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Here’s How the EPA and Pentagon Deliberately Hid a Growing Toxic Threat from Americans It’s long been known that, in certain concentrations, these compounds could be dangerous if they got into the water supply.

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Politics, Public Health, Workplace exposure on July 11, 2018 at 8:37 am

By Abrahm Lustgarten / ProPublica
July 9, 2018, 8:47 AM GMT

The chemicals once seemed near magical, able to repel water, oil and stains.

By the 1970s, DuPont and 3M had used them to develop Teflon and Scotchgard, and they slipped into an array of everyday products, from gum wrappers to sofas to frying pans to carpets. Known as perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, they were a boon to the military, too, which used them in foam that snuffed out explosive oil and fuel fires.

It’s long been known that, in certain concentrations, the compounds could be dangerous if they got into water or if people breathed dust or ate food that contained them. Tests showed they accumulated in the blood of chemical factory workers and residents living nearby, and studies linked some of the chemicals to cancers and birth defects.
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Now two new analyses of drinking water data and the science used to analyze it make clear the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense have downplayed the public threat posed by these chemicals. Far more people have likely been exposed to dangerous levels of them than has previously been reported because contamination from them is more widespread than has ever been officially acknowledged.

Moreover, ProPublica has found, the government’s understatement of the threat appears to be no accident.

The EPA and the Department of Defense calibrated water tests to exclude some harmful levels of contamination and only register especially high concentrations of chemicals, according to the vice president of one testing company. Several prominent scientists told ProPublica the DOD chose to use tests that would identify only a handful of chemicals rather than more advanced tests that the agencies’ own scientists had helped develop which could potentially identify the presence of hundreds of additional compounds.

The first analysis, contained in an EPA contractor’s PowerPoint presentation, shows that one chemical — the PFAS most understood to cause harm — is 24 times more prevalent in public drinking water than the EPA has reported. Based on this, the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization whose scientists have studied PFAS pollution, has estimated that as many as 110 million Americans are now at risk of being exposed to PFAS chemicals.

In the second analysis, ProPublica compared how the military checks for and measures PFAS-related contamination to what’s identified by more advanced tests. We found that the military relied on tests which are not capable of detecting all the PFAS chemicals it believed to be present. Even then, it underreported its results, sharing only a small part if its data. We also found that the military’s own research programs had retested several of those defense sites using more advanced testing technology and identified significantly more pollution than what the military reported to Congress.
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Even before the troubling new information about PFAS chemicals emerged, the government had acknowledged problems relating to them were spreading. Past EPA water testing, however incomplete, identified drinking water contamination across 33 states that Harvard researchers estimated affected some 6 million people. The military suspected drinking water at more than 660 U.S. defense sites where firefighting foam was used could be contaminated; earlier this year, it announced it had confirmed contamination in 36 drinking water systems and in 90 groundwater sites on or near its facilities.

The new analyses suggest these findings likely represent just a fraction of the true number of people and drinking water systems affected.

In written responses to questions, the EPA did not directly address whether it had understated contamination from PFAS chemicals. The agency said it had confidence in its current testing procedures and had set detection limits at appropriate levels. It also stated that it is taking steps towards regulating some PFAS compounds and registering them as “hazardous substances,” a classification that triggers additional oversight under waste and pollution laws.
The agency will “take concrete actions to ensure PFAS is thoroughly addressed and all Americans have access to clean and safe drinking water,” then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, who recently resigned, said in the written statement to ProPublica in May.

The Department of Defense also responded to questions in writing, defending its testing methods as the best available and calling it difficult to fully assess risks from PFAS because the EPA has not regulated these chemicals. A DOD spokeswoman said the Pentagon’s research group has a program underway aimed at enhancing the test methods and detecting more PFAS compounds, but suggested that no alternatives were ready for use. She did not answer questions about why the agency reported contamination levels for only two chemicals to Congress when it would have had data on many more, stating only that the Pentagon “is committed to protecting human health and the environment.”
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Environmental experts aren’t convinced.

“Widespread contamination may be harming the health of millions or even tens of millions of Americans and the government is intentionally covering up some of the evidence,” said Erik Olson, a senior director for health, food and agriculture initiatives at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in an interview. The EPA and Defense Department “have done all they can to sort of drag their feet and avoid meaningful regulatory action in making significant investment in cleanups.”

In May, a Politico report revealed that the EPA and the White House, along with the Defense Department, had pressured a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to withhold a health study expected to warn that people exposed to PFAS chemicals face greater health risks than were previously understood. That report was quietly released in mid-June and, indeed, estimated safe levels of exposure are seven to 10 times smaller than what the EPA has said.

Such a determination could spur stricter limits on exposure than the EPA appears to have considered. Paired with an emerging realization that testing by the EPA and DOD hasn’t captured the true extent of contamination, the government could be forced to reconceive its approach to these compounds, said David Sedlak, the director of the Institute for Environmental Science and Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, who helped develop one of the most advanced commercial tests for PFAS substances.

“Not talking about it isn’t going to make the problem go away,” Sedlak said. “And because these compounds are forever — they aren’t going to degrade on their own — eventually there is going to be a day of reckoning.”

The PFAS compounds might not exist if weren’t for a lab accident in 1938, when a frozen block of refrigerant turned into an extraordinarily slippery white, waxy mass. A decade later DuPont was manufacturing it as Teflon. 3M developed its own version, the molecularly similar PFOA in 1954, when a chemist inadvertently spilled a mixture of chemicals on her shoe and found the stain was impervious to soap or water. They called it Scotchgard.

These products work, in part, because the chemicals they contain are made up of some of the strongest and most resilient molecular bonds in existence, thanks to a unique structure that keeps them from breaking down. There are thousands of variations, all characterized by extremely strong daisy chains of carbon and fluorine molecules and differentiated mostly by the length of their “tails” — the string of carbon molecules that can be anywhere from two to 14 units long.

In the mid-1970s, with the use of the chemicals proliferating, Dupont and 3M began privately testing the blood of their plant workers and others. The companies had grown increasingly concerned about the toxicity of PFAS compounds, learning that they “bio-accumulate” in food and people and that they could cause harm. But it wasn’t until 2000, when 3M pulled Scotchgard from the market, that the EPA began to investigate PFAS’s potential damage to human health and the environment, and soon after, that the blood tests became public.

At first, the EPA took steps that suggested it would quickly get to the bottom of the problem. Citing the spread of contaminants in water supplies in Minnesota and Ohio, in 2002 the agency launched a “priority review” of some PFAS compounds. It wrote then that exposure can “result in a variety of effects including developmental/reproductive toxicity, liver toxicity and cancer.”

By 2003, the EPA launched its first draft risk assessment for PFOA, typically a substantial step towards establishing strict regulatory standards that limit a chemical’s use and mandate its cleanup. When the draft was released in early 2005, it said that while the epidemiological evidence remained inconclusive, rats tested with PFOA were more likely to develop liver and pancreatic cancers, and there were worrisome signs that workers in plants that manufactured PFOA had a higher risk of dying of prostate cancer.

The EPA also asked industries to voluntarily phase out PFOA-related products, including the firefighting foam, by 2015.

The question was then — and remains today — how much exposure to PFAS chemicals would make people seriously ill?

In 2009, the agency attempted an answer, issuing “provisional” voluntary guidelines for safe levels of the chemicals in drinking water. This meant that for the first time, the government offered a precise, scientific measure for how much of the compounds was too much. But it didn’t mandate those limits, or create a regulation enforceable by law. And even those limits — it would later become clear — proved too loose.

Meanwhile, other instances of water contamination — in Minnesota and Alabama — heightened concerns. One study of 60,000 residents in West Virginia and Ohio exposed to high levels of PFOS and PFOA from a DuPont manufacturing plant and an Army airfield showed they had high rates of thyroid malfunction, testicular and kidney cancers and preeclampsia. The study was completed as part of a roughly $107 million settlement of a lawsuit against DuPont. Studies on animals also linked the chemicals to structural birth defects and dramatic changes in hormone levels.

In 2013, with concern rising over the ubiquity of PFAS compounds, the EPA decided it would test for some of the chemicals in public drinking water systems. The agency regulates chemicals under the Safe Drinking Water Act and adds new substances to the list based on tests showing they’re widespread enough to pose a national threat. Listing a chemical for such testing is often a step toward creating enforceable regulations for it.

At the same time, the agency began to reconsider the health advisory limit it had established in 2009. In 2016, the agency announced a dramatically lower limit for how much PFAS exposure was safe for people, suggesting a threshold less than one-eighth the amount it had once assured would cause no harm. Under the new guidelines, no more than 70 parts per trillion of the chemicals, less than the size of a single drop in an Olympic pool, were deemed safe.

Yet even this standard remains voluntary and unenforceable. Until there’s a true limit on the concentration of PFAS compounds allowable in drinking water, soil and groundwater — and the classification of PFAS as a hazardous substance — the EPA can’t hold water utilities, companies or other polluters to account. It also can’t compel the Department of Defense to adhere to the standard or clean up contamination.

There is increasing evidence that PFAS contamination is more widespread on and around military bases than previously thought.

The Department of Defense launched a full-scale review of contamination in drinking water systems at its facilities in 2016, despite the lack of clear regulatory limits from the EPA.

This spring the Pentagon reported to Congress that 564 of the 2,445 off-base public and private drinking water systems that it had tested contained PFOS or PFOA above the EPA’s advisory limits. It also announced that groundwater at 90 out of 410 military bases where it tested contained dangerous levels of these two chemicals. A staggering 61 percent of groundwater wells tested exceeded the EPA’s threshold for safety, according to the presentation Maureen Sullivan, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for environment, safety and occupational health, gave to Congress in March. Attending to the problem, several news outlets have reported, would cost the Pentagon at least $2 billion.

In presenting its liabilities to Congress, the Defense Department took an important step in wrestling with a troublesome issue, much as the EPA had in undertaking national data collection.

But both agencies have quite deliberately chosen not to use the most advanced tools or to collect the most comprehensive data on contamination, researchers say.

To identify PFAS compounds in drinking water, the EPA uses a lab test called “Method 537,” which separates microscopic molecules so they can be more easily seen. It’s not the most sophisticated test available, but scientists have used it enough to give them — and regulators — extraordinary confidence in its results. This is the test the EPA chose in 2013, when it directed its labs across the country to test water samples to evaluate emerging PFAS chemical contaminants to help determine whether they should be regulated.

But even though the Method 537 test can detect 14 PFAS compounds, the EPA only asked for data on six of them. The EPA said this was to allow for testing of non-PFAS pollutants, since the agency is only allowed to target a certain number of emerging contaminants in each round of tests.

The agency also set detection thresholds for the six PFAS compounds included as much as 16 times higher than what the test was sensitive enough to detect — so high that only the most extreme cases of contamination were reflected in the federal drinking water dataset.

Indeed, according to a recent presentation by Andrew Eaton, vice president of Eurofins Eaton Analytical, the largest drinking water test lab in the country, which handled testing of more than 10,000 samples from 1,100 public water systems — about 30 percent of the EPA’s water samples overall — vast amounts of detected contamination was ignored by design.

Through its federal water quality reporting, the EPA has said publicly that PFOA was detected in just 1 percent of water samples across the nation. But when Eaton recently went back and reanalyzed the data the EPA didn’t want, he found PFOA was in nearly 24 percent of the samples his company tested.

Another chemical, PFBS, is considered a sentinel because in situations where it is a component of contamination also containing PFAS and PFOA, it travels further and faster in water and shows up months or years ahead in places where PFOA or PFOS are ultimately detected. The EPA has reported that PFBS was found in less than one-tenth of 1 percent of all its water samples — not even one in 100. Eaton’s re-analysis detected the sentinel chemical in nearly one out of eight of samples.

“It basically says the plume is on its way, that’s the leading indicator… PFOS and PFOA is likely on the way to your house,” said Jennifer Field, a professor of environmental and molecular toxicology at Oregon State University. Field is a leading expert on test methods for PFAS compounds. The Department of Defense helps fund her research. “If you are on the hydrological flow path it’s a matter of time and distance.”

The EPA defended its detection limits, saying its testing protocol is designed to yield consistent, reliable results even if labs conducting the tests are less sophisticated.

But the government is far from certain that lower levels of PFAS compounds than those that count as contamination by the EPA’s definition aren’t health threats. The EPA has repeatedly lowered how much exposure to PFAS compounds it considers acceptable. And when the CDC finally released its health analysis for PFAS compounds in June, it called for limits of one compound to be 10 times lower than the EPA’s current threshold, and another to be seven times lower. Such a standard would be more in line with some states, which already have tougher limits in place. New Jersey, for example, has set its exposure limit for PFOA at roughly one-fifth of what the EPA prescribes.

The EPA’s testing protocol — which only certifies the 537 test, with its limitations — also hasn’t kept up with fast-evolving science around PFAS chemicals. Researchers have identified new forms of the chemicals and, potentially, new dangers from these variants.

In 2016, Field and several other researchers — as part of a Defense Department research program examining water samples from 15 defense sites where firefighting foam was used (researchers declined to name them) — identified 40 new families of PFAS chemicals, consisting of some 240 compounds they’d never seen before.

“You’re starting to get this idea that more complex chemistry was used at these sites than was picked up in the tests, and that’s kind of the punchline,” said Field, of the firefighting foam sites in particular. “There is more mass down there, there are more species and in higher concentrations than what you see.”

Method 537, as a rule, is not capable of detecting these additional compounds. Yet when the Pentagon launched its own water testing program at U.S. bases in 2016, it chose to use the EPA’s outdated testing process, even though a test capable of detecting the presence of dozens of additional PFAS compounds was available. That test, called the Top Assay, was even developed with Defense Department support.

Instead, the Defense Department relied exclusively on the 537 test and then, when it reported its findings to Congress this past March, it offered only the results for PFOS and PFOA and not the other 12 compounds the test process identifies, because that’s what Congress had asked for. Indeed, according to one memorandum from the Department of the Navy, the armed services were explicitly instructed to withhold their extra data — at least for the time being — because it was “not being used to make decisions.”

“If you were going to spend $200 million testing DoD sites across the country, wouldn’t you want to test for all of the chemicals you know you used?” asked Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxics, who has been active on chemical cleanup issues at Defense sites.

“It’s almost like a deliberate thing, where you’re going to tell people their water is safe to drink, and you know that you have a gap in your testing and you know that you haven’t found all of the chemicals in the water.”

Scientists are only now beginning to understand the importance of the information the government is choosing to leave out. Field has found, for example, not only that there are more variations of PFAS compounds, but that some degrade over time into PFOS or PFOA, or, like PFBS, travel faster in the environment, making them predictors for other contaminants soon to come.

Many of the variants with shorter “tails” — or shorter chains of molecules than the test methods can detect — “are likely to break through systems designed to capture” them, Field and others wrote in a 2017 paper published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology. They are also more likely to elude the water treatment methods the EPA and the Department of Defense are using to clean water identified as contaminated.

The consequence of these systemic blind spots is that “by the time you see PFOS and PFOA you may have been drinking other things for a longer period of time,” Field said.

When Field retested water samples at several U.S. defense sites using the most advanced testing available, she found that many of these obscure additional chemicals were nearly uniformly present — and in huge numbers. At one site, for example, where PFOS was detected at 78,000 parts per trillion, another obscure PFAS compound was present at nearly three times that concentration.

Based on Eaton’s higher-resolution detection rates, scientists at the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization that researches the dangers of PFAS compounds, have generated new estimates of contamination linked to the chemicals.

They now think more than 110 million people have been exposed to the compounds through their drinking water, more than five times as many as the group had previously estimated.

The EPA “has really underplayed the extent of contamination,” said David Andrews, a senior scientist at EWG. “The scope of the problem seems to be expanding.”

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The 60-Year Downfall of Nuclear Power in the U.S. Has Left a Huge Mess. The demand for atomic energy is in decline. But before the country can abandon its plants, there’s six decades of waste to deal with.

In Cost, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Workplace exposure on May 30, 2018 at 8:59 am

Atlantic, May 28, 2018

It was just another day in the life of the defunct Hanford nuclear site, a remote part of Washington State that made most of the plutonium in America’s Cold War arsenal. On the morning of May 9, 2017, alarms sounded. Around 2,000 site workers were told to take cover indoors, and aircraft were banned from flying over the site for several hours. The roof of a tunnel had collapsed, exposing railcars that had been loaded with radioactive waste from plutonium production and then shunted underground and sealed in decades before.This post is adapted from Pearce’s new book.
There was other stuff down there too. Nobody quite knew what. Record keeping was poor, but the contents of the tunnels certainly included carcasses from animal radiation experiments, including a reported 18 alligators. The emergency lasted only a few hours. The integrity of the waste was restored. But it was a chilling reminder of the site’s perilous radioactive legacy.

Sprawling across 600 square miles of sagebrush semidesert, Hanford is a $100 billion cleanup burden, full of accidents waiting to happen. It is the biggest headache, but very far from being the only one, emerging in what increasingly look like the final years of America’s nuclear age.

It is 60 years since America’s first commercial nuclear power station was opened by President Dwight D. Eisenhower at Shippingport, near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on May 26, 1958. But the hopes of a nuclear future with power “too cheap to meter” are now all but over. All that is left is the trillion-dollar cleanup.

Public fear and suspicion about all things nuclear grew sharply after March 1979, when the cooling system at Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station failed and triggered a meltdown. In the end, actual releases of radiation were minimal, but the incident left behind a reputational mess in addition to the radiological one. On the day of the accident, the United States had 140 operating nuclear reactors, with 92 under construction and 28 more awaiting official approval. In the next five years, more than 50 orders for new nuclear reactors in America were canceled. New contracts entirely dried up.

Hanford has not produced plutonium for three decades. Nobody is making new material for bombs anymore. President Trump’s plans for more weapons can be met by recycling existing plutonium stocks. And even the civil nuclear industry, which still generates a fifth of America’s electricity, is in what looks like terminal decline. With cheap natural gas and renewable solar and wind energy increasingly available, the numbers no longer add up. Nuclear power plants across the nation are being closed with years of licensed operation unused.

No new nuclear power stations have come on line in the past two decades. The only new build underway, two additional reactors at Georgia Power’s Alvin W. Vogtle plant near Waynesboro, is five years behind schedule and has seen its costs double. Its planned completion in 2022 remains uncertain.

America’s 99 remaining operational nuclear power reactors, which still deliver power to the grid, are too important to be closed overnight. But nearly half are over 40 years old. The only question is how long the regulators and accountants will allow them to keep going.

Oyster Creek in New Jersey disconnects from the grid in October with 11 years left on its license. Indian Point in New York State is to shut by 2021 due to falling revenues and rising costs. In California, Diablo Canyon is being closed by state regulators in 2025. The reactor at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania that survived the 1979 accident will finally shut in 2019.

Shutdown is only the beginning of the end. Final closure and clearance of the sites can take decades, and the waste crisis created by decommissioning cannot be dodged. Lethal radioactive material is accumulating at dozens of power plants, military facilities, and interim stores across the country.

Some, like the train cars buried at Hanford, is evidently in a precarious situation. Much more needs urgent attention. Cleaning up and safely disposing of the residues of the nuclear adventure—much of it waste with a half-life measured in tens of thousands of years—is turning into a trillion-dollar nightmare for the nation.

Rocky Flats Wildlife Refuge is an oasis of prairie biodiversity covering 5,000 acres, home to prairie dogs, elk, monarch butterflies, and rare xeric grasses. It also serves as a buffer zone around the site of the largest completed nuclear cleanup to date in the United States. And David Lucas of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is preparing to open it for public access in summer 2018. He’s reckoning on 150,000 visitors a year.

During the Cold War, Rocky Flats was secretly machining plutonium manufactured at Hanford into some 70,000 spheres that formed the explosive heart of each weapon in Uncle Sam’s nuclear arsenal. Plutonium pollution was routine. The plant had nowhere to get rid of the day-to-day plutonium waste, which was often dumped in hastily dug landfills or sprayed onto grassland around the plant. At an outdoor compound known as pad 903, where more than 5,000 drums of waste liquids contaminated with plutonium are stored, there’s been substantial leakage. An internal memo reported that rabbits living on the site were heavily contaminated, especially in their hind feet.

A whistle-blower’s allegations about illegal late-night incineration of plutonium waste at the plant led to an FBI raid in 1989. After that—and with demand for plutonium spheres declining following the end of the Cold War—the government closed the site. A federal grand jury sat for three years to hear testimony from the FBI raid. But two days after the jury approved indictments, the Justice Department struck a deal with Rockwell Automation, the company that managed the plant. The company pleaded guilty to some minor charges, but the FBI evidence and grand jury conclusions were sealed forever.

After the cover-up came the cleanup. The core plutonium-handling areas were declared a Superfund site, qualifying for a federal decontamination, which was completed in 2005. The federal government called it “the largest and most successful environmental cleanup in history.” But in reality it was a cut-price job. The original project was estimated at $37 billion, but Congress would sanction only $7 billion. So processing buildings were demolished, but basements and 25 miles of underground tunnels and pipelines were left behind, according to LeRoy Moore, a veteran activist who sat on a public committee in the 1980s that considered the cleanup plans.

Today, the land that housed the industrial complex remains behind a sturdy fence under the control of the Department of Energy (DOE). But the large grassland buffer zone that once protected the complex from prying eyes has been released into the care of the Fish and Wildlife Service for public access.

There are two concerns. First that, as I saw on a tour with Lucas, the fenced-off core area hardly looks self-contained. Earth slips have left ugly gashes up to 300 feet wide across a former landfill site that overlooks a creek running through the wildlife refuge. The DOE’s Scott Surovchak concedes that “slumping is very common” after heavy rain. Only constant repairs, it seems, will prevent the landfills and buried contaminated buildings and pipework from being exposed.

The second concern is the safety of the buffer zone itself. Harvey Nichols, a biologist from the University of Colorado, has found that when the plant was operating snow falling nearby was often “hot.” Falling snowflakes captured tiny plutonium particles that evaded the stack filter. Just two days of snowfall could deposit about 14 million particles on every acre of the site. “There must be tens of billions of particles in the soil today,” he told me.

The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed such concerns. In 2006 it found plutonium levels in soil samples in the buffer zone were within acceptable limits and concluded that the lands comprising the refuge are “suitable for unlimited use and unrestricted exposure.” But Moore, the activist, is unimpressed. “Prairie dogs and other critters will burrow down for several feet and bring plutonium to the surface,” he says. “Children will be exposed to plutonium. And people will start taking plutonium out into their communities on boots and cycle wheels. Why would we allow that?”

Lucas is unmoved. “We need to get people out here on the refuge. Then the fears will evaporate,” he told me. But that is just what worries his opponents. Forgetting about the plutonium is the worst thing that could happen, they say.

About 30 miles northeast of Rocky Flats, out on the prairie near the small town of Platteville, is the Fort St. Vrain spent-fuel store. It resembles nothing so much as an outsize grain store, but since the 1990s it has been holding 1,400 spent fuel rods, laced with plutonium and encased in blocks of graphite. The spent fuel was left behind when the neighboring nuclear power plant shut. The plan had been to send it to another temporary store at the Idaho National Laboratory, but the governor of Idaho banned the shipment. The Fort St. Vrain facility is designed to withstand earthquakes, tornado winds of up to 360 miles per hour, and flooding six feet deep. Also time. It will be several decades at least before the federal government finds the fuel a final resting place.

The country is littered with such caches of spent fuel stuck in limbo. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 80,000 metric tons of spent fuel, the most dangerous of all nuclear wastes, is stored at 80 sites in 35 states. The sites include stores at past and present power plants such as Maine Yankee, and stand-alone federal sites such as Fort St. Vrain. As the GAO puts it: “After spending decades and billions of dollars … the future prospects for permanent disposal remain unclear.” Nobody wants to give the stuff a forever home.

Nuclear waste is conventionally categorized as high-, intermediate-, or low-level. Low-level waste includes everything from discarded protective clothing to plant equipment and lab waste. It can usually be treated like any other hazardous waste, which in practice usually means burial in drums in landfills or concrete-lined trenches.

Intermediate waste contains radioactive materials with isotopes that decay with half-lives long enough to require long-term incarceration. It includes many reactor components, as well as chemical sludges and liquids from processing radioactive materials, which can often be solidified in concrete blocks. Once solid, intermediate waste can be buried safely in shallow graves, though anything containing plutonium will have to be disposed of deep underground because of the very long half-life.

Much of America’s intermediate-level waste will end up at the country’s largest deep-burial site for such radioactive material. The U.S. military’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in salt beds near Carlsbad, New Mexico, could eventually take 6.2 million cubic feet of waste. But it has had problems that have slowed progress and raised questions about its viability.

A chemical explosion in 2014 sprayed the tunnels dug into the salt beds with a white, radioactive foam. When a ventilation filter failed, some of the plutonium reached the surface, where at least 17 surface workers were contaminated. The military shut the tunnels for three years to clean up. While WIPP is today back in business, full operations cannot resume until a new ventilation system is in place, probably in 2021. The eventual cost of the accident, including keeping the dump open longer to catch up with the waste backlog, has been put at $2 billion.

High-level waste is the nastiest stuff. It includes all spent fuel and a range of highly radioactive waste liquids produced when spent fuel is reprocessed, a chemical treatment that extracts the plutonium. Most of America’s high-level waste liquids—and around 30 percent of the world’s total—are in tanks at Hanford.

High-level waste is either very radioactive and will stay so for a long time, or it generates heat and so requires keeping cool. Usually both. It accounts for more than 95 percent of all the radioactivity in America’s nuclear waste, and needs to be kept out of harm’s way for thousands of years.

There is general agreement that the only way to keep high-level waste safe is by turning the liquids into solids and then burying it all deep underground, somewhere where neither water nor seismic activity is likely to bring the radioactivity to the surface, and where nobody is likely to stumble on it unexpectedly. There is disagreement, however, about whether this buried waste should be kept retrievable in case future technologies could make it safer sooner, or whether accessibility simply places a burden of guardianship on future generations.

Before it can be buried, most high-level waste needs to be stored for up to a century while it cools. Unfortunately, this has encouraged countries to put off making plans. None of the world’s high-level waste currently has any permanent resting place. The planet is instead peppered with interim stores. America is no better. Its 90,000 metric tons of high-level waste—set to rise to as much as 140,000 tonnes by the time the last power plant closes—is mostly sitting in ponds at dozens of power stations or lockups like Fort St. Vrain.

How did the United States reach this impasse? Back in 1982, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act established that it was the government’s job to deal with this ultimate back-end problem. The act obliged Washington to begin removing used fuel from stores and other facilities by 1998 for eventual disposal at a federal facility. In 1987, Yucca Mountain, near the former Nevada bomb-testing grounds, was chosen to be the sole such facility.

In the 1990s, a five-mile tunnel was dug into the remote mountain. Then work stopped, in part because of vehement state opposition and in part because of concerns raised by geologists that a future volcanic eruption could propel buried waste back to the surface. One of President Obama’s first acts on taking office in 2009 was to formally abandon the $100 billion project. Things headed for the courts, which began awarding damages to power companies unable to make use of the nonexistent federal facility. The payouts amount to around half a billion dollars a year, and by 2022 will likely reach $29 billion.

Now President Trump wants to revive Yucca. His 2019 budget request included $120 million for the task. But the state opposition remains as strong as ever, and only $50 million was included in the final budget for Yucca-related items. Maybe Yucca Mountain will make a comeback. If not, then with no alternatives on the horizon, utilities will carry on being paid to keep spent fuel in pools next to abandoned nuclear power plants, and the interim stores in places such as Fort St. Vrain could be in business not just for decades but for centuries. The nuclear-waste time bomb will keep ticking.

The true heartland of America’s nuclear enterprise has always been Hanford. And it is the biggest and most toxic cleanup legacy too. Straddling the Columbia River, the Hanford nuclear reservation was America’s primary bomb-making factory. It was where they made the plutonium. At peak production, during the 1960s, its nine reactors irradiated 7,000 metric tons of uranium fuel annually. The intense radiation inside the reactors produced plutonium that was then extracted at five reprocessing plants. Hanford produced a total of 67 metric tons of the metal for the American arsenal, before business halted after the Cold War ended.

Plutonium production was a huge task. It required much of the electricity generated at the giant Grand Coulee Dam upstream on the Columbia, the largest hydroelectric power producer in the United States. And the mess left behind is equally mind-boggling. Since production ceased, Hanford has been conducting the country’s largest-ever environmental cleanup program. The current expenditure is $2.3 billion a year. By the time it is done the bill will be more than $100 billion.

The site holds an estimated 25 million cubic feet of solid, radioactive waste. Much of it is buried in over 40 miles of trenches and tunnels, up to 24 feet deep, including the stretch that caved in last year. Elsewhere, there are two corroding cooling ponds, each the size of an Olympic swimming pool, containing some 2,000 tons of spent fuel that never got reprocessed.

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But the headline Hanford problem is the 56 million gallons of acidic and highly radioactive liquids and sludges, stored in 177 giant tanks, each up to 75 feet in diameter. They are the solvent leftovers from reprocessing, and contain around twice the total radioactivity released from the world’s worst nuclear accident to date, the 1986 explosion at the Chernobyl power station in Ukraine.

The tanks have been leaking for over half a century. Around a million gallons are slowly spreading toward the Columbia River, in a plume of contaminated soil covering 80 square miles. Protecting the river and its rich salmon habitat from the radioactive pollution is the number-one cleanup priority for the site’s custodians at the Department of Energy. To head off the flows, engineers are constantly pumping out radioactive water.

A better idea is to stop the leaks at the source by emptying the tanks and solidifying the liquids. The current aim is to heat them with glass-forming materials to create solid blocks that could one day be buried deep underground—maybe at Yucca Mountain. Work on a plant to do this began in 2002. It is currently 25 years behind schedule. Operations are not set to begin until 2036 and, once underway, would take 40 years.

At $17 billion and counting, the project is way over budget. Former plant engineers who have turned whistle-blowers believe it won’t be fit for the job and should be abandoned. They warn of a serious risk that particles of plutonium may settle out in the plant processing tanks, creating the potential for an accidental explosion with a big release of radiation.

The task at Hanford grows ever more daunting. After almost three decades, little of the waste and few of the tanks or processing plants have been cleaned up. Far away in Washington, D.C., some question the continuing money sink. It seems to some like a 21st-century pork barrel. Perhaps, critics say, it would be better to put up a fence and walk away. President Trump, while so far publicly supporting the Hanford cleanup, may privately agree. He has slashed its annual budget by $230 million, or about 10 percent.

Local environmentalists are scandalized. “We have got to clean up the site,” says Dan Serres, the conservation director of Columbia Riverkeeper, a local NGO. The tanks should be emptied and the trenches dug up. “In a hundred years, I’d hope the Native Americans have their treaty rights to this land restored,” agrees Chuck Johnson, of Physicians for Social Responsibility. But Tom Carpenter, the executive director of Hanford Challenge, who sits on an advisory board at the Hanford Concerns Council, told me: “You are never going to dig all the waste there up.” The tanks will have to be dealt with, but “most of Hanford’s waste volume-wise is going to stay put. Hanford is going to be a national sacrifice zone for hundreds of years.”

This piece is adapted from Pearce’s new book, Fallout: Disasters, Lies, and the Legacy of the Nuclear Age.

FRED PEARCE is a writer based in London. His work has appeared in The Guardian, New Scientist, and Yale Environment 360.

New nuclear ‘pit’ production at LANL is unnecessary

In Environment, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Politics, Workplace exposure on July 22, 2017 at 8:45 am

By Jay Coghlan, Albuquerque Journal, July 21, 2017

SANTA FE, N.M. — The Center for Public Integrity recently published a series of articles on nuclear safety lapses in plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos lab that captured a lot of national attention.
Plutonium pits are the fissile cores of nuclear weapons that initiate the thermonuclear detonation of modern weapons. The articles were largely based on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s annual contractor Performance Evaluation Reports. Those reports are publicly available only because Nuclear Watch New Mexico successfully sued for them in 2012.

The former plutonium pit production site, the Rocky Flats Plant near Denver, was shut down by a 1989 FBI raid investigating environmental crimes. A special grand jury indicted both Department of Energy (DOE) officials and the contractor, but a federal judge quashed the indictments at the urging of the local federal attorney general. It was only by sheer luck that a major plutonium fire on Mother’s Day 1969 didn’t contaminate Denver with highly carcinogenic plutonium.

I specifically recall senior DOE officials promising New Mexicans 20 years ago that serious lessons were learned from Rocky Flats and that re-established plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) would always be safe. Since then, the lab has spent billions of taxpayers’ money on plutonium pit production but, as the recent articles document, LANL still can’t do it safely.

As the articles reported, a serious nuclear criticality accident was narrowly averted in July 2011, which resulted in the three-year shutdown of LANL’s main plutonium facility. Nevertheless, according to the fiscal year 2011 LANL Performance Evaluation Report, the lab contractor was paid $50 million in pure profit for that year.

In 2014, a radioactive waste barrel improperly prepared by LANL ruptured underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), shutting down that multi-billion-dollar facility for nearly three years. Radioactive waste disposal at WIPP will remain constrained for years, raising the question of where future LANL bomb-making wastes will go.

Congress has required the Los Alamos lab to quadruple plutonium pit production, regardless of the technical needs of the stockpile. The requirement was drafted by professional staff on the House Armed Services Committee, one of whom was originally from the Sandia nuclear weapons lab.

That the existing stockpile doesn’t need pit production is demonstrated by the fact that none has been scheduled since 2011 when LANL finished up the production run that was stopped when Rocky Flats was shut down.

At NukeWatch’s request, former U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) required an independent study of the lifetimes of pits. The expert conclusion was that plutonium pits last at least a century, more than double government estimates (the oldest pits in the stockpile are now around 45 years old). Moreover, there are some 20,000 existing plutonium pits stored at the Pantex Plant near Amarillo, Texas.

Future plutonium pit production is for a new so-called “Interoperable Warhead” that is supposed to function both as a land-based ICBM and a sub-launched nuclear warhead. The nuclear weapons labs are pushing this $13 billion make-work project that the Navy doesn’t want.

Ironically, new-design pits for the Interoperable Warhead may hurt national security because they cannot be tested in a full-scale nuclear weapons test or, alternatively, testing them would have severe international proliferation consequences.

Given all this, why expand plutonium pit production when apparently it can’t be done safely and may decrease, not increase, our national security? One strong reason is the huge contractor profits to be had under the $1 trillion-plus “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile and production complex started under Obama, which Trump promises to expand. Far from just “modernization,” existing nuclear weapons are being given new military capabilities, despite denials at the highest levels of government.

The directors of the Livermore, Sandia and Los Alamos nuclear weapons labs in truth wear two hats – the first as lab directors, the second as presidents of the for-profit limited liability corporations running the labs. This inherent conflict of interest skews U.S. nuclear weapons policy and should be brought to an end.

The New Mexico congressional delegation kowtows to the nuclear weapons industry in our state. I specifically call upon Senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich to certify within this calendar year that future plutonium pit production at the Los Alamos Lab will be safe, or otherwise end their support for it.

Jay Coghlan is the director of Nuclear Watch New Mexico.

 

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

BAIR, W. J. 1974. Toxicology of plutonium. Advances in radiation biology, 4.

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.

Nuclear accident in New Mexico ranks among the costliest in U.S. history

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Public Health, Workplace exposure on August 24, 2016 at 12:53 am

By Ralph Vartabedian

Los Angeles Times, August 22, 2016, 3:00 AM

When a drum containing radioactive waste blew up in an underground nuclear dump in New Mexico two years ago, the Energy Department rushed to quell concerns in the Carlsbad desert community and quickly reported progress on resuming operations.

The early federal statements gave no hint that the blast had caused massive long-term damage to the dump, a facility crucial to the nuclear weapons cleanup program that spans the nation, or that it would jeopardize the Energy Department’s credibility in dealing with the tricky problem of radioactive waste.

But the explosion ranks among the costliest nuclear accidents in U.S. history, according to a Times analysis. The long-term cost of the mishap could top $2 billion, an amount roughly in the range of the cleanup after the 1979 partial meltdown at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania.

The Feb. 14, 2014, accident is also complicating cleanup programs at about a dozen current and former nuclear weapons sites across the U.S. Thousands of tons of radioactive waste that were headed for the dump are backed up in Idaho, Washington, New Mexico and elsewhere, state officials said in interviews.

Washington state officials were recently forced to accept delays in moving the equivalent of 24,000 drums of nuclear waste from Hanford site to the New Mexico dump. The deal has further antagonized the relationship between the state and federal regulators.

“The federal government has an obligation to clean up the nuclear waste at Hanford,” Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee said in a statement. “I will continue to press them to honor their commitments to protect Washingtonians’ public health and our natural resources.”

Other states are no less insistent. The Energy Department has agreed to move the equivalent of nearly 200,000 drums from Idaho National Laboratory by 2018.

“Our expectation is that they will continue to meet the settlement agreement,” said Susan Burke, an oversight coordinator at the state’s Department of Environmental Quality.

The dump, officially known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, was designed to place waste from nuclear weapons production since World War II into ancient salt beds, which engineers say will collapse around the waste and permanently seal it. The equivalent of 277,000 drums of radioactive waste is headed to the dump, according to federal documents.

The dump was dug much like a conventional mine, with vertical shafts and a maze of horizontal drifts. It had operated problem-free for 15 years and was touted by the Energy Department as a major success until the explosion, which involved a drum of of plutonium and americium waste that had been packaged at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.

The problem was traced to material — actual kitty litter — used to blot up liquids in sealed drums. Lab officials had decided to substitute an organic material for a mineral one. But the new material caused a complex chemical reaction that blew the lid off a drum, sending mounds of white, radioactive foam into the air and contaminating 35% of the underground area.

“There is no question the Energy Department has downplayed the significance of the accident,” said Don Hancock, who monitors the dump for the watchdog group Southwest Research and Information Center.

Though the error at the Los Alamos lab caused the accident, a federal investigation found more than two dozen safety lapses at the dump. The dump’s filtration system was supposed to prevent any radioactive releases, but it malfunctioned.

Twenty-one workers on the surface received low doses of radiation that federal officials said were well within safety limits. No workers were in the mine when the drum blew.

Energy Department officials declined to be interviewed about the incident but agreed to respond to written questions. The dump is operated by Nuclear Waste Partnership, which is led by the Los Angeles-based engineering firm AECOM. The company declined to comment.

Federal officials have set an ambitious goal to reopen the site for at least limited waste processing by the end of this year, but full operations can not resume until a new ventilation system is completed in about 2021.

The direct cost of the cleanup is now $640 million, based on a contract modification made last month with Nuclear Waste Partnership that increased the cost from $1.3 billion to nearly $2 billion. The cost-plus contract leaves open the possibility of even higher costs as repairs continue. And it does not include the complete replacement of the contaminated ventilation system or any future costs of operating the mine longer than originally planned.

An Energy Department spokesperson declined to address the cost issue but acknowledged that the dump would either have to stay open longer or find a way to handle more waste each year to make up for the shutdown. She said the contract modification gave the government the option to cut short the agreement with Nuclear Waste Partnership.

It costs about $200 million a year to operate the dump, so keeping it open an additional seven years could cost $1.4 billion. A top scientific expert on the dump concurred with that assessment.

In addition, the federal government faces expenses — known as “hotel costs” — to temporarily store the waste before it is shipped to New Mexico, said Ellis Eberlein of Washington’s Department of Ecology.

The Hanford site stores the equivalent of 24,000 drums of waste that must be inspected every week. “You have to make sure nothing leaks,” he said.

The cleanup of the Three Mile Island plant took 12 years and was estimated to cost $1 billion by 1993, or $1.7 billion adjusted for inflation today. The estimate did not include the cost of replacing the power the shut-down plant was no longer generating.

Other radioactive contamination at nuclear weapons sites is costing tens of billions of dollars to clean up, but it is generally the result of deliberate practices such as dumping radioactive waste into the ground.

James Conca, a consultant who has advised the Energy Department on nuclear waste issues, described the accident as a comedy of errors and said that federal officials are being “overly cautious” about the cleanup. “It got contaminated, but a new exhaust shaft is kind of ridiculous,” he said.

For now, workers entering contaminated areas must wear protective gear, including respirators, the Energy Department spokesperson said. She noted that the size of the restricted area had been significantly reduced earlier this year.

Hancock suggested that the dump might never resume full operations.

“The facility was never designed to operate in a contaminated state,” he said. “It was supposed to open clean and stay clean, but now it will have to operate dirty. Nobody at the Energy Department wants to consider the potential that it isn’t fixable.”

Giving up on the New Mexico dump would have huge environmental, legal and political ramifications. This year the Energy Department decided to dilute 6 metric tons of surplus plutonium in South Carolina and send it to the dump, potentially setting a precedent for disposing of bomb-grade materials. The U.S. has agreements with Russia on mutual reductions of plutonium.

The decision means operations at the dump must resume, said Edwin Lyman, a physicist and nuclear expert at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“They have no choice,” he said. “No matter what it costs.”

ralph.vartabedian@latimes.com

Twitter: @RVartabedian

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

Montreal Declaration for a Nuclear-Fission-Free World

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear abolition, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Peace, Workplace exposure on August 14, 2016 at 8:15 am

Montreal Declaration for a Nuclear-Fission-Free World

As citizens of this planet inspired by the Second Thematic World Social Forum for a Nuclear-Fission‐Free World, conducted in Montreal from August 8 to August 12, 2016, we are collectively calling for a mobilization of civil society around the world to bring about the elimination of all nuclear weapons, to put an end to the continued mass‐production of all high‐level nuclear wastes by phasing out all nuclear reactors, and to bring to a halt all uranium mining worldwide.

This call goes out to fellow citizens of all countries worldwide who see the need,whether as an individual or as a member of an organization, for a nuclear-­fission‐free world. We are committed to building a global network of citizens of the world who will work together, using the internet and social media to overcome isolation, to provide mutual support and to coordinate the launching of joint actions for a world free of nuclear fission technology, whether civilian or military.

We will begin by creating communication channels to share information and educational tools on legal, technical, financial, medical, and security‐related matters linked to

military and non‐military nuclear activities. We will pool our resources across national boundaries in a spirit of cooperation, allowing us to contribute to the formulation of a convergent and unified response to counteract the plans of the nuclear establishment that operates on a global scale to multiply civil and military nuclear installations worldwide and to dump, bury and abandon nuclear wastes.

We recognize each nuclear weapon as an instrument of brutal and unsurpassed terror, designed to kill millions of innocent men, women and children at a single stroke. We realize that even a limited nuclear war can provoke sudden extreme climate change on a global scale, crippling agricultural production and threatening the survival of all higher forms of life. We are grimly aware that a nuclear‐armed world will surely destroy itself and set in motion a process that will undo four billion years of evolution. We are determined to help guide the world away from the brink of nuclear annihilation.

We recognize each nuclear reactor as a repository of the most pernicious industrial waste ever known; waste so radioactive that it spontaneously melts down if not continually cooled; waste that, when targeted by terrorists or saboteurs, or by conventional warfare, will render large portions of the earth uninhabitable for centuries; waste that contains material that can be used as a nuclear explosive at any time in the future, for thousands of years to come.

We recognize uranium as the key element behind all nuclear weapons and all nuclear reactors, and we endorse the call by the International Physicians for the Prevention of- Nuclear War and by the 2015 Quebec World Uranium Symposium for a total global ban on the mining and processing of uranium.

We will use our networks

‐to pressure governments everywhere to put an end to nuclear fission

‐to expose the dangers associated with the export and transport of nuclear materials and nuclear waste;

‐to puncture the myths used to prop up and justify our irrational nuclear addiction;

‐to tell the sobering stories of nuclear victims and nuclear refugees;

‐to emphasize our moral responsibilities not to burden future generations with a poisonous nuclear legacy;

‐to warn governments without nuclear facilities to realize the dangers and avoid becoming enmeshed in this technology;

‐to disseminate the findings of engineers, doctors, biologists, ecologists, physicists and concerned citizens having special knowledge and appreciation of nuclear dangers;

‐to promote and popularize the wide variety of renewable energy alternatives that are green and sustainable;

‐to launch lawsuits and to support whistle‐blowers to halt the most egregious examples of nuclear malfeasance;

‐to promote non‐violent conflict resolution, and

‐to denounce the illegal, immoral, and insane obsession with nuclear weapons arsenals.

We invite all people, groups and organizations involved in the effort for a world without nuclear fission and uranium mining, to commit themselves to this effort. We also ask them to endorse this declaration and to transmit it widely in their networks.

This declaration is partly inspired by the Tokyo Appeal issued by the First Thematic World Social Form for a Nuclear‐Free World held in Tokyo and Fukushima in March 2016.

To endorse the declaration send name and e‐mail address to ccnr@web.ca and to JGerson@afsc.org

http://www.PeaceAndPlanet.org

The Fukushima nuclear disaster is ongoing

In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Nuclear powere, Public Health, Workplace exposure on June 3, 2016 at 10:05 pm

by Andrew R. Marks, Op-Ed, Journal of Clinical Investigation, May 23, 2016

http://www.jci.org/articles/view/88434#B2

Abstract

The 5th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster and the 30th anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster, the two most catastrophic nuclear accidents in history, both occurred recently. Images of Chernobyl are replete with the international sign of radioactive contamination (a circle with three broad spokes radiating outward in a yellow sign). In contrast, ongoing decontamination efforts at Fukushima lack international warnings about radioactivity. Decontamination workers at Fukushima appear to be poorly protected against radiation. It is almost as if the effort is to make the Fukushima problem disappear. A more useful response would be to openly acknowledge the monumental problems inherent in managing a nuclear plant disaster. Lessons from Chernobyl are the best predictors of what the Fukushima region of Japan is coping with in terms of health and environmental problems following a nuclear catastrophe.

Five years after a tsunami caused the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, cleanup of radioactive contamination is ongoing and a formerly vibrant farming region lays largely fallow. A recent visit to northeast Japan revealed wholly unexpected aspects of the impact of the meltdown of three nuclear reactors. The area devastated by the nuclear accident is easily accessed by a two-hour train ride from Tokyo to the city of Fukushima. It is then possible to rent a car and drive to within 18 kM of the reactors, which are still in meltdown.

On the train, digital banners in Japanese and English encourage passengers to visit the beautiful cherry trees in the Fukushima district. In the rental car agency, glossy pamphlets exclaim the beauty of the region and feature the brilliant pink blossoms. On a recent April afternoon, the cherry blossoms were indeed spectacular. The roads deep into the region affected by the radioactive plume that engulfed the area in March of 2011 are clearly marked and readily accessible in a car rented at the Fukushima rail station. My Japanese-speaking colleague translated the rental agency’s map as indicating an “area not to return to,” which we carefully avoided.

Following route 114 traveling east toward the coast, progressively larger piles of large black plastic bags filled with dirt appeared on the roadside. At first, there were piles of several hundred such bags, each approximately five feet wide by five feet in height, methodically stacked one upon the other. Of note, similar bags appear to be used elsewhere in Japan to hold debris at construction and yard cleaning sites. Each bag was numbered with a white marker.

Approaching the eastern coast of Japan, the piles of bags on the roadside were more frequent and larger and larger and larger. As route 114 progresses toward the exclusion zone indicated on the car rental agency’s map, the piles of plastic bags filled with dirt reach unimaginable dimensions. Numbered in the many thousands, they eventually fill entire valleys that recede off into the horizon. In some instances, the piles of black plastic bags are covered with blue tarps with pipes inserted into their tops, presumably to provide ventilation.

Roadside radiation monitoring stations are placed near now abandoned homes, many of which are still decorated with plantings of flowers and the blossoming cherry trees that are found in the yards of most homes in this region. The readings on the radiation monitors ranged from 0.2115 to 1.115 microsieverts per hour, a measure of the relative risks imparted to biological tissues by ionizing radiation. One microsievert per hour is equivalent to four airport security screenings per hour and is almost twice the annual limit for occupational whole-body radiation dose limits established by the nuclear regulatory commission. One sievert total exposure causes a 5.5% risk of cancer (1).

To understand the health risks associated with ongoing radiation contamination and cleanup in the Fukushima region, the best comparator is Chernobyl. Two of the most important public health issues related to both the Chernobyl and the Fukushima disasters are thyroid cancers and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Assessing the effects of these nuclear accidents on the risk of thyroid cancer is confounded by the fact that the mere collection of data required to make the diagnosis (e.g., thyroid scans and ultrasounds) necessitates extranormal surveillance. Thus, true control populations are not available. Nevertheless, there have been reports of increased rates of thyroid cancer following the Chernobyl nuclear accident (2), and extrapolation from that incident to Fukushima is reasonable but as-yet unproven. The incidence of PTSD is understandably quite high following nuclear accidents (3). There are no controlled experimental data available to assess the ongoing risks of chronic low-level radiation now present throughout the Fukushima region. Thus, it is imperative that epidemiological data are collected as thoroughly as possible to provide insight concerning the risks of long-term low-level environmental radiation. Similarly, it is imperative that data are collected concerning the spread of radioactivity from the nuclear plant disaster via water (e.g., streams running through the region should be sampled regularly) and via animals (in particular birds should be banded and monitored to determine how they may be vectors for spreading radioactivity in seeds and other forms throughout Japan).

Just outside the town of Iitate, brilliant pink flags, which are the same color used for the advertisements designed to attract tourists to view the cherry blossoms in the region, flap in the breeze, announcing (only in Japanese) “radioactivity removal.” At one particularly large site near the town of Iitate, a constant stream of large trucks with entirely open containers was streaming into an excavation site located at a large mountain of brown dirt. Huge shovels were digging dirt and placing it onto conveyer belts pouring the dirt into the open trucks, which were leaving the site heading south. The men and women handling this contaminated dirt were wearing outfits similar to construction workers observed in other regions of Japan, including helmets, masks, gloves, and overalls (Figure 1). Over an approximately 5-hour period of driving through the region, the only police observed were at the turn around marking the edge of the restricted zone. No military presence was observed. On several occasions, workers were seen handling the plastic bags of radioactively contaminated dirt without gloves.

[ See also http://ccnr.org/Decontamination_Fuk_2014.pdf ]

During the entire afternoon of driving through the region not a single sign warning of the potential dangers of radioactive contamination was observed in any language other than Japanese. There was no security at most of the contaminated sites, and thousands of plastic bags of contaminated dirt were piled high in areas without any supervision or even a fence to prevent access from the public roadway. Birds flew all through the area, presumably transporting radioactive seeds and leaving contaminated droppings throughout Japan.
It is estimated that over 100,000 individuals have been displaced from their homes due to the reactor meltdown (4). Some have been relocated to far away cities, including Tokyo. During my visit, a group of five elderly women arrived on the same train as we did and were escorted onto a waiting bus to be driven to see the cherry blossoms decorating the village they used to live in. Other displaced former residents of now unlivable villages are perhaps less fortunate and have been relocated to one of the numerous “temporary” dwellings dotting the region indicated by convenient roadside signs. Many of these were immediately adjacent to radioactivity detectors indicating levels of at least 1 microsievert per hour.

Ironically, during my visit to Fukushima on April 14, 2016, an earthquake rocked the Kumamoto region of Japan, ultimately causing at least 42 deaths and displacing thousands. This region contains the only working nuclear reactor remaining in Japan. Too far away to be felt in Fukushima, it was nevertheless a harsh reminder of the continued risk for further damage to the reactors already in meltdown.

The continued high level of radioactivity removal efforts in the Fukushima region (entire hill sides have been denuded of surface soil) indicate that the Japanese government knows the health threat caused by the contamination remains. The lack of security, the failure to provide any of the internationally accepted protective warnings against radioactivity contamination (e.g., the universal three-armed black and yellow sign warning of radioactivity), and the absence of any warning signs for non-Japanese-speaking individuals, despite the active advertising campaign to attract tourists to view the cherry blossoms on this beautiful region of Japan, is disturbing. The possibility that individuals could access enormous amounts of radioactively contaminated dirt and transport it to a sensitive area in Japan or elsewhere is frightening.
About the author
Andrew R. Marks is the chair of the Department of Physiology, founding director of the Clyde and Helen Wu Center for Molecular Cardiology, and professor of Medicine and Physiology and Cellular Biophysics at Columbia University. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and served as editor in chief of the JCI from 2002 to 2007. His research focuses on the regulation of ryanodine receptor calcium release channels that control excitation-contraction coupling in cardiac and skeletal muscle.
Reference information:J Clin Invest. doi:10.1172/JCI88434.

[No authors listed]. The 2007 Recommendations of the International Commission on Radiological Protection. ICRP publication 103. Ann ICRP. 2007;37(2–4):1–332.
Tuttle RM, Vaisman F, Tronko MD. Clinical presentation and clinical outcomes in Chernobyl-related paediatric thyroid cancers: what do we know now? What can we expect in the future? Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol). 2011;23(4):268–275.
Ben-Ezra M, et al. From Hiroshima to Fukushima: PTSD symptoms and radiation stigma across regions in Japan. J Psychiatr Res. 2015;60:185–186.
Yamashita S, Radiation Medical Science Center for the Fukushima Health Management Survey. Comprehensive health risk management after the Fukushima nuclear power plant accident. Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol). 2016;28(4):255–262.

Unique Hazards at Rocky Flats

In Democracy, Environment, Human rights, Justice, Nuclear Guardianship, Plutonium, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge, Workplace exposure on June 5, 2015 at 8:04 am

Social ecology students, working with Professor John Whiteley at the University of Colorado in Irvine, have produced a web site with much information about Rocky Flats and the nuclear enterprise. See http://uniquehazardsrockyflats.weebly.com/

One of the worst nuclear spills ever

In Environment, Human rights, Nuclear Policy, Public Health, Race, Workplace exposure on November 12, 2014 at 11:24 pm

The following article from the NY Times describes what happened with a spill of nuclear material in Juarez, Mexico (across the river from El Paso). It’s the sort of accident that could happen anywhere, any time — and harm many people, like this one did.  This is a reprint of an article from 1984, when the spill occurred.

Nuclear Spill

at Juarez

 
By Sandra Blakeslee, NY Times,  May 1, 1984
 

FIVE months ago, a Mexican electrician forced open an unmarked capsule filled with 6,010 tiny, silvery pellets that looked like cake decorations. He paid little attention as they spilled into the bed of his pickup truck, onto the road and later throughout a junkyard in his hometown of Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso.

But at that moment the electrician unwittingly caused what is now being recognized as potentially the worst spill of radioactive material in North American history. Since then, more than 200 people have been exposed to radiation from the tiny pellets of cobalt 60 that had once been the core of a cancer-treatment device.

The full dimensions of the spill, which officials in the United States said has released radiation 100 times more intense than the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, are still unknown because the incident was so unusual. Unlike most nuclear accidents, in which one or two people are exposed to a brief burst of high radiation, this one involved scores of people exposed to low but significant levels of radiation intermittently over a long period of time.

Mexican officials say it is too soon to know if the people exposed to the radiation suffered any long-term health effects. But 10 people exposed in Juarez have undergone chromosome tests, and all showed damage, the authorities said.

”In terms of how many people were potentially exposed and the duration of their exposure, it could be the most serious radiation accident” in North America, said Karl Hubner, a leading radiation accident expert at the Oak Ridge Associated Universities in Tennessee.

Most of the cobalt 60 pellets were scooped up by a giant junkyard magnet, mixed in with other scrap metal and taken to two Mexican foundries, where they were melted into steel reinforcement rods and restaurant table legs. Thousands of tons of this ”hot” metal were then shipped throughout Mexico and the United States.

Meanwhile, hundreds of the pellets remained in the back of the electrician’s pickup truck, which sat parked for eight weeks in a busy neighborhood of Juarez. People walked by the truck every day, and neighborhood children played on it.

Mexican public health officials said that about 200 people were exposed, but that most are believed to have absorbed relatively low levels of radiation. The device involved in the Juarez accident was a Picker 3000 cancer therapy unit. Manufactured about 20 years ago, it contained small pellets of metallic cobalt, made radioactive in a nuclear reactor, that were placed in a stainless steel container. This capsule was sealed in a tungsten wheel the size of a tricycle tire, which was then placed behind thick lead shielding. Radiation emitted through a pinhole in the lead was used to treat patients with localized cancers. About 1,000 newer cancer-treatment machines using the same principle are in use today throughout the United States, Dr. H”ubner said.

In 1977 a Lubbock, Tex., hospital sold the unit to an X-ray equipment company in Fort Worth, which in turn sold it to a medical clinic, Centro Medico, in Juarez.

According to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the sale was legal even though the clinic in Mexico had no license to receive radioactive materials.

Once in Juarez, however, the machine sat in a warehouse. Doctors at the clinic said they were never able to hire the specialist required to operate the device.

Device Sold to Junkyard for Nine Dollars

Then, late last November, an electrician, Vicente Sotelo, said he was told to go to the warehouse to pick up some material and to take it to the Jonke Fenix junkyard in Juarez. He and a co-worker heaved the radioactive tungsten wheel, which had been removed from its enormous lead casing, into the back of a pickup truck. Mr. Sotelo later told the authorities he forced the unmarked capsule open on the back of his truck.

Doctors at the clinic say Mr. Sotelo was not authorized to take the wheel containing the capsule, which he sold to the junkyard for $9. No charges have been filed, and the Mexican authorities said they were still investigating the incident.

When the capsule was breached it held about 400 curies of radioactive cobalt in the 6,010 pellets. Each pellet, according to Joel Lubenau, a health physicist at the Nuclear Regulatory Agency, produced a radiation dose of 25 rads per hour two inches from the pellet. One to 50 rads per hour is considered a significant radiation dose. In comparison, the highest exposure a bystander could have received from the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island was 100 millirads, or about one-tenth of a rad.

A rad is a unit of absorbed radiation. An average chest X-ray produces 20 to 30 millirads instantaneously. A lethal dose for half the population is 450 rads received instantaneously over the whole body.

”If you sat next to a pellet over many hours, you might several days later develop a reddening of the skin,” Dr. Lubenau said. ”If a pellet became embedded in your shoe you could get localized high exposure to the body.”

Children Played on ‘Hot’ Truck

By Dec. 6, Mr. Sotelo had thrown the capsule off his truck into the salvage yard. The date is known because all paperwork from the junkyard dated Dec. 6 or later is radioactive.
 

About 60 curies of cobalt remained on the truck, which Mr. Sotelo drove home to his neighborhood in another part of the city. It stood parked for eight weeks, most of the time with a flat tire, near a row of back-street houses. Children played on and near the truck. People passed it every day, including Mr. Sotelo’s own family.

The truck was dangerously ”hot.” From one yard away, it emitted 50 rads an hour of radioactivity. ”It was a large source that can give whole body exposure,” Dr. Lubenau said. ”Most people at 100 rads or so will start demonstrating physical signs of radiation injury.” These include a decrease in white blood cells, which protect the body from infection, and blood platelets, as well as temporary damage to the body’s chromosomes.

Meanwhile, the capsule containing the remaining cobalt pellets – 340 curies worth – was contaminating the junkyard. It was dumped near an enormous magnet used to pick up and load scrap metal onto trucks, the metal to be recycled at Mexican foundries.

The capsule was made of nonferrous metal. Every time it was scooped up by the magnet, it eventually fell to the ground, spilling out cobalt pellets like salt from a shaker. The pellets were ferrous. The magnet picked them up and mixed them into the scrap leaving the junkyard. Some pellets were pulverized and thoroughly spread across the huge junkyard, and others are believed to have become imbedded in truck tires and spread along highways.

In this manner, 300 curies of radioactive cobalt made its way to two foundries. One in Juarez manufactured metal table legs and sent them to the largest distributor of restaurant tables in the United States. Another in Chihuahua produced about 5,000 tons of rebar, or steel rods used to reinforce concrete in building projects.

About 600 tons of the contaminated steel was shipped to the United States in December and January.

Spill Discovered by Accident

When a delivery truck took a wrong turn near the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico on Jan. 17, a radiation alarm was tripped. Thus, by accident, did the American and Mexican authorities learn of the contamination. It was quickly traced to the junkyard, which was closed Jan. 20. Mr. Sotelo’s truck was impounded Jan. 26.

American officials said they tracked down all the table legs and rebar in February and March and have returned the material to Mexico. While there were a few ”hot spots” of up to 600 millirads per hour, most of the metal produced very low levels of radiation and never posed a serious health threat to Americans who came in contact with the metal, they said.

But Mexican officials have had a much tougher job. About 40 curies of the cobalt pellets remained spread around the junkyard. It took two months to mop up there.

Pellets could have been dropped anywhere on the roads between Juarez and Chihuahua. Last month a special reconnaisance helicopter provided by the United States Department of Energy flew over the area and found 22 radioactive sites. Eight pellets were dug out of highway pavement.

Such material, along with the radioactive truck, is now in a special holding area near Juarez, waiting to be buried at a safe disposal site, said Roberto Trevino of Mexico’s National Commission for Nuclear Safety and Safeguards.

Thousands of tons of contaminated rebar, however, have spread into four or five Mexican states. Hundreds of new homes built with the rods may have to be torn down, he said.

Chromosome Damage Is Found

The accident has been costly to Mexico. But the greatest toll may be levied on the people who were most exposed to the radioactive cobalt.

The problem, Dr. Hubner said, is to figure how to identify the people who were exposed and what doses of radioactivity they encountered.

One standard method of assessing radiation exposure, which costs about $1,000 per person to conduct, involves looking for chromosome damage. It is controversial because it cannot predict long-term health consequences of radiation exposure.

White blood cells of 10 Juarez residents, four people from the neighborhood and six junkyard workers, were cultured in Dr. Hubner’s laboratory. As the cells were allowed to divide 500 times, the number of broken or aberrant chromosomes were counted. This number was then used to estimate the dose of radiation received.

It appears that several people were exposed to 150 or 200 rads, Dr. Hubner said, which is higher than the doses received by Marshall Islanders who encountered radioactive fallout from United States nuclear tests. Those with the highest exposures included two junkyard workers, one of Mr. Sotelo’s neighbors and the man who helped Mr. Sotelo load the cancer device off the truck. Mr. Sotelo apparently escaped serious contamination.

But ”broken chromosomes only tell us there was damage and nothing about its biological consequences,” Dr. Hubner said. ”It is not predictive in terms of genetic effects or future cancers.”

Meanwhile, the junkyard workers and families are being monitored by Mexican health officials. One man received a radiation burn on his hand, Mr. Trevino said, and others experienced blackened fingernails and reduced sperm counts. But blood counts appear to have returned to normal, he said, and no one seems to have suffered serious health complications.

‘It’s O.K. – We’re Still Alive’

Mr. Sotelo, who has three children, said that he has been dismissed from his job and cannot find another, and that his neighbors are worried and upset. But ”It’s O.K.,” he said. ”We’re still alive. Maybe the doctors exaggerated the danger.”

Concern over the implications of the incident continues. American officials, worried that more contaminated rebar might make its way into the United States, have asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to place scores of radiation detectors at all major border crossings.

The commission is taking a new look at export regulations, according to Richard Cunningham of the agency’s division of materials licensing and policy issues. ”There is no requirement now that we have to know if a person who receives a radioactive material from this country is authorized by their own country to possess it,” he said. ”We sell thousands of radioactive sources to other nations every year.”

Mexican and United States officials are meeting today in El Paso to discuss ways to help one another finish cleaning up the Juarez accident, to monitor the health of people exposed to radiation and how to prevent future accidents.

”There is a growing international trade in nuclear materials used for medicine, research and industrial purposes,” Dr. H”ubner said. ”Although this type of accident is rare, it could happen again anywhere to anyone.”

Rocky Flats Books, Articles & Films

In Art, Democracy, Environment, Jefferson Parkway, Nuclear Guardianship, Nuclear Policy, Plutonium, Poetry, Public Health, Rocky Flats, Wildlife Refuge, Workplace exposure on October 21, 2014 at 6:35 am

Non-fiction books on Rocky Flats

Len Ackland, Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1999). This well-documented history of the Rocky Flats plant during production years and the beginning of cleanup activities was written by the former editor of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, who recently retired from teaching journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Robert Adams, Our Lives and Our Children: Photographs Taken Near the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant (Millerton, NY: Aperture, a Division of Silver Mountain Foundation, 1983). This volume consists of images from daily life of people who lived near Rocky Flats at the height of the production years; in a brief concluding essay the photographer says each of the many individuals depicted “refutes the idea of acceptable losses.”

Patricia Buffer, Rocky Flats History (DOE Rocky Flats Field Office, July 2003). This invaluable reference work provides a timeline of more than 50 years of Rocky Flats history, written from an inside-the-plant perspective. PDF version is available on line.

Kim S. Cameron and Marc Lavine, Making the Impossible Possible: Leading Extraordinary Performance: The Rocky Flats Story (San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2006). A business management specialist who teaches at the University of Michigan and a graduate student from Boston College celebrate the “abundance approach,” which, according to them, was successfully employed by Kaiser-Hill in the cleanup of Rocky Flats.

Joseph Daniel (photographs) and Keith Pope (text), Year of Disobedience (Boulder, CO: Daniel Productions, 1979), with preface by Daniel Ellsberg and poetry by Allen Ginsberg. This book is a photo-documentary on the 1978-79 demonstrations and civil disobedience blockade of the railroad tracks leading in to the Rocky Flats Plant.

Joseph Daniel, A Year of Disobedience and a Criticality of Conscience (Boulder: Story Arts Media, 2013), is an updated 35th-anniversary edition of Year of Disobedience, the 1979 photo-documentary on the 1978-79 demonstrations and civil disobedience blockade of the railroad tracks leading in to the Rocky Flats plant. This edition includes all of the original photographs by Daniel (enlarged, with some new ones) and the earlier text and trial transcriptions by Daniel Ellsberg and Keith Pope and poetry by Allen Ginsberg. New in this edition is “Local Hazard, Global Threat,” a historical update and reflection by LeRoy Moore; an Afterword in which Daniel Ellsberg explores the current worldwide nuclear weapons threat, the role of patriotic whistleblowers, and the conflict between national security and government surveillance; and August Freirich’s Activist Appendix, his recent interviews with some who participated in the 1978-79 occupation of the railroad tracks at Rocky Flats.

Allen Ginsberg (editor), Clean Energy Verse: Poetry from the Tracks at Rocky Flats (Woodstock, NY: Safe Earth Press, 1979). Illustrated with photos by Robert Godfrey, this booklet, produced to support the Rocky Flats Truth Force, contains poems by Allen Ginsberg, Anne Waldman and others.

Jennifer Haines, Bread and Water: A Spiritual Journey (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997). A devout Christian pacifist provides an intensely personal account of how she fulfilled her mission of bearing witness at Rocky Flats by means of daily vigils at the facility’s west gate and repeated acts of civil disobedience trespass for which she spent extended periods in federal penitentiaries.

Farrel Hobbs, Rocky Flats Facts: An Insider’s View Of Rocky Flats: Urban Myths Debunked (2010). This book’s author worked at Rocky Flats from 1969 until plant closure in 2005, except for an interlude of about seven years. He held a variety of positions at the plant but says he made his largest contribution in environmental management. He told me he was head of environmental management for Rockwell when the FBI raided the plant to collect evidence of alleged environmental law-breaking – but in fact he never held this high-ranking post, instead worked for an engineering firm that had a sub-contract at the plant. His several chapters on the raid, the grand jury, the out-of-court settlement and the absence in his view of any real criminality directly counters claims made in The Ambushed Grand Jury, by Wes McKinley and Caron Balkany, another book described in this list. While his narrative is even-tempered, he criticizes a wide range of parties, from outsiders who overstate plutonium’s danger to the media, the union of hourly plant workers, the DOE, Dow Chemical and EG&G. He praises Rockwell for paying fines in the out-of-court settlement for crimes it did not commit. The book is available both on line and in hard copy.

Kristen Iversen, Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats (NY: Crown Publishers, 2012). Iversen entwines tales of growing up in what her family regarded as a suburban paradise with her own gradually dawning awareness of what it means that they lived immediately downwind of the Rocky Flats nuclear bomb plant. Her superbly written narrative includes stories of both workers inside the facility and people in her neighborhood who wonder if their cancers and other ailments are due to contaminants released from the plant. The government which holds the trump card in secrecy as well as in defining “permissible exposure,” says this is only conjecture. Iversen shows why the questions won’t go away. Among books written to provide a convincing account of life in the nuclear era from the perspective of affected people, Full Body Burden sets a very high standard for thoroughness of investigation, clarity of explanation and humane understanding.

Kaiser-Hill Co., LLC, Rocky Flats: A proud legacy, a new beginning: The story of the world’s largest and most complex environmental cleanup project (2005). This booklet, produced by the company that did the Rocky Flats cleanup, tells their story from their point of view.

John J. Kennedy, Jr., “Annihilation Beckons: A Brief History of Colorado’s Nuclear Bomb-Trigger Factory,” Colorado Heritage (Spring 1994). This special issue of the official journal of the Colorado Historical Society is devoted primarily to Kennedy’s informative, very well illustrated article on the history of the Rocky Flats Plant. Attention is paid both to the work done at the plant and to the activities of those who resisted what was done there.

Shiloh R. Krupar, “Transnatural ethics: revisiting the nuclear cleanup of Rocky Flats, CO, through the queer ecology of Nuclia Waste,” Cultural Geographies, May 24, 2012. Krupar, a Georgetown University geographer, critiques the ethic that guided the Rocky Flats cleanup for “eliminating uncertainty” and assuming that nature is “static and separate from the human” and that nuclear waste left behind will stay put so that the resultant wildlife refuge can be viewed as pristine rather than as a contaminated zone. Since we no longer experience “pure nature” we must adopt a “transnatural ethic” that “directs attention toward the impurifications already in existence” and grounds responsibility in awareness of a broader human/nature kinship. She cites the antics of Denver drag queen Nuclia Waste as an example of the cognitive transformation required. Online: http://egj.sagepub.com/content/early/2012/05/24/147447011433756.abstract?patientinform-links=yes&legid=spcgi:147447011433756v1.

Shiloh R. Krupar, Hot Spotter’s Report: Military Fables of Toxic Waste (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013). In this erudite volume Georgetown University geography professor Krupar explores three examples of the U.S. permanent war economy: the Rocky Mountain Arsenal (nerve gas), Rocky Flats (plutonium pits) and the compensation program for ailing nuclear weapons workers. The chapter on Rocky Flats looks at the post-Cold War period when production ceased and what she calls “green war” (militarized green-washing) prevailed, accompanied by denial of the site’s contamination amidst its transition into the “romanticized” nature of the wildlife refuge which humans, especially children, are expected to enjoy as if it poses no danger. Her writing combines biting satire (including an account of the antics of Denver drag queen Nuclia Waste) with densely documented academic analysis. Hot spotting cultivates an ethic of seeing the unseen radiation effects in slow violence and death and rejects the myth of a pure nature reserve.

Clayton Lagerquist, The Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant I Remember: Its Rise and Fall (Morrisville, NC: Lulu.comm 2009). The author of this highly opinionated book was a health physicist at Rocky Flats from 1963 till 1988. Alongside his descriptions of individuals and the radiation detection world at the plant, he levels harsh criticisms at elected officials, the plant union, the media, the Federal Government (for supervising all activities at Rocky Flats, then suing Rockwell International for environmental misconduct), and, not least, “the anti-Rocky Flats movement that ultimately caused its closure” and who were “nothing but terrorists without guns.” “Safety of the employees,” he says, “was never a problem at Rocky Flats.” These are clearly not the words of an exposed production worker. When a colleague urged him “to reduce radiation exposure by a certain percent each quarter,” his reply was that he couldn’t because “any reduction would have to be accompanied by a reduction in production.”

Lamm-Wirth Task Force, Final Report (Denver: The Task Force, 1975). Convened by newly elected Governor Dick Lamm and Representative Tim Wirth, the Lamm-Wirth Task Force concluded that Rocky Flats should never have been located in a major metropolitan area and that it should be closed and its work moved to another location.

Brian Lipsett, “Rocky Flats: A Plea Bargain in Public View,” in Mary Clifford (editor), Environmental Crime: Enforcement, Policy, and Social Responsibility (Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers, 1998), pp. 397-412. Lipsett focuses on issues raised by the out-of-court settlement of the federal case against Rockwell precipitated by the FBI raid on Rocky Flats in 1989. The special grand jury convened to review evidence in the case wanted to indict several Rockwell and DOE officials. Lipsett shows that the Department of Justice settled the case without indicting these individuals because their illegal behavior was part of a “DOE culture” of law-breaking. The DOJ settlement allowed these individuals to act above the law. Lipsett praises the grand jury for daring to go public with their rejection of the settlement.

Local Hazard, Global Threat: Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant (Denver: Rocky Flats Action Group, 1977). This 20-page handbook, the first such guide published by activists, contained most of what was publicly known about Rocky Flats at the time of publication.

Wes McKinley and Caron Balkany, The Ambushed Grand Jury: How the Justice Department Covered Up Government Nuclear Crimes and How We Caught Them Red Handed (N.Y.: Apex Press, 2004). The foreman of the grand jury convened after the 1989 FBI raid of Rocky Flats to investigate environmental wrongdoing at the facility and attorney Balkany reconstruct the tale of high-level deceit and denial at Rocky Flats.

LeRoy Moore et al., Citizen’s Guide to Rocky Flats: Colorado’s Nuclear Bomb Factory (Boulder: Rocky Mountain Peace Center, 1992). A comprehensive account of what was publicly known about Rocky Flats at the time of publication, this work became an essential handbook for many people dealing with the Rocky Flats issue.

LeRoy Moore, “Democracy and Public Health at Rocky Flats: The Examples of Edward Martell and Carl J. Johnson,” in Diane Quigley, Amy Lowman and Steve Wing (editors), Tortured Science: Health Studies, Ethics, and Nuclear Weapons in the United States (Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Company, Inc., 2012), pp. 60-97. More than any other scientists in the Denver area, Edward Martell, a radiochemist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research, and Carl Johnson, then Director of the Jefferson County Health Department, alerted the public to dangers posed by releases of plutonium from the Rocky Flats plant. This article assesses their work and shows that for their contribution to public awareness they were made to paid dearly. Available on line at http://www.rockyflatsnuclearguardianship.org/leroy-moores-blog/papers-by-leroy-moore-phd-2/democracy-and-public-health-at-rocky-flats-11-6-12/

Theresa Satterfield and Joshua Levin, “From Cold War Complex to Nature Preserve: Diagnosing the Breakdown of a Multi-Stakeholder Decision Process and Its Consequences for Rocky Flats,” in Barbara Rose Johnson (editor), Half-lives & Half-Truths: Confronting the Radioactive Legacies of the Cold War (Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, 2007), pp. 165-191. The authors are social scientists who spent several months closely observing public participation related to the cleanup at Rocky Flats. They praise the process for producing well-informed stakeholders at Rocky Flats, but say it ultimately failed because the evident intent of DOE and the regulators was less to involve the public in decision-making than to convince them that already made decisions were in their best interest.

Summary of Findings: Historical Public Exposure Studies on Rocky Flats (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, August 1999). This work summarizes the findings of the nine year dose reconstruction study for the Rocky Flats plant. The study estimated the quantities of radioactive and toxic substances released from the Rocky Flats plant to the off-site environment during the production years of 1952 to 1989, on the basis of which it also estimated increased cancer risk to residents living or working in surrounding areas during the period of the plant’s operation.The study concluded that the government need not do any further health study. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment administered the study. Oversight was provided by a 12-member Health Advisory Panel appointed in 1999 by former Governor Roy Romer.

Anne Waldman, “Rocky Flats: Warring God’s Charnel Ground,” in Waldman and Andres Schelling (editors), Disembodied Poetics: Annals of the Jack Kerouac School (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1994). Poet Anne Waldman’s essay on Rocky Flats, like most of the contents of this volume, was presented as part of the 1993 summer writing program at Naropa Institute (now University) in Boulder. She also makes brief reference to Rocky Flats in a long interview with her conducted by Randy Roark, also included in this book. Director of the Poetics and Writing Program at Naropa, Waldman wrote poetry expressing her opposition to what was done at Rocky Flats when she sat on the railway tracks there in 1978.

Eric Wright and Judy Danielson, Songs to Convert Rocky Flats (Denver: Rocky Flats Action Group, 1979). This small booklet ofsongs was widely used for years by Rocky Flats activists.

Non-fiction works in which Rocky Flats receives significant attention

Len Ackland, “Open Wounds from a Tough Nuclear History: Forgetting How We Made Ourselves an Endangered Species,” in Remedies for the New West: Healing Landscapes, Histories, and Cultures, edited by Patricia Nelson Limerick, Andrew Cowell and Sharon K. Collings (Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2009). In this article, Ackland, retired professor of journalism at the University of Colorado and author of Making a Real Killing: Rocky Flats and the Nuclear West, looks at the task of remembering our nuclear history being taken on by museums in various places, He cites the bad example of the Smithsonian being prevented from telling the full story of the Hiroshima bombing on the event’s 50th anniversary in 2005. Closer to home, he says the DOE “is discouraging the public from remembering and considering the broad historical legacies of Rocky Flats,” preferring instead a one-dimensional “Cold War Hero” narrative, as if there had been no global threat, no contamination, no ill workers. He advocates a shared storyline of “unacceptable risk.”

David Albright, Frans Berkhout, and William Walker, Plutonium and Highly Enriched Uranium 1996: World Inventories, Capabilities and Policies (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1997). This volume, a project of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), provides details on the inventories of weapons-grade nuclear materials on hand or “unaccounted for” at Rocky Flats in 1996.

Tad Bartimus and Scott McCartney, Trinity’s Children: Living along America’s Nuclear Highway (NY: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1991). The authors interviewed dozens of people who live near or work at sites involved with the nuclear enterprise along the broad swath of Interstate 25 from the Trinity bomb site in southern New Mexico to the missile silos near Cheyenne, Wyoming. Included along the way is Rocky Flats.

Thomas Bullock’s Diary of a Cold War Patriot (Smashwords, Inc., 2011) narrates the career of a retired nuclear engineer. He reports on three activities in which he was involved at Rocky Flats while employed by Parsons Corp., an engineering firm located in Pasadena, CA. The first was development of “more stringent fire protections systems” after the 1969 fire at the plant. The second was the effort to correct design problems that plagued Bldg. 371, which he calls “a $250 million white elephant” (that’s 1980 dollars). Intended as “a state-of-the-art” replacement for the outmoded and quite dangerous Bldg. 771 plutonium processing facility, Bldg. 371 became contaminated throughout soon after startup. Bullock was brought in from the outside to lead a $60 million ultimately unsuccessful effort to get the building back into operation. Thus the newest, most robust, most expensive building in Rocky Flats history was never used for the work for which it was created. The third Rocky Flats activity mentioned by Bullock was the little-known highly secret “black budget” project to develop depleted uranium armor plating for U.S. Army tanks. Initially deployed in West Germany during the 1980s, tanks with this DU armor became notable for their use in the 1991 and 2002 U.S. wars in Iraq. On line at http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/74199

Thomas C. Cochran, William M. Arkin, Robert S. Norris, and Milton M. Hoenig, Nuclear Weapons Databook, Vol. II: U.S. Nuclear Warhead Production (Cambridge, MA: Ballinger Publishing Co., 1987). The multi-volume Nuclear Weapons Databook series, produced as a project of the Natural Resources Defense Council, is the most comprehensive description of all aspects of the nuclear weapons enterprise in the U.S., the former Soviet Union, France, Britain, and China, at the time the only declared nuclear weapons states. Rocky Flats is covered in the volume mentioned here.

Robert Del Tredici, At Work in the Fields of the Bomb (NY: Harper & Row, 1987). This book documents the U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise with photographs and interviews with key people. It includes a photograph of Rocky Flats as well as an interview with Kay Gable, widow of Don Gable, a Rocky Flats worker who at age 30 died of brain cancer due to on-the-job exposure to plutonium, according to a court decision. The interview explains how after his death his brain disappeared as did all records regarding his workplace conditions.

Jack Doyle, Dow Chemical and the Toxic Century (Monroe, ME: Common Courage Press, 2004). This study of Dow Chemical as a major polluter includes a chapter on Rocky Flats.

Allen Ginsberg, Plutonian Ode and Other Poems, 1977-1980 (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1982). “Plutonian Ode,” the poem that gives this book its name, comes from the time when Ginsberg sat on the railway tracks leading in to the Rocky Flats Plant in 1978. Among other poems in this small book are several short verses written as part of his experience of civil disobedience, arrest and trial related to Rocky Flats.

Sam Kashner’s When I Was Cool: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School (NY: Harper Collins, 2005) narrates his experience as the first student of Allen Ginsberg and others at the Jack Karouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa College in Boulder. In one brief chapter he tells of going to Rocky Flats in 1978 when Ginsberg, Daniel Ellsberg and others were arrested for civil disobedience on the tracks leading in to the plant. Hopefully the bulk of Kashner’s narrative is more accurate than his report that someone occupying the tracks at Rocky Flats lost his legs when a train ran over him. Nothing like this ever happened at Rocky Flats. Kashner may be misremembering what happened with Brian Wilson, who in 1987 lost his legs blockading a train at a US Navy base in Concord, California, from which arms were being sent to Central America.

Judith A. Layzer, The Environmental Case: Translating Values into Policy (2nd edition, Washington, DC: CQ Press, 2002). CQ Press, a subsidiary of SAGE Publications, specializes in publishing analyses of actions and policies of the federal government. Chapter 4 of this book, “Government Secrets at Rocky Flats,” explores the government’s role in polluting the environment around Rocky Flats. The author demonstrates that scientific experts rarely can resolve environmental policy controversies: they may in fact make them worse.

Arjun Makhijani, Howard Hu, and Katherine Yih (editors), Nuclear Wastelands: A Global Guide to Nuclear Weapons Production and Its Health and Environmental Effects (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1995). Produced by a special commission of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, this volume is the most comprehensive assessment to date of the health and environmental effects of nuclear weapons production globally.

Peter Metzger, The Atomic Establishment (NY: Simon and Schuster, 1972). The author, a former Rocky Mountain News journalist, brings together a great mass of little known detail about the whole nuclear enterprise in the USA in the quarter century following the creation of the Atomic Energy Commission in 1946. In looking at problems like nuclear waste, contamination, and penalties for whistle blowers, Rocky Flats is one of his topics.

Charles Piller, The Fail-Safe Society: Community Defiance and the End of American Technological Optimism (NY: Basic Books 1991). An assessment of opposition by community groups to scientific and technological enterprises that present hazards to the communities where they are located, this book includes a chapter on Rocky Flats.

Max S. Power, America’s Nuclear Wastelands: Politics, Accountability, and Cleanup (Pullman, WA: Washington State University Press, 2008). From 1988 to 2004 Power was the Senior Policy Advisor to the Nuclear Waste Program in Washington State. This very informative book is a helpful guide to laws and regulations that apply to nuclear waste and cleanup of nuclear sites. The author draws on his extensive experience with these issues at Hanford to look at other DOE sites, including Rocky Flats. He regards the cleanup of Rocky Flats as a success due to DOE’s openness and the decision to turn most of the site into a wildlife refuge. Some involved in oversight of the cleanup would disagree. A positive feature at Rocky Flats, he says, is having damned holding ponds that prevent potentially contaminated water from being released off the site. But DOE has decided to breath all of these dams by 2020. Power seems prescient when he questions the viability of long-term stewardship at sites that have been cleaned up because there’s no guarantee that funding will continue. Might the breaching of the dams at Rocky Flats be a first step in the elimination of stewardship funding at this site?

Robert Rapoport, The Great American Bomb Machine (NY: Ballantine, 1971). This book looks at the whole US nuclear weapons complex as it existed at the time of publication. Chapter 3 deals with Rocky Flats.

Stephen I. Schwartz (editor), Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons since 1940 (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press, 1998). This thoroughly documented and well-indexed volume is the most comprehensive study of the costs of the US nuclear weapons enterprise yet done.

Bryan C. Taylor, “Radioactive History: Rhetoric, Memory and Place in the Post-Cold War Nuclear Museum,” in Places of Public Memory: The Rhetoric of Museums and Memorials, edited by Greg Dickinson, Carole Blair and Brian L. Ott (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2010), pp. 57-86. In this demanding and dense article Taylor, who teaches at the University of Colorado and was formerly on the board of the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum, assesses the difficulty of creating viable nuclear museums, given the “entangled discourses of nuclear history, memory and heritage.” Most nuclear museums present “the dominant narrative of Cold War patriots” who celebrate the nuclear weapons enterprise rather than the “less-popular but also persistent” antinuclear narrative. In the post-Cold War era, however, three parallel trends appear: “new stakeholder identities, the ongoing struggle for control of the nuclear-historical narrative, and the growth of a nuclear heritage apparatus. How those responsible for museums handle these themes will determine whether museums serve a more inclusive vision.

Bryan C. Taylor, William J. Kinsella, Stephen P. Depoe and Maribeth S. Metzler (editors), Nuclear Legacies: Communication, Controversy, and the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2007). This book includes a brief discussion of the origins of the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum, including controversy over whether the federal government should fund the museum and others like it at other sites within the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. The volume’s lead editor, Professor Bryan Taylor of the University of Colorado, was formerly chair of the Board of Directors of the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum.

Anne Waldman, Vow to Poetry: Essays, Interviews & Manifestos (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2001). This collection of writings of poet Anne Waldman, director of the summer writing program at Naropa University in Boulder, CO, contains numerous well indexed references to Rocky Flats and plutonium. Waldman’s references to Rocky Flats show that over the years since the 1970s she has been both a person of words (in poetry and in testimony at public hearings) and a person of action (most notably her civil disobedience on the tracks at Rocky Flats in 1978). Her “Warring God Charnel Ground: Rocky Flats Chronicles” consists of a series of brief essays from different periods.

Harvey Wasserman and Norman Solomon, with Robert Alvarez and Eleanor Walters, Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America’s Experiment with Atomic Radiation (N.Y.: Delacorte, 1982). A critique of all aspects of the US nuclear enterprise, this book focuses on public health, environmental contamination, and workplace exposure. The authors devote a full chapter to Rocky Flats.

Paul Wehr, Conflict Regulation (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1979), This book by Paul Wehr, Emeritus Professor of Siocology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, examines nonviolent ways of regulating or containing conflict. One chapter is devoted to nonviolent direct action at Rocky Flats, with primary focus on the 1978-79 occupaton of the railroad tracks leading in to the Rocky Flats plant by the group that took the name, Rocky Flats Truth Force.

Jon Weiner, How We Forgot the Cold War: A Historical Journey across America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012). Professor of history at the University of California at Irvine, the author discusses U.S. museums and memoriasl that commemorate aspects of the Cold War. A brief chapter entitled “Rocky Flats: Uncovering the Secrets” is devoted to the Rocky Flats Cold War Museum. Unfortunately, it contains a few minor errors of fact. The museum story is “an inspiring one,” says Weiner. “Instead of an omniscient voice of authority instructing visitors about the one true history of this place, the museum will present a variety of voices. It’s almost like democracy at work.”

Fiction on Rocky Flats

Mario Acevedo, Nymphos of Rocky Flats: A novel (NY: Rayo, 2006). This debut comedy novel features an ex-soldier turned into a vampire while serving in Iraq who came to Rocky Flats at the invitation of a friend from DOE to look into an outbreak of nymphomania among female guards.

Ron Olson, Half Life (Wellington, CO: Bannack Publishing Co., 1984). This work of fiction is about Rocky Flats Its author, a deceased former Rocky Flats employee, says his purpose is “solely to provide an item of thoughtful entertainment.”

Films on Rocky Flats

Dark Circle (1983). Feature-length film produced by Judy Irving, Chris Beaver, and Ruth Landy. This documentary, premiered in Denver, focuses primarily on Rocky Flats, secondarily on the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant then under construction in California.

Secrets of a Bomb Factory (1993). Produced for Frontline by Oregon Public Broadcasting; WGBH Educational Foundation: 1993; produced and directed by Michael McLeod (Alexandria, Va.: PBS Video, 1993). This 55-minute documentary focuses on the grand jury investigation that followed the 1989 FBI raid on Rocky Flats.

(List compiled by LeRoy Moore, updated 11-26-14)