If you have been reading the papers in recent months, you know that the military and the federal Department of Energy (DOE) have been suddenly found out hiding millions (perhaps billions) of pounds of radioactive wastes that they hadn't told anybody about and they don't know what to do with. For forty years they've kept this little secret from Congress, from the press, and from local citizens who were breathing and drinking the stuff. It is a story of treachery unparalleled in our history.
For forty years the military (plus their civilian pals in the Department of Energy and their industrial co-conspirators like GE, Westinghouse, DuPont and Kerr-McGee) have dumped and buried millions upon millions of pounds of radioactive wastes into seepage basins, holding ponds, pits, lagoons, landfills, shafts, cribs, subsurface leaching fields, and deep injection wells. They have dumped additional millions of pounds of radioactive wastes into local creeks, streams, and rivers. They have intentionally and regularly released additional tonnages into the atmosphere. In some cases, they haven't even kept maps of where they dumped the stuff. In almost all cases, records of how much they dumped are vague, incomplete and--by their own admission--inaccurate.
All this is in addition to the estimated 1,752 toxic chemical dumps that the military has, so far, identified as their own. They're still discovering new ones each time they look. These are a story in themselves, but for another time.
Now a citizen watchdog group has begun the long, difficult job of cataloging this monstrous problem. The Radioactive Waste Campaign in New York City has released a study called DEADLY DEFENSE in which they begin to document the worst excesses of the "military-industrial complex" that President Eisenhower warned us about as he was leaving office in 1960.
Here we will not document the horrors. You must get DEADLY DEFENSE for that. In it, you will find a quiet, even-handed, understated, fact-filled compendium of intractable problems at the following military sites: Bendix Plant, Kansas City, MO; Feed Materials Center, Fernald, OH; Hanford Reservation, Richland, WA; Idaho Engineering Lab, Arco, ID; Lawrence Livermore Lab, Livermore, CA; Los Alamos National Lab, Los Alamos, NM; Mound Labs, Miamisburg, OH; Nevada Test Site, Mercury, NV; Oak Ridge Reservation, Oak Ridge, TN; Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Paducah, KY; Pantex Plant, Amarillo, TX; Pinellas Plant, Largo, FL; Portsmouth Uranium Enrichment Complex, Portsmouth, OH; Reactive Metals, Inc., Ashtabula, OH; Rocky Flats Plant, Golden, CO; Sandia Labs, Albuquerque, NM; Savannah River Plant, Aiken, SC. And all this, of course, is only a tiny part of the full story.
We will focus here on three important lessons revealed by this bleak history of stupidity, treachery and deception:
1) The government should never again get into the business of creating new industries. The government started the nuclear weapons industry; to make it appear more benign and useful, they started the "nuclear power industry" to generate electricity by splitting atoms. (Friendly Citizen Atom, a smiley-faced little fellow with a lightning bolt through his head, was going to make electricity too cheap to meter.) It is now crystal clear that the whole thing has gone bad. Both the weapons industry and the nuclear power industry have bungled their work, consistently tried to cover up their massive mistakes, and generally acted irresponsibly. Both industries are inefficient and enormously expensive, and both have covered the planet with huge reservoirs of deadly radioactivity, most of which are already leaking and all of which will continue to leak for as long as anyone can imagine into the future. These radioactive dumps will plague future generations with a pestilence of death, disease, fear and expense, time out of mind.
2) The only way to cure the problem of radioactive contamination of the planet is to stop making the stuff. There is talk in the newspapers these days of creating a new generation of nuclear power plants. Even the NEW YORK TIMES has taken to writing silly editorials about "inherently safe" nuclear power plants. Such talk is complete nonsense. Even if we could build nuclear plants simple enough to be run safely by yo-yos, plants that never melted down and never spewed glowing dust over the inhabitants of surrounding communities, those plants would still produce massive quantities of radioactive wastes that would have to be put somewhere forever. The nature of split atoms is such that they release heat (which can make steam to make electricity), but the heat is always accompanied by tremendous quantities of newly-created radioactive crud. THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL LAWS OF PHYSICS DECREE THAT THIS IS SO. This crud has to be put someplace. Once it's in that place (wherever it is), the crud will begin to disperse into the environment. Slowly but surely it will be carried into the food chains of the world, blown on the wind, transported by water, eaten by insects, fish, birds, mammals and eventually humans. The most fundamental laws of physics decree that this is so. Nature's processes, driven by the second law of thermodynamics, cannot be stopped. They are as inevitable as tomorrow's sunrise. The only possible solution to the problem of planetary contamination by radioactivity (and halogenated hydrocarbons) is to stop making the stuff. Period. Every other industrial path leads, finally, to planetary death. What Barry Commoner said about chemical contamination is equally true about radioactive contamination: pollution must be considered a terminal disease. It cannot be cured once is has been allowed to happen. It can only be PREVENTED.
3) An active citizenry is our only hope. Government and industry cannot police themselves. For forty years, we have left our most high-tech technologies in the hands of the nation's smartest scientists and engineers, who have been funded and managed by the country's most successful entrepreneurs. Now, like Rip van Winkle, we wake up to find that, between them, these technical geniuses and financial wizards have contaminated the planet and every living thing on it with radioactivity and with exotic toxic chemicals, threatening the health, well-being and peace of mind of every human alive. They have spread radioactivity and halogenated hydrocarbons EVERYWHERE. Not a square foot of the planet has been spared. These masterminds have claimed--against all common sense and contrary to the most fundamental scientific principles--that burying the stuff in holes in the ground would protect us. The holes, of course, are now leaking. Faced with their shocking record of stupidity and ruination, they now claim they can dispose of the stuff in immensely complex and expensive incinerators, or rebury it in deep salt caves, to solve the fundamental problems. It is an unmatched record of technical arrogance utterly devoid of common sense.
These military folks and their industrial co-conspirators, are clearly the sloppiest, most deceitful, most dangerous people in America. If they're active in your community, look into it. You won't like what you find, but your children will respect you and thank you.
Get: Marvin Resnikoff and others, DEADLY DEFENSE; MILITARY
RADIOACTIVE LANDFILLS (NY: The Radioactive Waste Campaign, 625
Broadway, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10012; phone (212) 473-7390.
$15.00 plus postage; bulk rates available.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.
Descriptor terms: radioactive waste; lanfilling; leaks; Bendix Plant, Kansas City, MO; Feed Materials Center, Fernald, OH; Hanford Reservation, Richland, WA; Idaho Engineering Lab, Arco, ID; Lawrence Livermore Lab, Livermore, CA; Los Alamos National Lab, Los Alamos, NM; Mound Labs, Miamisburg, OH; Nevada Test Site, Mercury, NV; Oak Ridge Reservation, Oak Ridge, TN; Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Paducah, KY; Pantex Plant, Amarillo, TX; Pinellas Plant, Largo, FL; Portsmouth Uranium Enrichment Complex, Portsmouth, OH; Reactive Metals, Inc., Ashtabula, OH; Rocky Flats Plant, Golden, CO; Sandia Labs, Albuquerque, NM; Savannah River Plant, Aiken, SC; radwaste; military; dod; doe; citizen action;