2 using remote operated camera on hold, seeing as the device will most likely be destroyed by the intense conditions.

But they will send a robot into reactor No. 1 in March to try to get a better idea about the internal condition of the structure, while they decide what to do next with reactor No. 2.