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Archive for the ‘Rocky Flats’ Category

Jock Cobb, MD, pioneer activist on Rocky Flats dies at age 96

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nonviolence, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on June 27, 2016 at 1:35 am

When I learned about Rocky Flats in 1979 I joined people occupying the railroad tracks entering the facility because I wanted to stop production of nuclear bombs and bring an end to a possible nuclear war. But very soon I attended a seminar on radiation health effects, done by Jock Cobb of the CU medical school. He was a spectacular teacher, able to make complex matters clear even as he presented the moral necessity of action. I learned from him to pay attention to the public health and environmental sides of the nuclear weapons enterprise.

Jock Cobb just died. The link to a Denver Post article about him is http://www.denverpost.com/2016/06/25/john-c-cobb-obituary/

I earlier posted to this blog an article describing Jock Cobb’s effort to study the effect of plutonium in the gonads. He collected samples but they were never analyzed, as you can see from reading the following: Rocky Flats plutonium in the gonads? Samples collected but never analyzed — entry dated August 11, 2014.

 

Why is there a statue of a horse out here?

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on June 17, 2016 at 6:01 am

Have you seen the horse? It’s a tribute to and a warning about Rocky Flats. Check it out.

Go to  http://nationalenvironmentalpro.com/cold-war-horse/

 

 

 

 

Science Compromised in the Cleanup of Rocky Flats

In Environment, Human rights, Jefferson Parkway, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on June 11, 2016 at 12:16 am

Science Compromised in the Cleanup of Rocky Flats, By LeRoy Moore, Ph.D.

Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center (October 2006; as revised, July 18, 2013)

“Science-based cleanup of Rocky Flats,” an article published in Physics Today in September 2006, describes the work of a team of scientists who spent several years researching how and to what extent plutonium and other radionuclides migrate in the Rocky Flats environment. Their study, the Actinide Migration Evaluation (AME), produced information used in setting the cleanup levels for the badly contaminated Rocky Flats site. Accordingly, David L. Clark and his co-authors claim for themselves and their colleagues on the AME team a big share of the credit for the cleanup of the defunct Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant that was completed in 2005.[1] Their claim is apt, but the “science-based cleanup” they celebrate is, as this article demonstrates, an instance of science compromised.

The article by Clark et al. describes the methods and results of the AME project. It is a story familiar to me, because I co-chaired a panel that provided citizen oversight of the AME work. The story as they tell it contains omissions and problems, starting with the scandal with which the AME project began.

A momentous finding

The AME work was preceded by the totally unexpected detection in the exceedingly wet spring of 1995 of substantial movement of plutonium in the near surface soil (vadose zone) at Rocky Flats. This surprising find was made with real-time remotely controlled monitoring instruments set up in the soil on the site by environmental engineer M. Iggy Litaor. An adjunct professor at the University of Colorado, Litaor had for some years worked as a senior soil scientist at Rocky Flats studying actinides in the environment. Over the years he had published more than a dozen articles reporting his findings in leading technical journals.

Litaor estimated that on May 17, 1995, the wettest day of that very wet spring, a quantity of plutonium ranging from 10 millionths of a curie to one-half of a curie[2] was “remobilized overland” and traveled more than 100 meters down slope. This finding, he said, “challenges the framework of the suggested accelerated cleanup,” because the plutonium migration he detected “was not envisioned under any environmental condition or hydrogeochemical modeling scenarios considered for Rocky Flats.” Indeed, his finding countered the dogma heard often by the public from Rocky Flats officials, namely, that once in the environment plutonium stays in place. Litaor himself had previously supported this concept, until, as he admitted in a public forum, “Mother Nature” proved him wrong.[3]

Scandal

When Kaiser-Hill took over as cleanup contractor at Rocky Flats on July 1, 1995, barely five weeks after Litaor’s surprising finding, one of the company’s first acts was to terminate him. Asked at the October 1995 Rocky Flats Citizens Advisory Board meeting if Litaor had been dismissed, Kaiser-Hill official Christine S. Dayton said, “No.” At its next meeting the board learned that she had not told the truth. In response to public outcry over Litaor’s dismissal, Kaiser-Hill retained his services for a brief period, but by this time his research team of graduate students had been dispersed and his field instruments dismantled. Meanwhile, Ms. Dayton was named director of the Actinide Migration Evaluation, a post she would hold for the nearly ten years of the project’s existence.

The foregoing was only the most visible part of the scandal surrounding Litaor and the creation of the AME. Behind the scenes during its first weeks as the new cleanup contractor Kaiser-Hill commissioned a review of Litaor’s work by five scientists, among them Bruce D. Honeyman of the Colorado School of Mines and David L. Clark from DOE’s Los Alamos Lab (lead author of “science-based cleanup” article). Their 33-page critique of Litaor’s work faulted him most pointedly for failing “to address the question of the chemical form, i.e., speciation, of plutonium in the environment.” Speciation is the study of the range of chemical forms an element like plutonium may take under varied conditions (e.g., whether liquid, solid or gas). Clark and Honeyman, who are speciation specialists, in effect were criticizing Litaor for not being themselves. Both, not incidentally, were soon identified as members of the new AME group.[4]

Litaor learned about this dismissive review of his work, which was never made available to the public, only after it was completed. In a written response he said that the main objectives of his work had been “characterization and quantification of the physical processes that control plutonium mobilization.” It was with a “real-time in-situ remotely controlled monitoring system” that he observed the “unexpected phenomenon” of plutonium migration under exceptional meteorological conditions, something that would never have been achieved with speciation analyses that in his view “merely study the beaker environment.”[5]

Over a period of at least two years after termination of his Rocky Flats contract, Professor Litaor, having returned to his native Israel to assume an academic post, sought crucial geological data needed to complete a detailed account of his plutonium-migration findings. Neither Kaiser-Hill nor the DOE would provide him with what he sought. I and others petitioned the site on his behalf, to no effect. A full report on Litaor’s important finding thus has never been published. The very wet spring of 1995, when Litaor detected plutonium migration, has been called the equivalent of a hundred-year storm. This means that, on average, the conditions he encountered are likely to be repeated once each century. Due to Litaor’s dismissal, how it happened and how he was subsequently treated, the AME work celebrated by Clark et al. began under a cloud. For some in the engaged public this cloud never lifted.

The question of plutonium solubility

As the AME team began their work, they faced a barrage of questions about plutonium migration at Rocky Flats. Clark et al. say in their article that “researchers hypothesized” that migration happened because plutonium “was soluble in surface and groundwater,” but “the initial models of contaminant transport – ones based on soluble forms of plutonium – were flawed and indefensible.” They never, however, identify the “researchers” or the “models” to which they refer. Litaor, in his numerous public presentations regarding his finding of plutonium migration, never spoke of solubility.

In the context of the AME work, the only person to claim that plutonium moved in the Rocky Flats environment because it became soluble was AME team member Bruce Honeyman of the Colorado School of Mines. At a public meeting on August 20, 1997, he said he had concluded from his speciation studies that up to 90% of the plutonium in the environment at Rocky Flats could become soluble. Asked if this meant it would eventually migrate off the site, he said, “Yes, but additional work is needed to determine the rate of movement.”[6] He never spoke this way again, and efforts to get him to explain what he had said were brushed aside by those involved with the AME project. Had his exact words not been recorded in minutes of that particular meeting, they might be forgotten by all but a few people with very acute hearing. Honeyman soon stopped attending AME public meetings.[7]

Bioturbation

In an unprecedented 1996 study, ecologist Shawn Smallwood revealed how burrowing animals redistribute contaminants left in the soil at Rocky Flats. He identified 18 species of burrowing creatures at Rocky Flats, all constantly moving soil and any adhering contaminants. They take surface material down and bring buried material up. Major diggers, like pocket gophers, harvester ants, and prairie dogs, burrow to depths of 10 to 16 feet and disturb very large areas on the surface, while coyotes, badgers, rabbits, and other animals move additional soil. Plants loosen soil and create passages animals can use. Smallwood estimated that burrowing animals disturb 11 to 12% of surface soil at Rocky Flats in any given year. Undisturbed soils do not exist at this site. The plutonium, which at Rocky Flats is only partially remediated down to a depth of 6 feet and is not remediated at all below that level, is being constantly re-circulated in the environment. What is now buried is likely some day to be brought to the surface for wider dispersal by wind, water, fires or other means.[8] In his research Smallwood, who is located in Davis, CA, went onto the Rocky Flats site on three separate occasions in the summer and fall of 1996, each time accompanied by Rocky Flats personnel. He finished his report before the end of that year and two years later published results in a technical journal.[9] But his findings were totally ignored by the AME scientists. Their final report issued in 2004 states that data on highly mobile species that might transport actinides “are not available and would be difficult and in some cases logistically nearly impossible to obtain.”[10] Smallwood’s study had been completed eight years earlier.

Uptake of plutonium in grass

An eleven-year study done at DOE’s Savannah River Site in South Carolina demonstrates that plutonium in subsurface sediments at that site moved upward from the buried source material. The authors of this study conclude “that the upward movement was largely the result of invading grasses taking up the plutonium and translocating it upward,” producing a “measurable accumulation of plutonium on the ground surface.”[11] By contrast, the AME study at Rocky Flats concluded that “uptake into plant . . . tissues is minor.”[12] The Rocky Flats site consists for the most part of prairie grassland. If grass at the Savannah River Site brings plutonium up to the surface, should we not expect something similar to happen at Rocky Flats? Very likely the grasses at Rocky Flats have roots that run deeper into the soil than those at Savannah River, due to the comparably drier climate at Rocky Flats. The question whether the grass at Rocky Flats brings plutonium to the surface presents an uncertainty worth detailed exploration.

The AME conclusion: Plutonium “relatively immobile”

Despite the never explained interlude with Honeyman about plutonium solubility, the AME researchers concluded in their final report that virtually all plutonium in the Rocky Flats environment is in the form of non-soluble plutonium-oxide particles that can be moved by wind or water, that is, by the physical processes of erosion and sediment transport. This conclusion, based mainly on computer modeling, is very close to what Litaor had said a decade earlier. But the AME researchers differed strongly from Litaor as well as the from the findings of Smallwood and the grass research at the Savannah River Site in concluding that plutonium and americium left behind at Rocky Flats “are relatively immobile in the soil and groundwater because of their low solubility and tendency to sorb [attach] onto soil.”[13]

On the basis of this conclusion, Clark and his colleagues can rightly claim that the AME contributed substantively to the final legally binding Rocky Flats Cleanup Agreement (RFCA) adopted in June 2003. RFCA requires cleanup of concentrations of plutonium and americium in the top three feet of soil in excess of 50 picocuries per gram (a picocurie is one trillionth of a curie). But it allows concentrations of 1,000 to 7,000 picocuries per gram at levels 3 to 6 feet below the surface, and puts no limit on the quantity allowed below 6 feet. In adopting these standards for cleanup, DOE and the regulators relied on the AME conclusion that plutonium left in soil at Rocky Flats would remain “relatively immobile” and thus posed no significant public-health risk.[14]

But plutonium at Rocky Flats does move

The AME team’s conclusion of inconsequential plutonium migration at Rocky Flats flies in the face of one of their own reports. This report maintains that cleanup of plutonium in the soil at Rocky Flats even to citizen-recommended 10 picocuries per gram,[15] rather than the 50+ actually adopted, would result in conditions of either a 10-year or a 100-year storm in failure at certain downstream areas to meet the Colorado State standard for plutonium in surface water of 0.15 picocuries per liter.[16] This contradictory report, though it was part of the AME work, is not even cited in the final summary report of the AME project.[17]

Twice in 1997, before this wayward report was written, the quantity of plutonium in Walnut Creek at the downstream boundary of the Rocky Flats site exceeded the state standard.[18] This occurred on several subsequent occasions. The exact source of this plutonium was never identified. The problem is being handled with engineered controls that divert and dilute the water. Can maintenance of such controls be expected to outlast the plutonium?

Research done elsewhere counters the AME “relatively immobile” conclusion

The AME conclusion that migration of plutonium oxide at Rocky Flats would be insignificant is countered by findings at other locations. A report on plutonium transport at the site of the then-proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository asserts that plutonium “in oxidized form . . . can be quite mobile.”[19] Important recent research has focused on the propensity of minuscule plutonium oxide particles to attach to submicrometer-size colloids consisting of organic or inorganic compounds. Such colloids can transport the plutonium considerable distances in groundwater. Annie B. Kersting et al. reported that plutonium released from an underground bomb test at the Nevada Test Site moved at least 1.3 kilometers (0.8 mile) in 30 years, with “colloidal groundwater migration” the likely means of transport.[20] A recent study concludes that colloidal transport accounts for the migration of plutonium more than 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) in about 55 years in the subsurface environment at the Mayak facility in Russia. Other studies show similar long-distance plutonium transport in the subsurface environment at DOE’s Los Alamos and Savannah River sites. Kersting says regarding the Mayak findings, “we need to get away from this idea that plutonium doesn’t move, because it does.”[21]

Mayak and Savannah River are very wet environments, the Nevada Test Site and Los Alamos very dry ones. Rocky Flats resembles the latter two more than the former. If plutonium attached to colloids can move long distances quickly at all these locations, cannot the same thing happen at Rocky Flats? The AME team thinks not, because, in Honeyman’s words, “the very properties that make some compounds good candidates for colloidal transport – low solubility and high particle reactivity – limit the amount of contaminants that can be transported.”[22]

Another location where plutonium may be migrating rapidly is at DOE’s Idaho National Laboratory. From 1954 until 1988 large volumes of waste highly contaminated with plutonium were sent from Rocky Flats to the Idaho facility where the waste was dumped in shallow pits on the assumption that many millennia would elapse before the plutonium could percolate down the 600 feet to the Snake River Plain aquifer, the principal water source for large agricultural areas in Idaho. However, a graph published in a National Academy of Sciences report shows dramatic changes in estimates of how long it will take for the plutonium to reach the aquifer, from an estimate of 80,000 years in 1965 to one of 30 years in 1997.[23] Asked about this, the AME researchers said two things: First, they assert but don’t demonstrate that the National Academy’s graph “was developed to refer to contaminants in general, and not plutonium in particular.” The burden of proof rests with them. Second, they say that knowledge about actinide migration at INL is deficient because that site has not had the benefit of the kind of work done at Rocky Flats by the AME project.[24]

The AME group’s claim at being at the cutting edge of science is refuted by the ongoing work of Annie B. Kersting, whose finding of rapid transport of plutonium in groundwater at the Nevada Test Site was mentioned above. Since reporting that finding in 1999, Kersting, a geochemist at DOE’s Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, has intensified her research on actinide migration because of its significance at various sites worldwide, including Rocky Flats. According to a recent article about her work, it is driven by the recognition that, despite very low concentrations of actinides transported from the original source, their “long half-lives combined with their high toxicity make them of particular concern.” Thanks to her team’s research on plutonium, “the most perplexing element on the periodic table is slowly losing some of its mystery about how it travels underground faster and further than anyone at first expected.”[25]

What about the long-term?

Given the 24,110 year half life of plutonium-239 and the danger it poses if minuscule particles are taken into the body, the cleanup at Rocky Flats, based as it is on the work of the AME team and done with their imprimatur, looks like a short-term solution to a long-term problem. The AME researchers, with all their confidence in modeling, made no effort to predict conditions at Rocky Flats 500 years from now, much less 10,000 or 100,000 years from now.

Conclusion

The most persistent criticism of the AME work is that the researchers relied mainly on computer modeling to reach their conclusion that plutonium left in the environment at Rocky Flats will be relatively immobile. Future sampling could show whether the modeling was correct or flawed. But adequate future sampling is not likely. The affected public thus may never know the validity or invalidity of the AME work. The consequences are not minor, since the government intends to allow public recreation on the Rocky Flats site.[26]

The authors of “Science-based cleanup of Rocky Flats” write with certitude about realms of knowing that are replete with uncertainties. People of the future, whether near or distant, are not well served by the kind of cleanup done at Rocky Flats, even if it is “science-based.” In a situation like that at Rocky Flats, what is the measure of good science? What would responsible science look like? One doesn’t have to be a certified scientist to venture an answer to this question.

 

 

[1] David L. Clark, David R. Janecky, and Leonard J. Lane, “Science-based cleanup of Rocky Flats,” Physics Today (September 2006), pp. 34-40.

[2] One curie is the quantity of any radioactive material that emits 37 billion bursts of radiation per second.

[3] M. Iggy Litaor, The Hydrogeochemistry of Pu in Soils of Rocky Flats, Colorado: Summary,” Public Presentation, Denver, May 15, 1996; and Litaor, “Open Letter to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service concerning its draft plan for the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge,” March 10. 2004.

[4] “Technical and Peer Review” of M. Iggy Litaor’s work by Bruce D. Honeyman et al. (Subcontract No. KH 353044ED3), September 22, 1995.

[5] M. Iggy Litaor to Bruce D. Honeyman, November 1, 1995.

[6] Record of Meeting Notes, Actinide Migration Status Report, August 20, 1997.

[7] This author once sent a letter to Mr. Honeyman seeking documentation of misleading remarks he had made in an AME public meeting. A reply came not from him but from John Rampe, a DOE official, saying that in the future any concerns regarding things said by AME team members should be addressed not to them but to Mr. Rampe or to Christine Dayton, the AME supervisor at Kaiser-Hill. The documentation I sought was thus never provided, and Mr. Honeyman was allowed to duck his responsibility to be forthcoming with the public.

[8] Shawn Smallwood, “Soil Bioturbation and Wind Affect Fate of Hazardous Materials that Were Released at the Rocky Flats Plant, Colorado” (November 23, 1996), Report submitted for plaintiff’s counsel in Cook v. Rockwell International, United States District Court, District of Colorado, No. 90-CV-00181; see also the transcript of Smallwood’s appearance in court in this case, pp. 3912-4130. Arnie Heller, “Plutonium Hitches a Ride on Subsurface Particles,” Science & Technology Review, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, October/November 2011, pp. 16-18.

[9] Smallwood et al., “Animal Burrowing Attributes Affecting Hazardous Waste Management,” Environmental Management, vol. 22, no. 6, 1998, pp. 831–847.

[10] Kaiser-Hill Co., Actinide Migration Evaluation Pathway Analysis Summary Report, ER-108 (April 2004), p. 23.

[11] D. I. Kaplan et al., “Upward Movement of Plutonium to Surface Sediments During an 11-Year Field Study, SRNL-STI-2010-00029, January 25, 2010. http://sti.srs.gov/fulltext/SRNL-STI-2010-00029.pdf

[12] Kaiser-Hill Co., Actinide Migration Evaluation Pathway Analysis Summary Report, ER-108 (April 2004), p. 28; see p. 24.

[13] Kaiser-Hill, AME Pathway Analysis Summary Report, ER-108 (April 2004), p. 28.

[14] For a critique of the cleanup including the risk calculation on which it is based, see my “Rocky Flats: The bait and switch cleanup,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (January/February 2005), pp. 50-57. http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moores-blog/papers-by-leroy-moore-phd-2/

[15] Establishing the cleanup level for plutonium in soil at 10 picocuries per gram or less was recommended in a report prepared for the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center by Arjun Makhijani and Sriram Gopal, “Setting Cleanup Standards to Protect Future Generations: The Scientific Basis of the Subsistence Farmer Scenario and Its Application to the Estimation of Radionuclide Soil Actions Levels for Rocky Flats” (Takoma Park, MD: Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, December, 2001). http://www.ieer.org/reports/rocky/toc.html

[16] Kaiser-Hill Co., Report on Soil Erosion and Surface Water Sediment Transport Modeling for the Actinide Migration Evaluation at the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site, 00-RF-01823/DOE-00-93258 (August 2000), p. 51.

[17] Kaiser-Hill, AME Pathway Analysis Summary Report, ER-108 (April 2004).

[18] J. E. Law, Rocky Mountain Remediation Services, L.L.C., Memo to D. C. Shelton, K-H. Environmental Compliance, dated August 18, 1997, Re: Recent elevated plutonium and americium in water at RFCA point of compliance, Walnut Creek at Indiana Street.

[19] Yucca Mountain Site Description, TDR-CRW-G5-000001, Rev 01 ICN 01 – 10. Factors Affecting Radionuclide Transport (http://www.ymp.gov/documents/m2nu_a/sect10/sect10-01.htm).

[20] A. B. Kersting et al., “Migration of plutonium in ground water at the Nevada Test Site,” Nature, vol. 397, no. 7 (7 January 1999).

[21] Alexander P. Novikov et al., “Colloid Transport of Plutonium in the Far-Field of the Mayak Production Association, Russia,” SCIENCE, vol. 314 (27 October 2006); notes 6 and 8 of this article reference reports of similar long-distance plutonium migration at DOE’s Los Alamos and Savannah River sites; note 10 suggests greatly increased public health risk from such migration at Yucca Mountain. Kersting is quoted in David Biello, “Colloids in Russia: Have Plutonium, Will Travel,” Scientific American.Com, November 10, 2006.

[22] Bruce D. Honeyman, “Colloidal culprits in contamination,” Nature, vol. 397, no. 7 (7 January 1999), quoted in Christine S. Dayton, Kaiser-Hill, to LeRoy Moore, March 13, 2003 (03-RF-00441), with attachment from AME Advisory Group (CSD-004-03).

[23] For the graph and discussion, see Michelle Boyd and Arjun Makhijani, “Poison in the Vadose Zone: Threats to the Snake River Plain Aquifer from Migrating Nuclear Waste” http://www.ieer.org/sdafiles/vol_10/10-1/poison.html.

[24] Christine S. Dayton, Kaiser-Hill, to LeRoy Moore (03-RF-00441), March 13, 2003, with attachment (CSD-004-03).

[25] Arnie Heller, “Plutonium Hitches a Ride on Subsurface Particles,” Science & Technology Review, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, October/November 2011, pp. 16-18.

[26] After completion of the Rocky Flats cleanup, about seven square miles (roughly three quarters of the site) were transferred from the DOE to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to manage as a wildlife refuge. FWS intends eventually to open the refuge for public recreation. For details on why this should not happen, see the four brief parts of chapter 8 of my “Plutonium and People Don’t Mix,” online at http://media.wix.com/ugd/cff93e_ba3aba3546e545278e4de4d8b3990c57.pdf http://media.wix.com/ugd/cff93e_a1b30d0398e943b0b92bb758a938f391.pdf http://media.wix.com/ugd/cff93e_2ad82029215b4aa6a63ab37cc0466a5f.pdf http://media.wix.com/ugd/cff93e_109f46d1cf6d46a490cb8bd2e56e4519.pdf

My comments on the $375 million settlement with Dow & Rockwell

In Democracy, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Rocky Flats on May 23, 2016 at 3:49 am

Earlier I posted John Aguilar’s Denver Post May 19, 2016, article about the $375 million settlement of the lawsuit against Rocky Flats operators Dow Chemical and Rockwell International. Here I will add three comments.

  1. This case was filed in 1990 and the verdict by the jury finding Dow and Rockwell guilty was reached in 2005. It’s been more than a quarter-century in the making, a long time to pay the downwind affected people, some of whom have died by now. Even with the settlement made, affected people will not receive compensation for a couple of years.
  2. It’s regretful that the judge in the case restricted it solely to harm to property value. When the case was originally filed, the plaintiffs sought compensation for decline of property value but also for harm to health. The judge unfortunately dropped the latter from the case as it went forward. At DOE’s Fermald, Ohio, plant that processed uranium for bombs, as a result of a citizen’s lawsuit, DOE paid for medical monitoring of affected people for 18 years, saving some because health problems were found early and relieving others who found that their health had not been harmed by any possible exposure. I was told by one of the official managing this medical surveillance that DOE personnel said they would never again pay for medical monitoring for people whose health may be endangered by exposure to toxins released from DOE plants.
  3. I am grateful that those in the designated area downwind of Rocky Flats will finally be compensated for loss to value of their property to the tune of $375 million. But neither Dow nor Rockwell will pay a cent of this. The money will come from the DOE, which means from the taxpayers. You and I will pay people for the carelessness of two companies operating the Rocky Flats plant. They and other companies working for the DOE nuclear weapons program are indemnified for any harm they do.

Dan Berrigan memorial, Denver

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Rocky Flats on May 23, 2016 at 1:34 am

Yesterday, May 21, I went to the chapel at Regis University, a Jesuit school in Denver, for a memorial service for Daniel Berrigan, the activist priest who died a couple of weeks ago. The service was beautiful, not a Catholic mass, but a wide-ranging time of words and music, with short readings from his poems, writings and talks. I saw old friends I hadn’t seen for years.

In the mid-80s a group that I was part of invited Dan to Boulder to give a talk. While he was here Ina Russell, Brian Mahan and I took him to Rocky Flats, 9 miles south of Boulder. We stopped the car at a high point from which you could see the skyline of downtown Denver 16 miles away, three nearby downstream lakes that were contaminated with plutonium and tritium released from the plant, the mountains just a short distance to the west, with the buildings of the plant about two miles from where we stood. Pointing, I told him, “There’s Rocky Flats.” He quickly said, “But it isn’t flat.” “Yes, but it’s rocky,” I replied. He looked at me and said, “Ah, a rocky road. Are you up to it?” “We’ll see,” I said. Then we drove into town and went to a restaurant where he ordered vodka.

$375 million settlement reached in homeowner lawsuit against Rocky Flats

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Plutonium, Rocky Flats on May 20, 2016 at 2:47 am

By John Aguilar, The Denver Post, 5-19-2016

A $375 million settlement has been reached in a long-running class action lawsuit between operators of the former Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant and thousands of homeowners who lived downwind of the facility.

The settlement, which must still be approved by a federal judge, brings to an end a 26-year legal saga that began when homeowners living east of Rocky Flats accused the plant’s operators, Rockwell International Corp. and Dow Chemical Co., of devaluing their properties due to plutonium releases from the plant.

The suit, which includes as many as 15,000 homeowners in an area encompassing neighborhoods surrounding Standley Lake, was first filed in 1990.

“Both sides are satisfied with the settlement,” Merrill Davidoff, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, told The Denver Post Thursday morning.

Davidoff confirmed the settlement amount.

According to court filings, the property class includes all those who “as of June 7, 1989,” owned property in the affected area.

Davidoff said final approval of the settlement by a federal judge and establishment of a claims filing process for homeowners could be “months away.”

Rachelle Schikorra, a spokeswoman for Dow Chemical, said her company’s share of the settlement total is $131.25 million.
“The U.S. Department of Energy authorized the settlement, and Dow fully expects to be indemnified for the full cost of the settlement,” she said. “This settlement resolves 26 years of litigation, and Dow believes this settlement is the right decision for the company and its shareholders.”

A spokesman for the DOE had not yet returned a request for comment Thursday morning.

The settlement, which was reached late Wednesday, puts to an end a case — dubbed Cook et al. vs. Rockwell International — that has been through multiple bends and turns in federal court for the past quarter of a century.

In 2006, a jury ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and a federal judge awarded them $926 million. But in 2010, that award was thrown out by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that the jury reached its decision on faulty instructions that incorrectly stated the law.

 

Rocky Flats Health Survey

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats on May 20, 2016 at 2:36 am

ROCKY FLATS DOWNWINDERS AND METROPOLITAN STATE UNIVERSITY OF DENVER TO LAUNCH HEALTH SURVEY ON MAY 17TH SURVEY WILL FOCUS FOR THE FIRST TIME ON RESIDENTS LIVING DOWNWIND FROM ROCKY FLATS (Denver, CO)-

For their release, go to https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/154c474eebf06dac?projector=1

Rocky Flats Downwinders health survey

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on May 18, 2016 at 8:49 am

Today, Tuesday , May 17, 2016, the Rocky Flats Downwinders launched their health survey for people who reside downwind of Rocky Flats and may have health problems due to exposure to plutonium and other toxins released from Rocky Flats. See the following Denver Post article:  http://www.thedenverchannel.com/lifestyle/health/residents-who-lived-near-rocky-flats-from-1952-and-1992-to-be-surveyed-about-health

Major article on Jon Lipsky

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge on April 30, 2016 at 8:26 am

5280, the Denver magazine, just published an article on Jon Lipsky, who led the FBI raid on Rocky Flats in 1989. After being away for several years, he now lives in the area and follows the Rocky Flats issue closely. To read the article, go to: http://www.5280.com/news/magazine/2016/04/rogue-agent?page=full

DOE wants Los Alamos to do what once was done at Rocky Flats

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Peace, Plutonium, Rocky Flats on January 16, 2016 at 9:14 am

The following article, dated December 15, 2016, is written by Jay Coghlan of Nuclear Watch, New Mexico
National Nuclear Security Administration Gives Green Light
For Expanded Plutonium Pit Production at Los Alamos

Santa Fe, NM – Today the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent agency commissioned by Congress, posted a weekly report that makes explicit a decision by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to expand plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL). Plutonium pits are the fissile cores or “triggers” of modern two-stage thermonuclear weapons, but they are also atomic weapons in their own right (a plutonium bomb incinerated Nagasaki in August 1945). Plutonium pit production has always been the choke point preventing industrial-scale U.S. nuclear weapons production ever since a FBI raid investigating environmental crimes shut down the notorious Rocky Flats Plant near Denver in 1989.

Jay Coghlan, Nuclear Watch Director, commented, “Expanded plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab is really all about future new-design nuclear weapons with new military capabilities produced through so-called Life Extension Programs for existing nuclear weapons.” The relevant case-in-point is that LANL is now tooling up to produce pits for one type of warhead (the W87) to use in an “Interoperable Warhead” that will combine two other warheads (the W78, a land-based ICBM warhead, and the W88, a sub-launched warhead), clearly a radically new design even if as claimed only existing nuclear weapons components are used.

Coghlan further commented, “The real irony is that this Interoperable Warhead has been delayed for at least five years, if not forever, because of its enormous estimated expense and Navy skepticism. Yet this doesn’t keep LANL and the NNSA from spending billions of taxpayer dollars to upgrade existing and build new production facilities for unnecessary and provocative expanded plutonium pit production.”

Specifically, NNSA and LANL seek to raise the administrative limit on plutonium in the existing Radiological Lab (“RLUOB” in the Safety Board report below) from an original 8.4 grams to 400 grams, and proceed with the “Plutonium Modular Approach project.” In 2012, in the face of exploding costs and rising citizen opposition, NNSA dropped its proposal to build a $6.5 billion Walmart-sized “Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Project-Nuclear Facility” for expanded plutonium pit production of up to 80 pits per year. There was no technical justification for this expanded production, other than unspecified “Department of Defense requirements.”

These new moves by NNSA and LANL, which will cost around $4 billion before the usual cost overruns, are just another way to achieve their goal of raising plutonium pit production to up to 80 plutonium pits per year. Raising the amount of plutonium in the Radiological Lab will enable LANL to conduct all needed analytical chemistry quality control samples of new pits, as the Safety Board memo says to “primarily support the increased capacity required for larger pit manufacturing rates.” The Plutonium Modular Approach project will be newly constructed underground facilities for hot operations such as a plutonium foundry, likely beginning with two modules at a billion dollars each. It should be noted that proposed major federal actions require the opportunity for public review and comment under the National Environmental Policy Act, which has not been done for what NNSA calls this alternative plutonium strategy. Nevertheless, increased funding for LANL’s plutonium infrastructure will be likely included in the pending federal budget for FY 2017, scheduled to be released Monday February 9.

There is no need for expanded plutonium pit production to maintain the safety and reliability of the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, but it is vital for future new-designs that the nuclear weaponeers want. In fact, the U.S. government is planning to spend a trillion dollars over the next 30 years to “modernize” and completely rebuild its nuclear forces, despite its pledge in the 1970 NonProliferation Treaty to enter into serious negotiations leading to nuclear disarmament.

Background

In 1996 the plutonium pit production mission was formally relocated to LANL, with an approved upper limit of 20 pits per year. NNSA has tried four times since then to expand plutonium pit production. This started with a proposed “Modern Pit Facility” capable of producing up to 450 pits per year, with no justification of why that Cold War-like level of production was needed. In all four cases, in response to successful citizen activism, Congress either rejected or NNSA dropped efforts to expand production, in large part because of a pit life study that New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman required at Nuclear Watch’s request. That 2006 study by independent experts found that plutonium pits last at least 100 years (with no proscribed end date), more than double NNSA’s previous estimates of 45 years.

Nevertheless, NNSA now seeks for the fifth time to expand plutonium pit production beyond the currently approved level of 20 pits per year at LANL. After having produced 30 pits for the W88 sub-launched warhead (which was in production when the Rocky Flats Plant was shut down), there are no current requirements for plutonium pit production to maintain stockpile safety and reliability.

In the meanwhile, funding for cleanup at the Los Alamos Lab is being cut, while nuclear weapons programs that caused the mess to begin with are thriving. As a final irony, these plans to expand plutonium pit production are now being implemented, despite the fact that 1) major operations at LANL’s main plutonium facility have been suspended since June 2013 because of nuclear criticality safety concerns; and 2) the Los Alamos Lab has no place to send its radioactive plutonium pit production wastes ever since it sent a drum that ruptured and closed down the multi-billion dollar Waste Isolation Pilot Plant.

Nuclear Watch New Mexico is confident that this latest attempt to expand plutonium pit production will fall apart as well, but only as a result of continuing strong citizen activism.

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• Relevant excerpt from Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board Weekly LANL Report:
http://www.dnfsb.gov/sites/default/files/Board%20Activities/Reports/Site%20Rep%20Weekly%20Reports/Los%20Alamos%20National%20Laboratory/2015/wr_20151218_65.pdf

Los Alamos Report for Week Ending December 18, 2015

MEMORANDUM FOR: S.A. Stokes, Technical Director FROM: R.K. Verhaagen and J.W. Plaue

DNFSB Staff Activity: R. L. Jackson was onsite to plan oversight activities associated with Plutonium Infrastructure Strategy. Accordingly, he met with key project staff and walked down the Plutonium Facility, the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research (CMR) building, and the Radiological Laboratory Utility Office Building (RLUOB).

Plutonium Infrastructure Strategy: Late last month, the Deputy Secretary of Energy approved a restructuring of the subprojects covered under the CMR Replacement project. There are now four subprojects: (1) RLUOB Equipment Installation, Phase 2; (2) Plutonium Facility Equipment Installation, Phase 1; (3) Plutonium Facility Equipment Installation, Phase 2; and (4) Re- categorizing the RLUOB to Hazard Category 3 with a material-at-risk limit of 400 g plutonium- 239 equivalent. The first two subprojects enable LANL to cease programmatic activities in the CMR by 2019, while the latter two subprojects primarily support the increased capacity required for larger pit manufacturing rates. The memo requests an updated project execution plan within 90 days and indicates approval authority will remain with the DOE Deputy Secretary for subprojects 2–4 and with the NNSA Administrator for subproject 1.

In a separate action, the DOE Deputy Secretary also approved the mission need Critical Decision (CD)-0 for the Plutonium Modular Approach project. This project addresses life extension needs for the existing Plutonium Facility in support of Department of Defense requirements and Congressional Direction. The CD-0 schedule range for project completion is December 2025 to December 2027.

• For an extensive history of successful citizen activism against plutonium pit production see
http://nukewatch.org/facts/nwd/Pit-Production-History.pdf