Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2016
Cleanup to Cost Over $2 Billion
In 1989, the renowned undersea explorer Jacque Cousteau said, “A common denominator in every single nuclear accident—a nuclear plant or on a nuclear submarine—is that before the specialists even know what has happened, they rush to the media saying, ‘There’s no danger to the public.’ They do this before they themselves know what has happened because they are terrified that the public might react violently, either by panic or by revolt.”
On Feb. 14, 2014 a barrel of plutonium-contaminated waste blew apart deep underground at the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP), near Carlsbad, New Mexico. The WIPP experiment was an attempt to discard some plutonium wastes left from 60 years of nuclear weapons production. The uncontrolled explosion spewed plutonium particles throughout the deep underground chambers and dispersed them up and down the 2,150-foot elevator and ventilation shafts, closing the dump site indefinitely. The Los Angeles Times reports that it will cost at least $2 billion to repair the damage and to attempt decontamination.
Ventilation shaft filtration systems failed to keep the contamination underground, and plutonium-laden dusts were pulled up the deep shafts by the huge ventilation fans on the surface contaminating at least 13 workers on site that day. A federal investigation found two dozen violations of safety procedures. Yet even 2.5 years later the government doesn’t know why the barrel exploded. “And [$2 billion] does not include the complete replacement of the contaminated ventilation system or any future costs of operating the mine longer than originally planned,” the Times reported.
At WIPP, Cousteau’s ‘common denominator’ kicked in as usual. As the LA Times said: “When a drum containing radioactive waste blew up in an underground nuclear dump in New Mexico two years ago, the Energy Department [DOE] 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…”
The DOE says the 13 workers doused with radioactive smoke and dust “were tested for internal radioactive contamination” (emphasis added) and that “initial fecal samples measured some radioactivity above normal background levels.” A serious admission for the victims, because internal decontamination is not possible.
The DOE also says 140 workers were exposed to radiation the following day, and that “… 22 were notified that their exposure was below the 10 millirem level, which is about the same exposure a person would get from a chest X-ray.”
This standard comparison of internal radiation exposure to X-rays (which deliver only an external dose) is deliberate and sophisticated disinformation. The nuclear industry and many government agencies often use this disinformative comparison, prompting readers to treat the exposure as trivial. Because X-rays only dose the target with external radiation, the difference is significant. Dr. Chris Busby of the Low Level Radiation Campaign (llrc.org) in Wales says it’s the difference between sitting in front of a warm fire and popping a hot coal from the fire into your mouth.
WIPP’s worker doses were breathed-in exposures, after which hot particles can lodge in tissue or bone and then for long periods of time bombard surrounding cells with deadly radiation.
All radiation exposures shorten our lives and even low doses have been shown to cause dozens of debilitating diseases and disorders short of death including nose bleeds, bleeding gums, joint pain, hair loss, liver disorders, elevated blood pressure, gastrointestinal problems, muscle pain, headaches, fatigue, skin rashes, respiratory problems, heart problems, miscarriages, stillbirths, infant mortality, birth abnormalities, and cancers.
The so-called Pilot Project at Carlsbad has been promoted as the answer for disposing of plutonium-tainted nuclear weapons waste, and it was “designed to last 10,000 years.” But as Santa Monica, California activist Myla Reson reported, “The dump failed 9,985 years ahead of schedule.”
And we’re safer for it, Reson says, “because justification for approval of the dump relied on a fabricated site characterization and analysis” which made continued use of the dump potentially catastrophic—either through onsite explosions, long-term ground water contamination, or transportation disasters involving crashes en route to the dump.
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