Radiation Hazards

Information every man, woman, and child must know!

 


Many thanks to Howard Wilshire, Jane Nielson, and Richard Hazlett, for their generosity in sharing this hard-to-find information. It is information vital to all.

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The fact they have willingly opened this up for inclusion at this site is most appreciated.


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THE NUCLEAR HOMELAND (CHAPTER MC-B)

 

"...and these atomic bombs which science
burst upon the world that night were
strange even to the men who used them."

H.G. Wells
The World Set Free (1913)

 

"No one disputes whether atomic radiation is harmful or harmless as they did in the fifties because atomic downwinders wrote the answer on their deathbeds."

Chip Ward
Canaries on the Rim (1999)

 

Americans and Military Atoms

"At the heart of the matter nuclear weapons are simply the enemy of humanity." The testimony General Lee Butler, U.S. Air Force (ret.), former Commander of Strategic Nuclear Forces delivered to a Joint Senate-House Committee on Foreign Affairs, March 11, 1999, agree with the feelings of most Americans - and indeed, most of the world's people. "Mushroom" blast clouds, the shapes of atomic weapons, and fallout are instantly-recognized symbols of doom. Global terrorism is raising the specter of attacks on U.S. citizens with conventional explosives that scatter radioactive materials across their neighborhoods. The fear of even this level of nuclear attack hurts the nuclear industry and government agencies' attempts to rebuild a benign image for atomic energy and materials. Nuclear accidents over the years also have frustrated atomic image-building -especially the 1979 Three-Mile Island, U.S., and 1986 Chernobyl, Ukraine, nuclear power plant meltdowns, the 1999 near disaster at Tokaimura, Japan, nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, and intermittent reports of people with severe health problems in Mexico, Taiwan, and Iraq after contact with recycled, stolen, or looted radioactive material.(1) Human health threats from past military radioactive contamination are far from over, lending General Butler's words still more force.

Nuclear energy advocates continually insist that people's fear is simple ignorance. If Americans only understood science better, they say, we would want to use nuclear materials for peaceful purposes. But citizens who look into the health effects of radioactivity, even just a little, find plenty to worry about. Americans especially want to protect their families and communities from exposures to radioactive wastes - the primary unsolved problem of the atomic age. Because the public fears radioactive waste, industry and government cloak their current push to expand public radiation exposures in the United States, using waste "depleted" uranium in the warheads of military artillery shells; proposing to mix radioactive waste with sewage sludge, which is increasingly used for agricultural fertilizers (Chapter Agriculture); and "reindustrialize" wastes by manufacturing steel with radioactive metals, such as nickel, for use in personal and household implements.

The World War II race to build an atom bomb contributed the first radioactive pollution to American soil and water, from the processes of mining uranium ore, purifying and enriching the uranium to make plutonium, and detonating the bombs to test them. Perhaps unknown to most Americans is the large scale of radioactive contamination still covering vast tracts of American land and water, which can still affect the health of humans, farm animals, and wildlife far into the future. Both radioactive and non-radioactive but toxic materials from weapons production and testing currently contaminate buildings, soil, sediment, rock, and underground or surface water within more than 2 million acres administered by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in the 11 western states.(2) Bomb tests created vast quantities of contaminated soils, rock and water that are not identified as waste and do not appear in contaminant inventories.

Debates still rage about whether low radioactivity levels are harmful to humans. Nuclear promoters like to remind us that radioactive materials are found in nature in very small amounts are widespread in rocks and soils, and cosmic rays from the sun rain down on us constantly.(3) Airplane passengers are exposed to more natural radiation than on the ground, where the earth's protective atmosphere is thicker. Montana "health spas" even herald exposure to naturally radioactive radon as a cure-all. But natural "background" radiation cannot be considered benign - after all, cancers killed people before nuclear bomb tests. In the absence of unequivocal evidence, authorities assume that each and every particle of radioactive material can harm human tissue. Government and industrial health researchers estimate that natural radiation probably causes somewhere between 5 and 50 percent of all cancers (4) -- and radiation exposures are additive, so every new exposure adds to the natural burden. Inhaling radioactive gas, principally radon, in unventilated uranium mines demonstrably caused a fivefold increase in lung cancer among miners, compared to the general population.(5)

Beginning in 1945 with the Trinity test, atmospheric atomic tests - the bombs dropped from airplanes, or detonated on towers and balloons - began raising radiation exposure levels worldwide.(6) Nuclear fuel and weapons manufacturing across the country, and weapons testing in the western United States, added large quantities of radioactive contamination to the environment at those sites. Even after the U.S. signed a test ban treaty in 1963, "subcritical" atomic explosions kept on dispersing radioactive materials in the western US, especially. Testing of strategic weapons containing radioactive "depleted uranium" continues on the Nellis Air Force Range in Nevada. Depleted uranium is the waste from processes that enrich uranium to make nuclear bomb-fuel. Uranium is a very dense metallic substance, 70 percent denser than lead, used for armor-piercing munitions. Such weapons were used in Kosovo, the 1991 Gulf War, the post September 11, 2001 assault on the Afghanistan Taliban government, and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.(7)

Radioactivity decays away, decreasing over time to reduce and eventually eliminate the threat of some nuclear wastes. The principal threat from nuclear bomb testing comes from "hot" radiation - highly radioactive, generally short-lived materials created in atomic explosions, which can penetrate skin, bones, and soft internal organs - but decay to nothing within minutes, hours, or days. In contrast, bomb and power-plant fuels and their waste by-products tend to be highly toxic and extremely long-lived, taking thousands to millions of years to decay away - the hazard life of extremely toxic and flammable plutonium-239 is 240,000 years, essentially forever in human terms. Yet these long-lived materials are not highly radioactive, and most of the radiation that they release cannot penetrate human skin.

The long-lived isotopes become highly threatening to health - even in very small amounts - if swallowed or breathed into the lungs. Take the case of Edwin Lehman, an early radiological chemist, who died in 1925 from the effects of radiation poisoning after inadvertently breathing low-radioactivity radium dust, amounting to less than a millionth of an ounce.(8) The depleted uranium now used in bombs is 40 percent less radioactive than natural uranium ore, but it burns on impact, producing dense smoke that everyone in the vicinity—civilians, foes, and U.S. personnel alike - may not be able to avoid breathing into their lungs. The very long decay times of long-lived radioactive materials pose radioactive health threats for many thousands of years.

 

Nuclear War on the Home Land

Ordinary Americans have already suffered greatly from radioactive exposures, beginning with the headlong rush to develop an atom bomb during World War II. Many see that effort as heroic, arguing that the nuclear bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 saved American lives. For four decades after the war, the heart of America's Cold War policy toward the Soviet Union lay in nuclear bomb factories and threats of a retaliatory nuclear holocaust for any attack on western Europe or the North American continent. Again, many would argue that the U.S.'s threat of "massive retaliation" was the major factor in winning the Cold War.

Wars always exact a terrible price, shredding lands and wasting lives, and the Cold War was no exception. But few Americans may be fully aware of the full price that has been and still is being paid in human lives. The time since World War II is long enough to reveal the tragic lives and deaths caused by careless attitudes toward ionizing radiation, which flagrantly exposed uranium miners, bomb-plant workers, and even atomic scientists to radioactive bomb fuels - and also rained hot radioactive fallout on American soldiers and civilians. With glacial slowness U.S. citizens are coming to realize how contaminated earth materials still threaten the human environment, and will for the foreseeable future.

Managers of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) and DOE, its successor, have always known that radiation exposures posed dangers to human health, but put producing radioactive bomb fuel above worker safety. No authority ever warned Raymond Joe, a Navajo uranium miner,(9) of the hazard from breathing air loaded with radioactive dust in improperly ventilated underground uranium mines.(10) Even before uranium miners showed up with lung cancers and lodged worker's compensation claims, the AEC's scientists and managers knew that mine ventilation could substantially protect them, yet chose not to reveal that fact to the miners, state officials, or even mine to owners. Nor did AEC officials insist on proper mine ventilation, instead assuring one and all that radon would leave miner's lungs an hour after reaching the surface. This assurance was a misleading and useless truth, because it is not the radon itself that kills, but the dust derived from radon. The radioactive dust stayed in miner's lungs, and eventually, the inevitable death toll began. In the case of Raymond Joe, his family "…received $100,000 from the government, a check drawn to equal the life of Raymond Joe, who scraped radioactive rock from surrounding mountains to fuel the Cold War. It was never fought, but it killed Ray Joe just the same."(11)

During World War II, the nuclear industry and its partners in government did not warn inexperienced and poorly-trained workers that their lives could be sacrificed to building atom bombs. Like the miners, bomb-plant officials told the workers that no harm could come to them. Remembered Jonathan Garcia, former Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) Hot Dump operator, "They told us it was low level and wouldn't harm us unless we held it in our hands or took a bite out of it."(12) In factories that enriched uranium for bomb fuel, AEC managers urged people not to don protective clothing - one told author Michael D'Antonio: "They expected you to just hold your breath and run past areas where there was radiation ---it "saved the time you would use up putting on the protective suits."(13) For many, those saved minutes eventually turned into the number of years subtracted from their lives. Bomb-plant workers suffered inordinately from radiation-related diseases - large numbers had to retire on disability before reaching retirement age and lived out their last years in poverty, their children also plagued with genetic damage and deformities.(13), (14) Unknown numbers of excessively-exposed workers, from scientists to blue-collar workers, lost their lives to cancers long after their extended radioactive exposures ended.(15) One of those cancer victims was LANL's Hot Dump operator Jonathan Garcia.

Since 1990, new information about the full costs in dollar amounts and human lives have emerged from top-secret files, bearing witness to scientific experiments that purposely - and secretly—released radioactivity into the air over populated regions, or served deadly radioactive plutonium to prisoners and impoverished patients to observe the effects on their health.(16) U.S. soldiers and sailors were purposely located close to tests of both "atomic", or nuclear fission, and "hydrogen", or nuclear fusion bombs in Nevada and remote Pacific locales, exposing them to hot radioactive fallout clouds.(17) Radioactive fallout from bomb plants and test blasts also rained over towns full of civilians - men, women, and children—all assured by government officials that all was well. Ranchers were irradiated, along with their crops and livestock,(18), (19) and the food they grew spread radioactive contamination to more distant populations. Their tales of burns, hair and tooth losses, and subsequent life-long illness and disabilities, are not so heroic or easy to write off as an expense of war.

Even though the lives of U.S. soldiers have been destroyed in tests that demonstrated their battlefield vulnerability to radiation, strategic uses for nuclear bombs are again under consideration.(20) Within 100 days of taking office in 2001, the George W. Bush administration proposed to hurry the schedule for destroying older nuclear weapons,(21) but at the same time proposed to expand nuclear testing and nuclear power plant construction (Chapter Energy Contamination). Early in 2002, the U.S. government began circulating classified plans recommending new nuclear weapons development. Also in 2002, the administration shifted the official U.S. stance on nuclear bombs from a doomsday threat, likely to deter aggression, to tactical weapons for pre-emptive strikes against perceived enemies.

The government has released few documents showing the already-enormous pollution of American lands from producing and testing nuclear weapons - and from an ill-founded program for using nuclear bombs in a variety of "peaceful" projects (Chapter Plowshare). If implemented, these new nuclear programs will increase radioactivity in the environment even more, contributing more threats to public health. The new weapons would require more radioactive fuel mining, more fuel processing, new testing programs, and would generate a lot more waste.(22)

 

The Waste Lands

Nuclear science has never found a safe way to deal with long-lived radioactive wastes. DOE sites and facilities store more than one million tons of hazardous nuclear and non-nuclear materials(23) just from nuclear bomb production, enough to fill more than 11,000 railroad cars of a train 100 miles long (Chapter Waste Disposal). The nation as a whole harbors at least 1.3 billion cubic feet of radioactive wastes, emitting 1.01 billion curies of radioactivity,(24) 10 times the amount of radiation released in the Chernoybl accident,(25) able to kill 99 trillion people - more than have ever lived on the earth.(26)

In addition, DOE manages lands containing more than 67 billion cubic feet of contaminated water, sediment, soil, and rock, and the sites of approximately 5,100 contaminated facilities.(27) The contaminated water amounts to more than 63 billion cubic feet, enough to fill the Great Salt Lake 6 times. Some 3 billion cubic feet of radioactive uranium mill tailings - also containing toxic heavy metals - are lying about on the ground,(28) mostly in the 11 western states. Piles of radioactive uranium mine tailings have laid on the banks of the Colorado River for decades, exposed to erosion by wind and rain (Chapter Mining Contamination.(29) In Colorado, uranium mine tailings were formerly recycled into construction materials for house foundations, exposing unwitting people, including whole families, to high radioactivity levels in their own homes. Even wider uses of uranium tailings have included sand trap fillings on golf courses, and children's sandboxes.(29)

Hazardous contamination from either bomb making or testing - or both - directly affects 44 areas in the western U.S.(30) The largest threats lie on and under contaminated areas close to population centers, such as the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, next to the city of Richland, Washington, and surrounded by farmland on both sides of the Columbia River. Hanford is also upstream from the large city of Portland, Oregon and smaller towns of Kelso and Longview, Washington. The Nevada Test Site (NTS) lies near populous Las Vegas, Nevada, playground for Americans of all walks of life, and the Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site in Colorado is upslope and upwind from Denver and its growing suburbs. Other areas include Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL), Idaho; Los Alamos National Laboratory, near Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, near San Francisco. The U.S. Congress and DOE have reported radioactive and other toxic contaminants at all of these major sites, and many others. Conditions at Hanford and the NTS illustrate the massive overkill of weapons production and testing during the Cold War, accompanied by reckless contamination of the land. The contaminants still pollute soil, air, and water - and will continue to plague Americans far into the future.

 

Hanford Nuclear Reservation, and its Neighbors

Initially operated by DuPont, the General Electric Corporation ran the 360,000 acre Hanford Reservation from 1946 to 1965, the period of its worst intentional and accidental radiation releases. The radioactive pollution from Hanford's bomb fuel production(31) is in the form of 25 billion cubic feet of dangerously radioactive wastes(32) - more than enough in liquid form to fill two Great Salt Lakes, and equivalent to the worst contamination at notorious Russian bomb factories.(33) In the 1940s and 1950s especially, Hanford Site experimenters knowingly dumped uranium and plutonium radionuclides into the Columbia River, and released radioactive strontium-90, iodine-131, and ruthenium-106 into the air, equaling or surpassing the total radioactive contamination from major nuclear accidents at the Three Mile Island (Chapter Energy Contamination) and Chernobyl power plants.(34) Hanford recorded approximately 270 other unplanned releases and spills but information about them is scanty - one spill involved dumping an estimated 25,000 curies of radioactive cesium-137 into the ground.(35) As recently as May, 1997, a chemical explosion within a Hanford waste tank exposed workers to plutonium and other hazardous chemicals.

From the mid-1940's, through the 1950's, and into the 1960's, Hanford continually released strontium-90 and iodine-131 into the air. Iodine-131 has a hazard life of three months and strontium-90 has a hazard life around 300 years. These dangerous atomic isotopes fell on wide areas of the Pacific northwest, contaminating grass and hay in fields where cows and other domestic animals could eat it. Although Hanford health physicists secretly measured radioactive iodine fallout in the region, they never told the thousands of people living there that they were being exposed to radioactivity levels far exceeding the standard for human doses at that time.(36) Farmers and townspeople living to the east, or downwind, from Hanford - now called the "downwinders" - unknowingly absorbed dangerous levels of hot radiation, equivalent to thousands of chest X-rays per person.

Bones are made of calcium, and children need to drink lots of calcium-rich milk to support their rapid bone growth. Along with calcium, human bodies absorb chemically-similar strontium out of foods - but ingesting large volumes of milk laced with radioactive strontium-90 can cause childhood leukemia. Local families, particularly children, ingested the materials through drinking locally-produced milk. A long-buried study of the region surrounding the Hanford Reservation found "startling" increases in infant mortality in 1945, compared to 1943, just before bomb fuel manufacturing began.(37) Vegetable crops take up iodine-131 from soil water,(38) along with much longer-lived iodine isotopes. Anyone who ate Hanford-area vegetables in the late 1940's through the 1960's was exposed to concentrated iodine-131, and risked getting thyroid disease.

One 1949 Hanford program, the so-called "Green Run", purposely released radiation over parts of western Washington state, Oregon, and Idaho, irradiating farms, towns, and people - not to mention the soil and water. The Green Run's actual radioactive release is unknown, but reconstructions suggest as much as 11,000 curies of iodine-131 and 20,000 curies of xenon 133(38) - more than 700 times greater than the Three Mile Island accident, and 11,000 times the threshold for human radioactivity exposures at that time.(39) Hanford scientists never informed either the local public or Hanford employees that they might be exposed to radioactivity from this or other experiments.

Following the Green Run, a very large number of sheep died on farms in Franklin County, Washington, near the Hanford Reservation - and a large number of ewes delivered deformed or stillborn lambs. Both before and after the Green Run, families on those farms gave birth to babies with deformities and other birth defects, and later suffered from multiple health problems, including sterility. In the thinly-populated area closest to Hanford, which came to be known as the "Death Mile," more than 60 men and women began dying of heart attacks or cancers before reaching the age of 60.(40) After more than three decades, Hanford downwinders finally learned about the Green Run and the probable cause of their hair losses, anemias, unexplained fatigue, and reproductive disasters, all common symptoms of radiation poisoning.

Many Hanford victims lived far from the Reservation - one is June Stark Casey. In 1949 June Stark was a student at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, 50 miles from the Hanford Reservation. That year, fatigue and chills suddenly struck her during Christmas break, followed by permanent loss of her long, natural curly hair.(41) Throughout her life, she has suffered from severe hypothyroidism, a miscarriage and a stillbirth, multiple tumors in various organs, skin and breast cancers, and a chronic degenerative spine disorder. Not until 1986 did she discover that Green Run radiation had blanketed Walla Walla on December 2, 1949.(42)  

Irradiating the Columbia River

To make plutonium, uranium is bombarded with neutrons in nuclear reactors, releasing great heat - and creating a great need for cooling. Accordingly, Hanford's nine weapons reactors were built on the banks of the Columbia River so that each reactor could draw cooling water out of the river. Huge volumes of water passed through the vessels, exchanging heat, but also picking up small amounts of uranium, plutonium, and various other radioactive waste. Ultimately the water got pumped back to its source,(43) gushing unknown quantities of radioactive liquid and other toxic chemicals from Hanford's nine reactors directly into the Columbia River.

Without seeking evidence to validate their belief, Hanford's atomic scientists assumed that all the dumped waste - radioactive and otherwise - would be diluted by the larger volume of Columbia River water, and eventually would disappear downstream into the Pacific ocean. Unfortunately, this hypothesis - dubbed the "dilution solution" - turned out to be incorrect. Plants and animals are nature's pollution collectors, and by about 1960, scientists began realizing that natural processes result in the exact opposite of dilution. Tiny plants and animals in the river bottom absorb heavy radioactive contaminants and toxic chemicals, concentrating the contaminants in their organs and tissues.(44) Larger crayfish, and eventually bony fish, eat the contaminated aquatic plants and animals. The larger fish higher up the food chain, beloved targets of both subsistence and sports fishermen, must eat quite large amounts of the smaller fish and plants to grow. Their flesh can contain radioactive and toxic concentrations to levels as much as 170,000 times greater than can be detected in the river water.(45)

Hanford's wastes have become concentrated in highly radioactive fish, a risk to humans who might eat them - and especially to Native Americans who traditionally live by fishing the Columbia River.(46) Plants also concentrate radioactive metals. In the late 1990's, the public-interest Government Accountability Project (GAP) collected mulberry plants along Columbia River tributaries, upstream from the pipes that take drinking water for Richland, Washington, out of the river. GAP reported finding high levels of radioactive strontium and thorium in those mulberry plants.(47)

Plutonium manufacturing creates wastes with much higher radioactivity than reactor coolant waters. In the early 1950's the bomb scientists held yet another untested belief - that soils would absorb and hold plutonium and other highly radioactive wastes. Blinded by their faith, the scientists did not even try to isolate plutonium-production wastes from the environment or find ways to prevent them from contaminating land before testing the idea. Hanford managers approved pouring more than 340 billion gallons of liquid wastes - equivalent to 7,000 Exxon Valdez tankers - directly into the ground at more than 1,200 individual sites. They dumped some wastes into "disposal" ponds and ditches near the reactors, where the groundwater table lies close to the surface.(48) Leakage from these disposal sites contaminated both soil and groundwater with tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen, as well as chromium and other toxic materials.

Groundwater generally does not sit around, but moves through soil and rock under the influence of gravity, eventually surfacing at a spring, stream, or river. Groundwater also may be pumped to the surface in a well. Since the days of dumping, Hanford's contaminated groundwater has rapidly traversed the very short distance from plutonium-production reactors to the Columbia River.(49)

At the same time that Hanford scientists dumped so-called low-level radioactive liquid wastes directly into the ground, they sealed the really hot high-level wastes in buried tanks, designed to prevent leaks into the soil and water. At Hanford and the Idaho (INEEL) site, approximately 65 million gallons of high-level wastes with a total radioactivity of 399 million curies - nearly 4 times the officially-reported Chernobyl release - are still stored in tanks as liquids, part-liquid and part-solid sludge, and solids.(50) One hundred and seventy-seven radioactive-waste-filled underground tanks are buried at the "200 East and West sites," near the Hanford Reservation's geographic center. Sixty-seven of the tanks have leaked, draining between 600,000 and 900,000 gallons of radioactive pollution into the ground(51) - enough to fill 4 to 6 railroad tanker cars. The leaks allowed radioactive technetium-99, cesium-137, and cobalt-60 in liquid waste to seep through the 300 feet-thick relatively dry unsaturated zone of soils and fractured rock above the water table, and into groundwater.

Adding to the accidental leaks, between 1946 and 1966 Hanford bomb makers ran out of storage room in tanks and intentionally poured more than 120 million gallons of liquid wastes from the tanks directly into the ground. Dumped into ditches called "specific retention trenches," these wastes contained more than 150 million pounds of corrosive chemicals, enough to fill 75 railroad cars, along with materials having total radioactivity of more than 65,000 curies.(52)

"Scientific" calculations predicted that the plutonium-production wastes would stay near the surface and not reach groundwater.(53) Once again these calculations were based on unchallenged beliefs instead of evidence - and once again they were wrong. The result of all these disposal and storage failures is an estimated 370 billion gallons of groundwater with various radioactive and other hazardous contaminants beneath the Hanford waste site - enough to fill the Great Salt Lake nearly 5 times.(54) Toxic plumes carrying radioactive cesium-137, cobalt-60, strontium-90, europium-154, as well as uranium-235, uranium-238, and many noxious nonradioactive substances, are still migrating downward into the ground. Once the plumes reach groundwater, they will flow with it toward the Columbia River, where they may be taken into the food chain.(55)

Little monitoring data are available for the central Hanford waste site's spreading contaminant plumes in unsaturated soil and rock above the water table. Accurate information about the leaks depends on an adequate number of well-located monitoring wells, drilled deeply enough to monitor the moving pollution. But the scientists had assumed that hazardous contaminants would not spread far, nor penetrate very deep beneath the surface, so they drilled the monitoring wells only 100-150 feet deep, just halfway through the unsaturated zone. As a result, the minimum depth of the plumes is largely unknown - but tests of groundwater wells near the disposal areas show that they have reached the water table at about 300 feet below the surface. The plumes have advanced at least 500 feet from the leaking tanks, but may have gone farther. The contamination plumes' positions are tracked by only measuring gamma-emitting radionuclides, which move slower through soil than technetium-99 and some other alpha-emitting materials. The locations of faster-moving pollutants around the leaking tanks remains unknown.(55)

Before the 1960's, DOE formulated disposal policies on untested assumptions that hazardous radioactive wastes would not reach groundwater in less than 10,000 years.(56) Monitoring has shown to the contrary that Hanford's hazardous radioactive contamination is in the groundwater and is destined to reach the Columbia River in a few decades or less. Tritium plumes, also carrying ruthenium-106, reached groundwater at Hanford's 200 East and West sites in the 1940s,(57) and by 1963, the plumes were detected in a well close to the Columbia River.(58) Just like any other hydrogen atom, radioactive tritium combines with oxygen to make water molecules - it is the most mobile radioactive contaminant in groundwater.(59) The well water's 1963 tritium concentrations were twice the safe drinking water standard, but between 1972 and 1982 they increased to a level ten times higher than the standard allowed.(60) Closer to their origin at the 200-sites, the tritium plumes have concentrations a thousand times greater than safe drinking water standards.

By 1983 the tritium-containing plumes had entered the Columbia River, demonstrating that groundwater actually takes a maximum of 10 or 20 years to move the 14 miles from the 200-site contamination source to the river. The time for ruthenium to migrate 14 miles is now estimated at 7 to 8 years, while the faster-traveling tritium takes only 6 to 7 years(61). These pollutant "travel-times" require speeds of about a half a mile to 2.5 miles per year, much faster than the "thousands of years" estimates that DOE scientists had calculated before finding tritium in the Columbia River. Building on their already-poor record, the Department of Energy has attempted even to discredit recent findings that dangerous radioactive contamination already polluted the Columbia River.(62)

In future, the Columbia River is likely to become increasingly contaminated - and for their own safety, citizens need to question official assurances that all is well. Hanford's tritium groundwater plumes are only the first arrivals in a gruesome race. Slower-moving plumes carry other toxic substances, such as nonradioactive carbon tetrachloride (CCl4), nitrates, cyanide, arsenic, chloroform, trichloroethylene, and chromium - as well as highly hazardous radioactive materials, including undetermined mixtures of alpha- and beta-particle emitting substances,63 iodine-129, technetium-99, cesium-137, strontium-90, and uranium isotopes.(64) Hanford ditches and ponds apparently were dumps for highly toxic, long-lived plutonium-bearing wastes, along with numerous other radioactive and hazardous substances. In places, this plutonium contamination has reached groundwater.(65) Through so-called "reverse wells," plutonium also was injected directly into groundwater. The ways that plutonium might spread, and the risks it could pose in future, are largely unknown(66) - it could be carried beyond the Hanford Reservation in air, water, or in animals and plants, exposing large human populations to a highly toxic hazard.

 

Nevada Test Site, on Ancestral Shoshone Lands

The Cold War, atom bomb "tests" kept antagonists notified of U.S. power. At first, Pacific islands and atolls supplied the bombing targets, but detonating atom bombs so far from the mainland required complex transportation and logistics - and some island populations had to be resettled. Largely to save money, the Cold War's atomic bombing relocated to U.S. soil, at the 865,000-acre Nevada Test Site (NTS), adjoining World War II Nellis Air Force Base. Created in 1951, the huge NTS cut into ancestral Western Shoshone lands that the U.S. government had formally ceded to the Indian people in the 1863 Treaty of Ruby Valley. Sparsely-populated Nevada lands must have seemed remote enough in the late 1940s to absorb giant explosions and dissipate threatening radiation clouds. "They were looking for open space on public lands, and as far as they were concerned Indian lands were free for the taking," says Janet Gordon, a Western Shoshone woman. "It's happened since the beginning of this nation -- that is, a throwaway exploitation of open spaces and of resources."(67)

The first decades of contact with whites had drastically reduced the Western Shoshone population, but eventually the native people adapted settler lifestyles and stayed.(68) They are still there - and still fighting the American government for their domains, in spite of indescribable abuse to the land, which still continues. One hundred nuclear bombs, exploded either at the ground surface or in the atmosphere, have devastated vast areas of the Shoshone's land surface inside the NTS. More than 800 underground tests have turned tracts into a whole-earth version of Swiss cheese.(69 ) Another source of extensive radioactive contamination - both above and below ground - comes from failed radioactive waste "disposal." In all, radioactivity contaminates approximately 565 million cubic feet of soil, sediment, and rock on the riverless NTS and 280,000 cubic feet of groundwater.70, 71 Radioactive wastes buried in landfills and boreholes amounted to nearly 10 million curies by January 1996 - 4 times the minimum amount of radioactivity released in the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant melt downs. An unknown amount of radioactive and chemical wastes also are buried at 1,800 so-called "industrial sites," including leach fields, sumps, disposal wells, leaking tanks and others. DOE expects to identify another 1,500 industrial-site disposal areas.(72)

Atmospheric nuclear bomb tests spewed radioactive contaminants into the air until 1963. Nuclear bomb test contamination - including fallout from atmospheric blasts - covers the NTS and large areas outside its boundaries. Either inadvertently or by design, some of the later underground tests blew away capping rock and soil, contaminating the air and local ground surface. In addition, 828 below-ground nuclear tests blasted out subterranean cavities, which remain thoroughly permeated with radionuclides.(73)

Uninformed and worse, assured of radiation's benign character by their government, ordinary Nevadans, Utahns, and New Mexicans lived under hot radioactive fallout, rained upon them and their cars, homes, ranches, and businesses from bomb radiation clouds, for more than a decade. Characterized in an Atomic Energy Commission memo as "a low-use segment of the population,"(74) citizens downwind from the nuclear bombing ranges were chosen as victims to spare the large population centers of southern California. Nevada bomb tests were scheduled for times when winds would not blow radioactive clouds toward Los Angeles(75) - but many of the airborne contaminants spread nationally and globally.(76) In spite of precautions, wind shifts even carried radioactive clouds over Los Angeles. Both western and eastern United States seaboards(77) - and many areas between - were irradiated, making downwinders of all Americans.

The days prior to 1963 were heady times for atomic scientists and no one was watching. At least 33 early NTS nuclear explosions in the atmosphere, called "safety" or "equation of state" experiments, now seem as unbelievable as plot devices in horror films. Experimenters blew up packages of plutonium and uranium with high explosives "...to determine the size and distribution of plutonium particles which might result from fires and conventional explosive accidents involving nuclear weapons".(78) Although the scientists could have traced plutonium dispersal patterns using a non-radioactive material with similar physical characteristics, they chose instead to dust more than 3,000 acres with plutonium and other dangerous contaminants, having radioactivity in excess of 40 picocuries per gram (pCi/g see endnote 26 - capable of causing significant health problems.(79) A level of 10 pCi/g is considered a lethal dose.

Inventories of radioactivity in surface soils as of January 1, 1990, suggest a total greater than 2,000 curies within the NTS.(80) More than half of that total is plutonium from nuclear bomb tests and the equation of state experiments.(81) The soils surrounding the NTS contain plutonium dust from atmospheric fallout over an area at least 78 miles wide by 96 miles long. An unspecified number of NTS blasts, called "hydronuclear" tests for reasons unknown to the present authors, were detonated in shallow boreholes, less than 100 feet deep. Like the above-ground "safety" tests, the hydronuclear tests explosively permeated the surrounding area with plutonium. The test results are still classified, so nobody has ever investigated the extent of pollution, contaminant migration, or possible remedies.(82) Meanwhile, underground subcritical(83) tests continue to contaminate rock and soil at the NTS.

During some "safety" tests, animals were held in cages near or "downwind from the sites - chained in areas certain to be contaminated by radioactive fallout...to determine biological uptake of dispersed plutonium particles by various species -- "(84) Other experiments put caged test animals into previously-contaminated areas. Any survivors were later killed and dissected. Having pleasant dispositions, beagles were favorite experimental subjects, but radioactive beagle carcasses have posed a decades-long waste-disposal problem. Hapless beagles are still "advancing knowledge" about how radioactivity affects animals: train loads of contaminated beagle carcasses from experimental stations, including the University of California at Davis, are sent to the Hanford Site for disposal as radioactive waste.

Inadvertently, atomic blasts at NTS also tested hot radiation effects on higher life forms. Clouds of radioactive fallout from atmospheric bomb tests sickened both the holdout Western Shoshone and newer settlers alike, on ranches across southern Nevada and southwestern Utah, and in neighboring Las Vegas. After the 1953 Upshot-Knothole series of bombings, Utah townspeople in Cedar City and St. George, as well as sheepherders and their sheep, experienced skin burns and their hair fell out. Other plagues included anemia, gum and jaw deterioration, miscarriages, and stillbirths. Live births of both human children and farm animals displayed high rates of physical defects.(85)

Before 1953, leukemias had been nearly unknown in southwestern Utah, but after 1956 various leukemias appeared, devastating the populations of St. George and Cedar City.(86) In Nevada close to the NTS, relatives of Janet Gordon and other Western Shoshone were herding sheep on the range during a bomb test. Janet Gordon's brother rode his horse through what appeared to be a ground fog - as she remembered, "my brother was sick all night - his hair came out in patches, the wool came out on the sheep, the horse died. Of the eight men that were at the camp with my brother, six of them have died from some cancer."(87)

Radioactive contamination from the "safety" test areas prohibits most human uses of Shoshone lands on the NTS for hundreds of generations.(88) In acknowledging this sacrifice of sacred Native land, the U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration (predecessor of DOE) issued an example of inverted history:

"The above ground areas where safety experiments have been conducted in the past offer unique sites for studies of the behavior of plutonium in the natural desert environment. Recognizing this, the Nevada Operations Office intentionally has preserved these sites."

 

Irradiating Nevada's Groundwater

Long-distance radionuclide transport also takes place in groundwater.(89) A direct result of the 828 underground bomb explosions groundwater is contaminated with radioactivity at as many as 316 of the test sites. Bombs were set off close to or below the water table, lying 500 to more than 2,000 feet below the surface. An estimated 110 million curies of radioactive contaminants, about equivalent to the minimum Chernobyl release estimate, melted into the rocks surrounding explosion cavities, both in water-saturated rock below and unsaturated rock immediately above the water table.(90) The materials include tritium, plutonium, and myriad radioactive by-products from breaking up (fissioning) plutonium atoms in nuclear bomb blasts. The other 512 underground blasts left nearly 200 million curies of tritium and plutonium fission products, and approximately 4,400 pounds of unfissioned plutonium, in unsaturated rock and soil.

In addition to radionuclides, the bomb tests added huge amounts of hazardous nonradioactive materials to NTS rock and soil. No comprehensive inventory is available, but a single underground test can involve more than 125,000 pounds of lead, along with a wide variety of other toxic metals, plus smaller amounts of other inorganic and organic chemicals. A subterranean material is hazardous only if humans can come into contact with it - and some argue that the presence of lead in large amounts is relatively harmless until it enters groundwater, or is mined and exposed to rain and wind.(91) Many, including the present writers, would argue that toxic metals spread intentionally in the environment cannot be considered harmless. In the case of NTS, detonating so many bombs uncomfortably close to - or even below - the water table, put huge amounts of toxic materials into direct contact with groundwater. These hazardous materials remain toxic forever, whereas many radionuclides quickly decay completely to become non-radioactive.

Not surprisingly, atomic bombing at the Nevada Test Site led to the lasting Cold War legacy of radioactive contamination plumes in flowing groundwater deep beneath the surface. About two-thirds of the radioactivity from underground tests lies in the rocks beneath Pahute and Rainier Mesas, in the northwestern part of the NTS. Unfortunately, the mesas are located on the shortest inferred groundwater pathways between the NTS and nearby populated areas.(92) The contaminated water is carrying pollutants toward NTS boundaries on a heading that will eventually take them to Oasis Valley, where community wells pump groundwater for drinking and irrigating crops. Continuing in the same direction will take them to the tourist Mecca of Death Valley, where all drinking water comes from wells.(93) Plutonium is reported in groundwater close to the northwestern edge of the NTS, also, along with huge tritium concentrations.(94)

NTS scientists never anticipated that groundwater might carry plutonium away from bomb sites, because most plutonium compounds do not dissolve easily in pure water. Instead, they expected that any plutonium molecules getting into groundwater would be "sorbed"(95) - caught and held - by zeolite alteration minerals in the deep volcanic rocks where the bombs exploded. In fact, the scientists had chosen those rocks for underground bomb tests mostly because of their zeolite contents. And the zeolites did catch and attach to plutonium - but once again, the untested, perhaps even unexpressed, expectation that zeolites would stay within the rocks turned out to be devastatingly wrong. We now know that insoluble plutonium is carried into groundwater exactly because it is easily sorbed by zeolite-derived "colloids" - tiny dust-sized particles so small that they resist settling out of water.

Volcanic rocks are common on the NTS, and wherever they contain abundant zeolite minerals, zeolite-colloids are abundant in the groundwater.(96) Any NTS soils derived from zeolite-bearing volcanic rock are likely to be rich in zeolites also, and are likely to shed plutonium-transporting colloids from bomb-contaminated sites. Plutonium can also disperse without colloids, through other bomb-produced water-soluble radioisotopes, which decay to plutonium isotopes—curium-244 decays to plutonium-240, for example.(97) Once plutonium-carrying colloids in NTS groundwater reach the surface at springs or from wells, strong winds can blow the extremely tiny dried colloidal particles and their hitch-hiking radionuclides for hundreds of miles.

To prevent the colloids from spreading underground bomb-test radioactivity, in 1997 DOE's Environmental Restoration Division evaluated perhaps the most bizarre "cleanup" schemes ever imagined for remediating the contaminated NTS area. Alternatives included drilling hundreds of wells to remove clean groundwater on a regional scale before it could enter the contaminated area, and pumping it back into the ground downslope from the contamination. Pumping would have to continue for thousands of years. Another alternative proposed excavating approximately 3.5 trillion cubic feet of contaminated materials from the detonation zones, leaving myriad open pits, then "treating" the materials and eventually reburying them in the excavations. The second scheme would cost the tidy sum of $7.3 trillion in 1990's dollars.(98)

Ironically, in 2002 Congress approved Yucca Mountain—a tract of land neighboring the NTS—for "disposal" of high-level radioactive reactor waste from nuclear power plants. The Yucca Mountain site was selected because it, too, is made mostly from zeolite-rich volcanic rock.

 

So Many More

At the other major atomic sites, principally Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL), Idaho; Rocky Flats Environmental Technology Site, Colorado; Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories, New Mexico; and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, California (Fig. MCB-1), more than 12 million cubic feet of radioactive waste lie buried in trenches or pumped into the ground.(99) We know that the nuclear weapons program massively polluted land and water at these sites - but little information is available about the actual locations of many highly toxic materials. For example, at many nuclear weapons facilities the amounts and in some cases even the location of buried transuranic wastes - radioactive materials heavier than uranium 100 - remain unknown. Available estimates of transuranic waste volumes and radioactivity at three of the western U.S. nuclear weapons facilities vary wildly.(101)

The only comprehensive attempt to track historical records on buried transuranic waste at INEEL102 revised a prevailing estimate of 73,300 curies upward to an uncertain figure between 640,000 and 900,000 curies - in comparison, the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombs together produced 1 million curies of radiation. Nobody knows how much plutonium is in the ground at INEEL - or where it is, or where it might be headed, how fast it might get there, or where it is likely to turn up hundreds of years from now. Plutonium and other contaminants at INEEL probably have left the reservation in rainstorm runoff, on dust particles carried in wind storms,103 and attached to ash from fires similar to the ones that plagued both Los Alamos and Hanford in the spring of 2000.(104) An unknown but almost certainly large amount of radioactive and hazardous wastes are in the unsaturated zone above groundwater at INEEL and other sites, episodically migrating to aquifers or to fracture zones, which spread them through the ground over long distances.(105)

Plutonium and other contaminants continue to move beyond reservation boundaries at Los Alamos National Laboratory, New Mexico; and Rocky Flats, Colorado, about 15 miles northwest of Denver, Colorado. Tests showed that the soil over more than a 19 square mile area around the Rocky Flats reservation can have plutonium concentrations as much as 380 times above natural background levels.(106) More than 2 million people live within a 50 mile radius of the Rocky Flats site, and new towns such as Superior, Colorado, are springing up within sight of Rocky Flats. DOE's proposed cleanup standard for Rocky Flats could leave "unprecedented levels of plutonium - at the site," but would require preventing all future public access.(107) Unfortunately, leaving large amounts of plutonium exposed to natural forces will eventually expose the public to it - already plutonium particles small enough to be breathed into the lungs are found in soils southeast, toward Denver, from Rocky Flats.

Fires at Rocky Flats wafted plutonium to the atmosphere in 1957 and 1969. Accidental spills and leaks from corroding waste barrels, stored outdoors until 1968, have also released plutonium.(108) The nearby Lowry landfill illegally received radioactive Rocky Flats waste water, probably containing plutonium109 - but as the world entered a new millennium, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was moving to downgrade the hazard level classification for Rocky Flats waste at Lowry landfill. The downgrade would allow radioactive liquids to be dumped into public sewers, to flow into nearby rivers - or would mix them directly into irrigation water, and then into food and groundwater. Solid radioactive wastes are to be mixed with sewage sludge and sold as fertilizers, which could be spread on thousands of farms, efficiently delivering radioactive contamination to our doorsteps and our tables.(109)

 

Coverups and Carelessness

To preserve a positive image for atomic industry, private companies and agencies of the U.S. government have denied the radioactive leaks from bomb plants and covered up the consequences of bomb-plant workers' and U.S. servicemen's deadly radiation exposures. The government and industry also covered up their refusal to warn threatened populations, or distribute radioactive iodine to minimize the risk of thyroid disease.(110) When coverups proved inadequate, government authorities denied that the radioactive fallout could have harmed downwind populations, forcing disabled and dying radiation victims into decades of costly lawsuits. Not until January, 2000, did the U.S. admit that radiation had killed nuclear weapons workers.(111) Until faced with high cancer rates among "atomic veterans," the U.S. government would not acknowledge the link between their illnesses and their radiation exposures until the late 90's and even more recently.(112) In the new millennium, many irradiated soldiers with lifelong disabilities remain unacknowledged as victims of exposure to atomic bomb radiation. Hallmarks of the nation's nuclear weapons program have been and still are extraordinarily sloppy record-keeping, careless handling of deadly materials, and blind faith in nature's ability to absorb any abuse. Past plans for monitoring buried wastes, as well as responses to public concerns, display a common set of attitudes:

--- minimization ("It won't hurt you; it won't go far"),

--- denial ("no evidence of contaminationn; we know what we're doing"), and

--- rationalization ("war is Hell, and reequires sacrifices").

In 1953, Dr. Billings Brown was teaching chemical engineering at Brigham Young University in the northern Utah town of Provo. He left after 6 years - but in 1955, during the atmospheric tests, Dr. Brown had recorded high radiation levels in northern Utah with a Geiger counter, finding readings that he believed exceeded the tolerance level for children. While working for the Pentagon's Institute for Events Analysis in 1968, he became worried about government-sponsored cancer studies that considered northern Utah a low-fallout area, and used that population as the normal "control" group for comparisons with southern Utah's cancer rates. Using northern Utah for the cancer study control had purposely hidden fallout levels in northern Utah and allowed the government to claim a lower-than normal cancer rate for southern Utah. Dr. Brown recalled, "Dr. Joseph 'Lynn' Lyon, Chief of the Division of Epidemiology of the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Utah and codirector of the Utah Cancer Registry, headed cancer studies of southern Utah residents that, to his surprise, showed that there was a three-fold increase in leukemia."(113)

Until recently, DOE continuously denied the widespread dumping of radioactive materials that went on during the Cold War.(114) Only in the 1990's, under the open information policy of Hazel O'Leary, Secretary of Energy from 1993 to 1996, did DOE release factual documents on unanticipated radioactive waste dispersal in the environment, to the public's great benefit.(115) The present authors obtained most of the information in this chapter because of Secretary O'Leary's wish to fully inform Americans about all aspects of the atomic century. But the pattern of obscuring nuclear projects and their consequences resumed after she left office.

Even in the new millennium, in spite of numerous demonstrations to the contrary, established monitoring "systems" for radioactive waste sites still don't track radionuclides in soils and groundwater, because of widespread denial among scientists that radioactive materials can move very far, very fast, and need comprehensive monitoring. The recent history of radioactive wastes at Hanford Nuclear Reservation alone vindicates the contention that no adequate method has ever been found for safe disposal or retention of moderately- to highly-radioactive wastes. But today nobody can deny that bomb fallout, along with plutonium and strontium-90 contaminated sediments, have been redistributed by wind and water erosion, and are found globally in land and marine sediments.(116) Seabirds apparently are getting contaminated with radioactive isotopes, from eating contaminated fish, shrimp, and small crabs that live in oceanic sediments. The radioactive material becomes concentrated in the birds feces, which are deposited back on shore in the bird's droppings. Some of the radioactivity may come from natural oceanic sources, but radioactive concentrations in bird droppings have never been reported before 2003 - so the bulk must come from radioactive materials dumped at sea, especially in the Arctic, and from nuclear power plant accidents.(117)

The financial cost of the U.S. nuclear weapons program from 1940 through 1996 is nearly $5.5 trillion (in constant 1996 dollars).118 The future costs of storage and disposal of accumulated wastes, of dismantling nuclear weapons, and disposing of dangerous surplus materials, will bring the total to at least $5.8 trillion. But even this astronomical figure still omits the cost of solving the worst environmental problems arising from weapons manufacture - keeping the radioactive contamination from spreading, and cleaning up land and surface and underground water. If we fail to solve nuclear problems created in the 20th century, additional lives will be sacrificed. Future costs also may have to include whatever comes of the U.S. government's 2002 plan to resume nuclear weapons production and testing.

DOE's solution is to simply reclassify stored high-level wastes as low-level so that nothing need be done with them, or to "reindustrialize" and "remanufacture" them.(119) In 2000, a popular outcry greeted the U.S. Department of the Interior's announcement of a reindustrialization plan to sell 6,000 tons of radioactive nickel for remanufacture into steel for making I-beams, automobiles, jewelry, silverware, and even leg braces and hip replacements - in the absence of safety standards to protect human health.(120) In 2001, the Department of Transportation proposed rule HM-251D that exempts radioactive materials and wastes from labeling and regulation in interstate commerce, bringing Americans closer to everyday contact with ever larger amounts of radioactive materials.

The devastating illness dubbed "Gulf War syndrome," and cancers arising in NATO troops may be traceable, in part, to modern weapons containing depleted uranium - again warning humanity to be concerned about radiation risks.(121) The official responses to Gulf War syndrome, refusing to issue either warnings or admissions, again show that the U.S. government cares little about individual Americans' lives even as we brace for Gulf War syndrome II from the Iraq invasion and subsequent rebellions.(122) Developing nuclear bunker busters and an anti-missile defensive system both are likely to increase bomb tests, swelling and prolonging the threat.

 

Summary

Atomic radiation, once released, is a diabolical gift that keeps on giving. What we don't know can hurt us. The American public does not fully comprehend the immensely long times that radioactive contamination from military activities in the western U.S. will persist in its land and water. Even scientists are only beginning to appreciate that the damages are not now contained, and never can be - because animals and humans continually interact with water, soils, and with the plant and bacterial life supported by the water and soils - and with the physical forces that shape the earth.

In the 1960s, '70s, and '80s the grotesque results of hasty decisions and untested assumptions by military and civilian federal authorities arose to haunt us all, while the officials minimized and rationalized the problems, and denied their responsibility. Bombs mangled wild ecosystems and bomb plants leaked hazardous materials into the land, water, and air, exposing hundreds of nuclear industry workers and military personnel to radioactive and otherwise toxic compounds. Their very occupations undermined their health, and the toxic exposures truncated their livelihoods by forcing them into early retirement, and finally killing them.(123) Hundreds more people on farms and ranches or in towns near the bomb-production or test sites were exposed to bomb fallout and purposeful accidental radioactive releases. In the late 1940's and early 1950's, healthy downwinder families suddenly lost their livestock, experienced high rates of miscarriage or deformed babies, and later developed high rates of occupational disabilities followed by cancers and other debilitating-to-fatal diseases. The cancers and disabilities have dogged their children and subsequent generations.(124)

Radiation exposures build up in bodies, and everybody in the world has been exposed to increased levels of radioactivity since atomic bombs began going off around the earth. Unknown to many people who now live down river or downwind from a nuclear reservation, radioactive pollution in rivers and in blown dust still raises the level of radiation exposure in their environment - for them, additional exposures to dental or other therapeutic radiation could be hazardous. Dumps that received such long-lived radionuclides as uranium and plutonium will be hazardous for tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of years - long enough for contaminated groundwater to travel long distances and become concentrated in the water supplies of population centers. Future plans for radioactive waste disposal partake of all these past sins.

Sequential news coverage of random dumping, sloppy and inadequate disposal at radioactive waste dumps, of radioactive mine tailings converted into construction materials, and radioactive waste in landfills under housing sites, have already produced national scandals. Ongoing projects to blindly bury radioactive waste, add it to sewage sludge, or put radioactive metals into steel for domestic purposes and personal use, will thrust even more manmade radiation into the air, water, and soil, exposing people throughout the United States, who mistakenly believe they are safe in their own living rooms and kitchens. But the increasing waste volumes, and the expense of maintaining disposal sites, will give this monstrous idea multiple resurrections.

Who knows where future Americans will live and congregate, or what resources they will be forced to seek in a future of depletion? Future populations may be subjected to large radioactive exposure in drinking water and (or) in food grown with contaminated irrigation water on former atomic test and bomb factory areas. Of the 144 sites in the United States that played roles in developing and producing nuclear weapons, 109 will never be cleaned up to a condition allowing unrestricted uses. The large reservations covered in this chapter, plus Oak Ridge Tennessee, Savannah River, South Carolina, Los Alamos, New Mexico, and others, are sacrifice zones. Isolating these areas will create more problems, because the techniques and knowledge needed to protect them from public access for the centuries to millennia that they will remain dangerous simply do not exist.

Generally, we cannot predict future risks with any confidence because we do not understand the long-term fate of toxic and radioactive wastes in the environment - any more than we understand the likely long-term success of engineered barriers for isolating them. Institutional land use or access restrictions and physical barriers such as fences, signs, monuments, and the like, are notoriously prone to failure.(125) Whether the nation has the will to protect the public from these contaminated and life-threatening lands will only be known in retrospect.

The only solution that leaps at us is to cease producing the wastes that we cannot now cope with. Unlike plutonium dust on the ground surface, we really cannot fix contaminated groundwater, we can only stop producing the contaminants. The Department of Energy's "solution" of "maintain[ing] institutional control in perpetuity" over contaminated groundwater(126) to prevent anyone in the future from tapping a contaminated water source, is futile. It may seem better than making Americans eat radioactive wastes, but groundwater does not sit around waiting for solutions - it flows through rocks, carrying contaminants along, or providing a medium that lets the contaminants migrate through. As the waters flow, the boundaries of "institutional control" must continually expand.

Continued "subcritical tests" that release plutonium into the environment, and renewing nuclear bomb test programs, will create additional wastes. Today there is no clear need to develop and test nuclear weapons in violation of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.(127) They will not obstruct terrorists and thus do not reflect clear national needs. Renewed funding for making nuclear weapons parts and expanding weapons research edges the nation toward abrogating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.(128) The twin atomic devastations of Hiroshima's and Nagasaki's civilian populations still tarnish the U.S.'s World War II record. What, if anything, could be said retrospectively about unprovoked nuclear bombing of civilian populations? The example of the United States using nuclear weapons for pre-emptive strikes could unleash the nuclear holocaust so feared throughout the Cold War.

In remarks to the Special Canadian Parliament, Joint Senate-House Committee on Foreign Affairs, March 11, 1999, General Butler declared:

"What I have come to believe is that the amassing of nuclear capability to the level of such grotesque excess as we witnessed between the United States and the Soviet Union over the period of the 50 years of the Cold War, was as much a product of fear, and ignorance and greed, and ego and power, and turf and dollars, as it was about the seemingly elegant theories of deterrence."

So far, the only other victims of atomic war have been our own people. Before the nation engages in another nuclear buildup that could again compromise the lives of American citizens and soldiers, the past sacrifices of lives and lands ought to be thoroughly reviewed - and the continuing threats acknowledged. If the facts are not embraced, another grim toll could again be exacted from ordinary Americans, who just unfortunately happen to be in the way, at their jobs and in their own homes. How many more could be terrifyingly sacrificed, to a so-called "war on terror"?

With all of our experience, the federal agencies cannot agree among themselves what level of human-generated radiation exposure is safe enough.(129) In land-use policy and decision-making, and attempts to cut waste disposal costs, informed citizens must realize that we are all downwinders, and join with other atomic victims in requiring national leaders to focus on the critical long-term consequences to human health of bomb-making and of bombing our lands. As Corbin Harney, Spiritual Leader of the Western Shoshone Nation, has said:

"It's in our backyard...it's in our front yard. This nuclear contamination is shortening all life. We're going to have to unite as a people and say no more! We, the people, are going to have to put our thoughts together to save our planet here. We only have One Water...One Air...One Mother Earth."(130)

 

Endnotes

1. J.O. Lubenau and D.J. Strom, Safety and Security of Radiation Sources in the Aftermath of 11 September 2001, Health Physics 83 (August 2002): 155-164. P.E. Tyler, Villagers Used Nuclear Barrels for Water, New York Times (June 8, 2003); John Hendren and Tyler Marshall, Looters of Nuke Facility Show Signs of Radiation Poisoning, Los Angeles Times (May 21, 2003).

2. U.S. Departments of the Air Force, Navy, and Interior, Special Nevada Report, Submitted in Accordance with Public Law 99-606, Prepared by Science Applications International Corp. and Desert Research Inst., DE-AC08-88NV10715 (1991), 713 p.; U.S. Department of Energy, Estimating the Cold War Mortgage, U.S. Department of Energy, v. II: Site summaries (March 1995), 740 p.; U.S. Department of Energy, Implementation Plan for the Nevada Test Site Environmental Impact Statement, U.S. Department of Energy, DOE/NV-390, UC-700, Revision O (1995), 119 p.; U.S. Department of Energy, The 1996 Baseline Environmental Management Report, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management, v. II (1996), 150 p., v. III, 625 p.; U.S. Department of Energy, Focused Evaluation of Selected Remedial Alternatives for the Underground Test Area, U.S. Department of Energy, DOE/NV-465 (1997), 121 p.

3. Natural background radiation comes from radioactive elements in natural soil and rocks, notably potassium-40; uranium-235 and uranium-238, plus thorium-232, and their radioactive decay products, such as radium-226. In rocks and soil, uranium is present as uranium-238, and contains only tiny amounts of the uranium-235 bomb-making isotope. The amount of natural radiation exposure depends on local rock and soil compositions. Radium contents are significant in some rocks—it decays to radioactive radon gas (radon-222), which can collect in tunnels and basements, and in turn decays relatively quickly to form molecule-sized radioactive dust particles, which can be breathed into the lungs. We also receive natural gamma radiation from the sun's cosmic rays. Air and space travelers, and even high altitude communities all have higher cosmic ray exposures than people living at sea level.

4. The 5 percent estimate of cancer risk from natural background radiation comes from official government sources. (National Academies of Sciences, National Research Council, Health Effects of Exposure to Low Levels of Ionizing Radiation: BEIR V (Washington, DC, National Academy Press 1990), 436 p.) Higher estimates come from studies on the effects of low level exposures to radiation plant workers (Beatie Ritz, Radiation Exposure and Cancer Mortality in Uranium Processing Workers, Epidemiology 10 (1999): 531-538; Steven Wing, C. Shy, J. Wood, S. Wolf, D. Cragle, and E. Frome, Mortality Among Workers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory— Evidence of Radiation Effects in Follow-Up Through 1984, Journal of the American Medical Association, 265 (1991): 1397-1402.)

5. Harvey Wasserman and Norman Solomon, Killing Our Own: The Disaster of America's Experience with Atomic Radiation (New York, Dell Publishing Co. 1982). [Online]. Available: www.ratical.org/radiation/KillingOurOwn, Part II, Chapter 6.

6. Humans also introduced radiation by adding radium to luminous paint and pottery glazes. A major beta-particle radiation source is tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen from bomb- and power-plant wastes, especially in reactor wastewater (see endnote 59). The nuclear age has added exposures to purified sources of alpha emitters uranium, radium, and radon, and created stocks of plutonium, a highly flammable alpha-emitter. We receive additional gamma radiation in medical and dental X-rays.

7. U.S. Department of the Air Force, Final Environmental Assessment for Resumption of Use of Depleted Uranium Rounds at Nellis Air Force Range Target 63-10, U.S. Department of the Air Force (1998), 76 p.

8. Lehman's body contained about 2.3 x 10-7 ounces of radium, which he inhaled as dust while working in his laboratory (Catherine Caufield, Multiple Exposures—Chronicles of the Radiation Age (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1990), 34).

9. H. P. Metzger, The Atomic Establishment: (New York, Simon and Schuster, 1972) 80-81.

10. The dust is composed of solid radioactive particles derived from radioactive decay of radon gas—always present in uranium mines (Gunter Faure, Principles of Isotope Geology (New York, John Wiley and Sons, Second Edition, 1986), 285-286). As the radon decays, it produces solid daughter particles, including highly toxic polonium-210. In unventilated spaces, these tiny gas-derived solid dust particles hang in the air and are inhaled (Metzger, The Atomic Establishment, 118-119).

11. The story of Raymond Joe from Deborah Hastings, Associated Press (July 30, 2000); see Arjun Makhijani and S.I. Schwartz, Victims of the Bomb, in Atomic Audit, ed. S.I. Schwartz (Washington, D.C., Brookings Instiutution Press), 401-404.

12. Alex Shoumatoff, Legends of the American Desert—Sojourns in the Greater Southwest (New York, Harper Perennial, 1999), 477.

13. Michael D'Antonio, Atomic Harvest, (New York, Crown Publishers, Inc., 1993), 102.

14. Robert Alvarez, Energy in Decay, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, (May/June, 2000): 25-35.

15. Marie Curie (1867-1934) died of aplastic anemia, a form of leukemia, probably initiated by her long-term work with uranium-and-radium-bearing pitchblende (Caufield, Multiple Exposures, 23). Enrico Fermi (1901-1953) died of stomach cancer at the young age of 53 (S.E. Atkins, Historical Encyclopedia of Atomic Energy (Westport, Connecticut, Greenwood Press, 2000) 130-131; Although Richard Feynman (1918-1988), Nobel Prize-winning physicist and former Manhattan Project scientist, lived to the age of 70, toward the end of his life he developed multiple very rare cancers: abdominal myxoid liposarcoma, a cancer of soft fat and connective tissue was discovered in 1978 and recurred in 1981; Waldenström's macroglobulinemia, a rare bone marrow cancer, discovered in 1986; and in 1987 the rare abdominal cancer that killed him (James Gleick, Genius, the Life and Science of Richard Feynman (New York, Pantheon Books, 1992), 401-404; 417; 437).

16. Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE)—Final Report, U.S. Department of Energy, Document O-16-063416-4 (1995) 937. [Online]. Available: http://tis.eh.doe.gov/ohre/roadmap/achre/report.html.

17. Carole Gallagher, American Ground Zero (Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 1993), 1-108. This volume names and shows the faces of U.S. citizens whose lives were sacrificed in the development, testing, and experimentation with atomic bombs. "Atom bombs", such as the ones developed and used in World War II, are fission bombs because they contain a core of fissionable material such as uranium-235 or plutonium-239, having atoms with nucleii that split easily when bombarded with neutrons.

18. D'Antonio, Atomic Harvest, 102.

19. Wayne Brittenden, The Dragon that Slew St. George, British Broadcasting Corporation, U.S., 2001. Distribution through WAMU, American University. Soundprint Media Center www.soundprint.org, October 5, 2001.

20. Excerpts from the Nuclear Posture Review submitted to Congress December 31, 2001 indicated a desire to develop "A modern, responsive nuclear weapons sector of the infrastructure," including expanding the capacity to assemble nuclear warheads, and produce and certify nuclear triggers (plutonium pits); to resume tritium production. The posture would also provide flexibility to, among other things, allow nuclear destruction of hard and deeply buried targets; develop "...a revitalized nuclear weapons complex that will: ...be able, if directed, to design, develop, manufacture, and certify [i.e., test] new warheads in response to new national requirements; and maintain readiness to resume underground nuclear testing if required." Under the heading, The Comprehensive Test Ban, this Nuclear Posture Review asserts that "While the United States is making every effort to maintain the [nuclear bomb] stockpile without additional nuclear testing, this may not be possible for the indefinite future. Each year the DoD and DOE will reassess the need to resume nuclear testing and will make recommendations to the President. Nuclear nations have a responsibility to assure the safety and reliability of their own nuclear weapons." (Global Security, Nuclear Posture Review, Global Security (January 8, 2002). [Online]. Available: http://www.globalsecurity.org; see also excellent articles by Brice Smith, The "Usable" Nuke Strikes Back, Science for Democratic Action 11 (2003): 1-8, Arjun Makhijani and Lisa Ledwidge, Back to the Bad Old Days, Science for Democratic Action 11 (2003): 1, 9-13, 16; Julian Borger, Dr. Strangeloves Meet to Plan New Nuclear Era, The Gurdian (August 7, 2003); W.J. Broad, Facing a Second Nuclear Age, New York Times (August 3, 2003); David Malakoff, New Nukes Revive Old Debate, Science 301 (2003): 32-34; Natural Resources Defense Council, Faking Nuclear Restraint, Natural Resources Defense Council (December 2002). [Online]. Available: http://nrdc.org/nuclear/restraint/asp; see also Natural Resources Defense Council, The Moscow Treaty's Hidden Flaws, Natural Resources Defense Council (February 2003).

21. The bold plan to destroy substantial numbers of nuclear warheads turned into an agreement between Russia and the U.S. to warehouse them instead. "Destruction" and "liquidation" seem somehow incompatible with retention by both countries of their full in-hand nuclear arsenals, but President George W. Bush promised that "this treaty will liquidate the legacy of the Cold War" (D.E. Sanger, Russians, U.S. Agree to Nuke Arms Cuts, New York Times (May 14, 2002).

22. Joseph Biden, Bush Must Take Care Not to Raze Nuclear Firewall, Los Angeles Times (May 2002).

23. The more than 900,000 tons stored nationally include 645,000 tons of depleted uranium hexafluoride, 4,500 tons of lead, 45,800 tons of lithium, >19,000 tons of natural uranium, >8,100 tons of low enriched uranium, 192 tons of highly enriched uranium, 58 tons of plutonium, >1,900 tons of "Nuclear Materials Management and Safeguard System (NMMSS) materials, 170,000 tons of scrap metal, 20,800 cubic feet of sodium, 2,900 tons of spent nuclear fuel, 1,450 tons of chemicals, and about 10 million "pieces" of weapons components (U.S. Department of Energy, Taking Stock—A Look at the Opportunities and Challenges Posed by Inventories from the Cold War Era, U.S. Department of Energy, DOE/EM-0275, volume 1 (1996), Table 2-1).

24. Due to the complexity of radioactive emissions (Box MC-B 1) and different radiation levels of various radioactive materials, the units for expressing radioactive emissions and radiation hazards are numerous and difficult to explain, and also difficult to relate to English measurement units. (David Close and Lisa Ledwidge, Measuring Radiation: Devices and Methods, Science for Democratic Action, 8 (September 2000) 11-14). Radioactive releases are often expressed in curies, and in the 1940's, standards for human radiation exposures also were based on curies; for this reason, and for simplicity, we have chosen to use curies for expressing both emission levels and radiation doses. The unit is based on radium emissions and named for Marie Curie, the physicist who first isolated radium from masses of pitchblende uranium ore. A curie is the amount of radioactivity emitted by one gram (one-28th of an ounce) of radium every second. For other radioactive materials a curie is equal to the amount in which 3.7 x 1010 nuclear disintegrations occur per second. The amount of radioactivity declines as radioactive materials decay, so the total number of curies changes with time, resulting in progressive concentration of longer-lived radionuclides. The values given are based on the amounts remaining as of January 1, 1994. U.S. Department of Energy, Linking Legacies—Connecting the Cold War Nuclear Weapons Production Processes to Their Environmental Consequences, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management, DOE/EM-0319 (1997), 58.

25. This estimate of the Chernobyl (or Chornobyl) release is based on the commonly-cited low end figure of 100 million curies of radiation (with high end of 200 million), released over 10 days. The figures apparently were based on an official Soviet government underestimate of 80 million curies, adjusted to 10 days after the accident, by which time some of the shortest-lived isotopes had decayed to nothing (Richard Stone, Living in the Shadow of Chornobyl, Science 295 (2001) 420-421. An independent estimate of the initial Chernobyl release is 240 million curies of radioactive iodine and cesium (Z.A. Medvedev, The Legacy of Chernobyl (New York, W.W. Norton, 1990), 78).

26. Short-term observations of radium workers suggested that ingesting amounts of radium greater than 1.2 microcurie (one-millionth of a curie, equivalent to one-millionth of a gram of radium) can cause serious health effects—but Edwin Lehman (see endnote 7, above) died from ingesting only 2.3 x 10-7 ounces, a much smaller amount, equivalent to 8.1 x 10-9 (about 8 billionths) of a gram of radium. In 1941 the lifetime limit of allowable radiation exposure for a human body was set at a tenth of a microcurie of radium and 10 picocuries of radon per liter (1.01 quart) (pCi/L) of air (Caufield, Multiple Exposures, 39-40). A picocurie (pCi) is one-trillionth (10-12) of a curie, equivalent to the radiation emitted by one-trillionth of a gram (.036 trillionth, or 1/28,000,000,000,000 of an ounce) of radium. In English measurement, one pCi/L is about equivalent to the radiation produced by .035-trillionths (1/28,000,000,000,000) of an ounce of radium per quart of liquid. Today, 10 picocuries per gram (pCi/g), about .03 (3 hundreths) of an ounce is considered to be a fatal dose of radiation.

27. U.S. Department of Energy, Linking Legacies, 58.

28. Mill tailings consist of finely ground rock materials that retain substantial amounts of their original radioactivity in the form of alpha-emitting uranium, thorium-230, radium-226, and daughter products of radium-226 decay. The total radioactivity in the tailings can exceed 1,000 picocuries per gram (pCi/g) see endnote 24. Liquid parts of tailings are a component of slurries, which evaporate or infiltrate the ground from ponds. These liquids contain 7,500 (pCi/L) of radium-226, 22,000 pCi/L of thorium-230, and .01 percent uranium (see endnote 24, or Glossary, for definition of pCi/L). (U.S. Department of Energy, Integrated Data Base Report—1996, U.S. Spent Nuclear Fuel and Radioactive Waste Inventories, Projections, and Characteristics, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management, DOE/RW-0006, Revision 13 (1997), Table 5.2).

29. Metzger, The Atomic Establishment, 169-175.

30. U.S. Department of Energy, Closing the Circle on the Splitting of the Atom—U.S. Department of Energy (1996), DOE/EM-0266, 74.

31. U.S. General Accounting Office, Nuclear Waste—Understanding of Waste Migration at Hanford is Inadequate for Key Decisions, U.S. General Accounting Office, GAO/RCED-98-80 (1998), 42 p.; U.S. Department of Energy, Accelerating Cleanup—Paths to Closure, U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management, DOE/EM-0362 (1998), 136 p.

32. Michele Stenehjem, Indecent Exposure, Natural History 9, (1990), 6.

33. Sites of extreme contamination include the Kola Peninsula's Soviet nuclear submarine fleet harbors and the Chelyabinsk area in the Urals, contaminated by the Soviet Union's nearby nuclear-weapons production complex at Mayak.

34. D'Antonio, Atomic Harvest, 84.

35. J.L. Waite, Tank Wastes Discharged Directly to the Soil at the Hanford Site, Westinghouse Hanford Co., WHC-MR-0227 (1991), 32 p. This amount of radioactivity is about a hundred times less than estimates for the total release during the Three Mile Island power plant reactor melt downs (see endnote 39). The corrosive materials are fluorides, ferrocyanide, sodium aluminate, sodium oxalate, ammonium nitrate, nitrate, phosphates, and sulfates.

36. Stenehjem, Indecent Exposure, 6-21. Even in the 1980s, Dr. Herbert Cahn, agricultural commissioner of Benton County, Washington, location of the Hanford site, "… nearly lost his job…when he suggested handing out potassium-iodide pills that would protect the public from an accidental release of radioactive iodine" (M. D'Antonio, Atomic Harvest, 65).

37. D'Antonio, Atomic Harvest, 66. The study, by Ernest Sternglass, showed that compared to 1943, 1945 infant mortality increased by 50 percent in Franklin County, 60 percent in Umatilla County to the south of Hanford, and 160 percent in Benton County, closest to Hanford operations.

38. William Burr, T.S. Blanton, and S.I. Schwartz, The Costs and Consequences of Nuclear Secrecy, in Atomic Audit, ed. S.I. Schwartz (Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution Press, 1998), Box 8-3.

39. D'Antonio, Atomic Harvest, 121; The Nuclear Regulatory Commission's "Rogovin Report" on the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant serial meltdowns estimated that the plant had released 15 curies of radioactive iodine isotopes, or "radioiodine" (Mitchell Rogovin and George T. Frampton, Three Mile Island; A Report to the Commissioners and to the Public, (NUREG/CR-1250, Vols. I-II) 1980).

40. D'Antonio, Atomic Harvest, 72-85.

41. D'Antonio, Atomic Harvest, 134-136.

42. June Stark Casey learned on Mother's Day of 1986 that she was among the 270,000 Washington State "downwinder" residents who were exposed continually and secretly to 1.1 million curies of radioactive iodine-131, a known carcinogen, released from Hanford Nuclear Reservation in the 1940s and 1950s. Hanford was run at that time by General Electric Corporation. June was most adversely affected by the "Green Run," a deliberate secret experiment, conducted on December 2, 1949, by G E's Nucleonics Department, which intentionally released over 11,000 curies of radioactive iodine and 20 thousand curies of xenon into the atmosphere. This was 11,000 times the radiation tolerance threshold set for that period, and 20 times higher than allowed today. (June Stark Casey, written communication—her first person account is part of a speech delivered at a conference entitled "Vision of Culture in the 21st Century-Regeneration or Degeneration?" (Cairo, Egypt, November 2000).

43. Thousands of cubic meters of water were pumped per minute through each of the reactors for cooling purposes (R.C. Newcomb, J.R. Strand, and F.J. Frank, Geology and Ground-Water Characteristics of the Hanford Reservation of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Washington, U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 717 (1972), 78 p. This report was completed in 1953, then classified for no apparent reason except for its prediction that the tanks would eventually leak. It was declassified in 1960, but not released by the USGS until 1972.

44. Roots of bean plants that grew in the reactor effluent accumulated 33 percent of available neptunium-239; also, Columbia River green algae, sponges, and insect larvae showed neptunium-239 concentration factors of 280, 40, and 30 times the concentration in river water (J.J. Davis, R.W. Perkins, R.F. Palmer, W.C. Hanson, and J.F. Cline, Radioactive Materials in Aquatic and Terrestrial Organisms Exposed to Reactor Effluent Water, Proceedings of the Second United Nations Conference on Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, Geneva (1958), v. 18).

45. Stenehjem, Indecent Exposure, 8.

46. Makhijani and Schwartz, Victims of the Bomb, 410-411.

47. Pat Lavelle, Facing Reality at Hanford (Government Accountability Project Report, 2000), 11 p. [Online]. Available: www.whistleblower.org.

48. Liquids contaminated by a wide range of hazardous and radioactive materials were variously discharged onto the surface or into the ground, in "swamps," or ponds of waste liquid and slurry, from which contaminants could percolate into the ground; deep "reverse wells" that pump liquid wastes directly into the subsurface, commonly to groundwater; and "cribs," or trenches that are about 30 feet deep and up to 1,400 feet long—mostly about 900 square feet in plan view, filled with rock and covered with rock and soil. Contaminated liquids were fed into the trenches from perforated pipes and allowed to percolate into the ground.

49. U.S. Department of Energy, Closing the Circle; U.S. Department of Energy, Linking Legacies, 168-169.

50. U.S. Department of Energy, Linking Legacies, Table 4-5.

51. U.S. General Accounting Office, Nuclear Waste, 5; Karen Dorn Steele, Hanford's Pollution is Spreading, High Country News 23 No. 5 (1991): 1, 9, 12.

52. Waite, Tank Wastes Discharged Directly to the Soil.

53. U.S. Department of Energy, Hanford Tank Farms Vadose Zone—Baseline Characterization Current Status and Issues Briefing, GJO­55­ TAR/GJO­ HAN­22: Prepared by MACTEC-ERS for the U.S. Department of Energy, Albuquerque Operations Office, Grand Junction Office, Grand Junction, Colorado (1998), 11 p.

54. U.S. Department of Energy, Linking Legacies, Table 4-5.

55. "Specific retention trenches" are for liquid radioactive waste disposal, assumed capable of retaining the wastes. The assumed moisture-retention capability values of soils above the water table limit waste volumes to 6 to 10 percent of the soil volume between the trench and the water table. This was intended to allow the soils to absorb the wastes before they reached the water table. This concept, of course, ignores faults and other fractures, which provide preferred pathways for concentrated flow. Also, the limits were exceeded at times (J.L. Waite, Tank Wastes Discharged Directly to the Soil, A-1).

56. U.S. General Accounting Office, Nuclear Waste, 5.

57. U.S. Department of Energy, Closing the Circle, 73.

58. D.J. Brown, and Haney, W.A., The Movement of Contaminated Ground Water From the 200 Areas to the Columbia River, General Electric Co., Hanford Atomic Products Operation, HW-80909 (1964), 16 p.

59. Tritium, hydrogen-3, is a heavy isotope of hydrogen that cannot be detected by gamma-radiometers. It has a weight of 3 atomic mass units (natural hydrogen, hydrogen-1, has an atomic weight of 1). Tritium occurs naturally in very low concentrations. Atmospheric bomb tests inserted large quantities of anthropogenic tritium in the global atmosphere. A single tritium atom can combine with 2 oxygen atoms to make "tritiated water."

60. Monitoring wells close to the Columbia River in 1963 showed concentrations of 40,000 picocureis per liter (pCi/L) see endnote 26. The national safe drinking water standard is 20,000 pCi/L. Between 1975 and 1982, the concentrations gradually increased to near 250,000 pCi/L, and stabilized at that level through 1985. U.S. Geological Survey, Subsurface Transport of Radionuclides in Shallow Deposits of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Washington—Review of Selected Previous Work and Suggestions for Further Study, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 87-222 (1987), 61 p.

61. Brown, and Haney, The Movement of Contaminated Ground Water.

62. Lavelle, Facing Reality at Hanford, 6.

63. Measured as "gross alpha" and "gross beta" plumes. Gross alpha and gross beta are the aggregate amounts of alpha-emitting and beta-emitting radionuclides, respectively, in a sample (see Box MC-B 3).

64. Only these contaminants have been tested for; other unsought contaminants may be present. S.J. Trent, Hydrogeologic Model for the 200 West Ground Water Aggregate Area, Westinghouse Hanford Company, WHC-SD-EN-TI-014 (1992), 284 p.; M.P. Connelly, J.V. Borghese, C.D. Delaney, B.H. Ford, J.W. Lindberg, and S.J. Trent, Hydrogeologic Model for the 200 East Groundwater Aggregate Area, Westinghouse Hanford Company, WHC-SD-EN-TI-019 (1992), 141 p.

65. Makhijani et al., Nuclear Waste Management, 377, 387.

66. Michael Balter, Filtering a River of Cancer, Science 267 (1995), 1084-1086.

67. Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams (paperback edition) (Berkeley, University of California Press 1999), 153-154.

68. Solnit, Savage Dreams, 163-169.

69. U.S. Department of Energy, Linking Legacies, 29; U.S. Department of Energy, Geology, Soils, Water Resources, Radionuclide Inventory—Technical Resource Report for the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Nevada Test Site and Off-Site Locations in the State of Nevada, U.S. Department of Energy, Nevada Operations Office, Las Vegas, Nevada (1996), 63.

70. Makhijani et al., Nuclear Waste Management, 377, 387.

71. These figures are almost certainly grossly underestimated because they do not account for contaminants moving through both the unsaturated zone and in groundwater—of course, little information is available (see Gregory Nimz and J.L. Thompson, Underground Radionuclide Migration at the Nevada Test Site, U.S. Department of Energy Report DOE/NV-346 (1992), 17 p.).

72. U.S. Department of Energy, Implementation Plan for the Nevada Test Site Environmental Impact Statement, U.S. Department of Energy, DOE/NV-390, UC-700, Revision O (1995), 3-9; U.S. Department of Energy, Geology, Soils, Water Resources, 82; U.S. Department of Energy, The 1996 Baseline Environmental Management Report, Nevada 11.

73. R.J. Laczniak, J.C. Cole, D.A. Sawyer, and D.A. Trudeau, Summary of Hydrogeologic Controls on Ground-Water Flow at the Nevada Test Site, Nye County, Nevada, U.S. Geological Survey Water Resources Investigations Report 96-4109 (1996), 42. These figures do not include recent subcritical tests.

74. Gallagher, American Ground Zero, xxiii.

75. John G. Fuller, The Day We Bombed Utah (New York, New American Library, Signet edition, 1985), 21. D'Antonio, Atomic Harvest, 20; 72-75.

76. The magnitude of radioactivity releases from atmospheric testing at the NTS—about 12 billion curies by the end of testing—greatly exceeds the underestimated 81 million curies from the Chernoybl accident. A 1-kiloton (Kt) above-ground explosion releases about 10 million curies (U.S. Congress, Office of Technology Assessment, Complex Cleanup—The Environmental Legacy of Nuclear Weapons Production, OTA-0-484, (Washington, D.C., U.S. Government Printing Office (1991), 212 p.). Such large amounts of radioactivity are dominated by short-lived radionuclides, and radioactivity decreases very rapidly. However, long-lived radionuclides such as plutonium-239 also are released to the atmosphere in those tests and remain toxic for hundreds of thousands of years.

77. Eastman Kodak, in Rochester, New York, complained to the Atomic Energy Commission that their film stock was becoming fogged by radioactive fallout clouds. (Brittenden, The Dragon that Slew St. George).

78. U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration, Final Environmental Impact Statement, Nevada Test Site, Nye County, Nevada, U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration, ERDA-1551 (1977), 2-88. Between 1953 and 1963, the Maralinga test site in western South Australia ran hundreds of tests that blew up packages of uranium and plutonium. "Cleanup" of this site consisted of burying surficial contaminated soils in shallow holes (Catherine Hockley, Maralinga Report to Rule on Clean-up, Advertiser Newspapers Ltd. [Online]. Available: http://www.theadvertiser.news.com.au/printpage/0,5942,5810451,00.html).

79. Fuller, The Day We Bombed Utah, 21; D'Antonio, Atomic Harvest, 20; 72-75.

80. In this area, radioactive concentrations register greater than 40 pCi/g (see endnote 24). U.S. Department of Energy, The 1996 Baseline Environmental Management Report, Nevada, 14.

81. U.S. Department of Energy, The 1996 Baseline Environmental Management Report, Nevada, 14. These estimates exclude uranium. Reported inventories include 35 curies of cobalt-60, 330 of strontium-90, 310 of cesium-137, 130 of europium-152, 20 of europium 154 and 155, 160 of plutonium-238, 910 of plutonium 239, 240, and 150 of americium-241. Inadequate sampling calls the accuracy of these data into question, however.

82. Lynn Shaulis, Glenn Wilson, and Roger Jacobson, Historical Hydronuclear Testing—Characterization and Remediation Technologies, Desert Research Institute, Publication No. 45158 (1997), 21 p.

83. Subcritical tests disperse plutonium by detonating high explosives, so do not create fission and activation radionuclides. Such tests were conducted at the ground surface until 1963, and after that in tunnels and shallow boreholes.

84. U.S. Energy Research and Development Administration, Final Environmental Impact Statement, Nevada Test Site, 2-88.

85. Brittenden, The Dragon that Slew St. George; Gallagher, American Ground Zero, 110-311.

86. Fuller, The Day We Bombed Utah , 152-154; Brittenden, The Dragon that Slew St. George.

87. Quoted in Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams, 151.

88. The success of attempts to clean up some of these sites, including Double Tracks and Clean Slate, is not known, and the cleanup standard level 40 of pCi/g (see endnote 24) indicates the sites will remain unsafe for human uses.

89. Nimmo, J.R., K.S. Perkins, P.E. Rose, J.P. Rousseau, B.R. Orr, B.V. Twining, and S.R. Anderson, Kilometer-Scale Rapid Transport of Napthalene Sulfonate Tracer in the Unsaturated Zone at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, Vadose Zone Journal 1 (2002): 89-101.

90. One hundred eleven tests were detonated below the water table, 71 within a one crater-radius distance from the water table, 39 within 1 to 2 crater radii, and 95 within 2 to 5 crater radii from the water table. Bombs that exploded within 2 crater radii above the water table are probable sources of groundwater contamination, and those within 2-5 crater radii above the water table may have directly contaminated groundwater.

91. E.A. Bryant and June Fabryka-Martin, Survey of Hazardous Materials Used in Nuclear Testing, Los Alamos National Laboratory, LA--12014-MS (1991), 12 p.

92. The groundwater flow paths are not well known.

93. Laczniak et al., Summary of Hydrogeologic Controls on Ground-Water Flow at the Nevada Test Site.

94. G.M. Russell and G.L. Locke, Summary of Data Concerning Radiological Contamination at Well PM-2, Nevada Test Site, Nye County, Nevada, U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 96-599 (1997), 22 p.

95. Sorption processes include absorption of a material in the holes within a mineral's atomic structure and (or) adsorption on mineral surfaces.

96. R.W. Buddemeier and J.R. Hunt, Transport of Colloidal Contaminants in Ground Water— Radionuclide Migration at the Nevada Test Site, Applied Geochemistry 3 (1988), 535-548.

97. Minhan Dai, J.M. Kelley, and K.O. Buesseler, Sources and Migration of Plutonium in Groundwater at the Savannah River Site, Environmental Science and Technology 36 (2002): 3690-3699.

98. V.J. Brechin, Nevada Test Site National Sacrifice Zone—$7.3 Trillion Betrayal, Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs 32 (2000): A-500; U.S. Department of Energy, Nevada Environmental Restoration Project, Focused Evaluation of Selected Remedial Alternatives for the Underground Test Area, U.S. Department of Energy DOE/NV-465 UC-700 (1997).

99. U.S. Department of Energy, Integrated Data Base (1997), Table 0-6.

100. Transuranic waste contains alpha-emitting elements heavier than uranium, with half-lives greater than 20 years and has a combined activity level of at least 100 nanocuries per gram, or one-billionth of a curie in each .036 trillionth ounce of waste. (U.S. Department of Energy, Linking Legacies, 40).

101. Fioravanti and Makhijani, Containing the Cold War Mess, 72, 82, 90.

102. Lockheed Martin Idaho Technologies Company, A Comprehensive Inventory.

103. Comment made by INEEL representative at USGS 1999 Unsaturated Zone Interest Group Meeting, January 13-15, 1999.

104. E.A. Martell, P.A. Goldan, J.J. Kraushaar, D.W. Shea, and R.H. Williams, Fire Damage, Environment 12 (1970): 14—21; U.S. General Accounting Office, Fire Protection—Barriers to Effective Implementation of NRC's Safety Oversight Process, U.S. General Accounting Office GAO/RCED-00-39 (2000), 31 p.

105. Michele Boyd and Arjun Makhijani, Poison in the Vadose Zone—Threats to the Snake River Plain Aquifer from Migrating Nuclear Waste, Science for Democratic Action 10 No. 1 (2001): 1-10; Nimmo et al., Kilometer-Scale Rapid Transport of Napthalene Sulfonate Tracer in the Unsaturated Zone, 89-101.

106. C.J. Johnson, R.R. Tidball, and R.C. Severson, Plutonium Hazard in Respirable Dust on the Surface of Soil, Science 193 (1976): 488-490; J.P. Kaszuba, Mary Neu, W.H. Runde, D.L. Clark, D.W. Efurd, D.R. Janecky, C.D. Tait, and R.G. Haire, Modeling of Actinide Geochemistry for Reactive Transport and Waste Isolation [Abs.], Geological Society of America, Abstracts with Programs 30 (1998): A-87. The samples of this area were taken at depths as great as 8 inches. Respirable particles are less than about one twenty-thousandths of an inch in diameter.

107. Arjun Makhijani and Sriram Gopal, Setting Cleanup Standards to Protect Future Generations—The Scientific Basis of the Subsistence Farmer Scenario and Its Application to the Estimation of Radionuclide Soil Action Levels (RSALs) for Rocky Flats, Science for Democratic Action 10, (May, 2002). Until recently, the DOE's plan for all site cleanups was expected to cost about $220 billion and take at least 70 years. In 2002, however, DOE announced its intention to reduce program costs by $100 billion and cut 30 years from the completion time (U.S. General Accounting Office, Waste Cleanup—Status and Implications of DOE's Compliance Agreements, U.S. General Accounting Office GAO-02-567 (2002), 51 p.). The proposed plan will prioritize sites on a risk basis, and is likely to assure that many contaminated sites are never remediated.

108. Johnson et al., Plutonium Hazard in Respirable Dust on the Surface of Soil.

109. Jillian Lloyd, A Trooper, a Dump, and a Tale of Doubt, The Christian Science Monitor (June 10, 1998); also, Adrienne Anderson, Hot Water Gets Cold Shoulder, (June 16, 2000). [Online]. Available: http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/news2000/nn10676.htm.

110. Stenehjem, Indecent Exposure, 6-21.

111. Matthew L. Wald, U.S. Acknowledges Radiation Killed Weapons Workers, New York Times (January 29, 2000). This report noted that 22 different types of cancers occurred at higher frequencies among 600,000 workers in nuclear weapons plants than in unexposed populations. These ranged from leukemia and Hodgkin's lymphoma to cancer of the prostate, kidney, salivary gland and lung; March, 2000, reports indicated that five Los Alamos National Laboratory employees were exposed to airborne plutonium, four of whom received chelation treatment.

112. F.J. Frommer, U.S. Extends Benefits for Atomic Vets, Associated Press (January 26, 2001).

113. Gallagher, American Ground Zero, 259-260.

114. Gallagher, American Ground Zero, xxiv.

115. U.S. Department of Energy, Closing the Circle on the Splitting of the Atom.

116. M. Koide, J.J. Griffin, and E.D. Goldberg, Records of Plutonium Fallout in Marine and Terrestrial Samples, Journal of Geophysical Research 80 (1975): 4153-4162. One puzzling fact that emerged from measurements of radioactive fallout in terrestrial and marine sediments is that strontium-90 fallout over the sea is double that over land (H.L. Volchok, V.T. Bowen, T.R. Folsom, W.S. Broecker, E.A. Schuert, and G.S. Bien, Oceanic Distributions of Radionuclides from Nuclear Explosions, in Radioactivity in the Marine Environment, National Academies of Sciences (Washington, DC, National Academy Press, 1971), 42-89).

117. Andy Coghlan, Sea Birds Drop Radioactivity on Land, New Scientist (January 4, 2003). [Online] available: www.newscientist.com/news/news.jsp?id=ns99993220.

118. The figure of $5.8 trillion includes building the bomb (7.0 percent), deploying the bomb (55.7 percent), targeting and controlling the bomb (14.3 percent), defending against the bomb (16.1 percent), dismantling the bomb (0.5 percent), nuclear waste management and environmental remediation (6.3 percent), victims of U.S. nuclear weapons (.04 percent), nuclear secrecy (.05 percent), and Congressional oversight of nuclear weapons programs (.02 percent) (S.I. Schwartz, Introduction, in Atomic Audit, ed. S.I. Schwartz (Washington, D.C., Brookings Institution Press, 1988), Figure 1).

119. H.J. Hebert, Feds Issue Threat Over Money for Nuclear-Waste Cleanup, Associated Press (April 12, 2004). Another money-saving Bush administration proposal is to reduce studies of Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombing survivors by 33 percent (David Malakoff and Dennis Normile, U.S. Could Pull Back on Studies of Atom Bomb Survivors, Science 304 (2004): 33).

120. Frank Clifford, Widespread Use of Radioactive Scrap Assailed, Los Angeles Times (June 12, 2000).

121. "Depleted uranium" consists of less-radioactive uranium-238, waste from the process of separating highly radioactive uranium-235 for bomb fuel. Uranium is enriched as uranium hexafluoride, (UF6), a gas. Depleted uranium for munitions is obtained by converting the UF6 gas, containing mostly uranium-238, to metal. This process is deemed too expensive for conversion of the huge amounts of UF6 gas stored in corroding cylinders at Hermiston, Oregon (Ernest Goitein, written communication 2000). The United States fired American-manufactured tank-piercing shells with exploding depleted uranium tips in the Gulf War of 1991, as did NATO forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina (10,000-plus rounds) in 1996, U.S. troops acting as part of NATO forces, deployed in Kosovo in 1999 (John-Thor Dahlberg, Balkan Illness Blamed on US Arms, Los Angeles Times (January 5, 2001); Jeffrey Ulbrich, Fears Grow Over Effects of Depleted Uranium Munitions, Associated Press (January 5, 2001). Depleted-uranium tipped munitions probably also were used by American forces in Afghanistan, in 2001 and later, and in the 2003 American Iraq invasion and aftermath.

122. Martin Enserink, Bracing for Gulf War Syndrome II, Science 299 (2003): 1966-1967.

123. Alvarez, Energy in Decay, 25-35.

124. Ward, Chip Canaries on the Rim—Living Downwind in the West (New York, Verso Press 1999) 91-118; Gallagher American Ground Zero, Prologue, xxiii-xxiv.

125. National Academies of Sciences, Long-Term Institutional Management of the U.S. Department of Energy Legacy Waste Sites, National Academies of Sciences (Washington, DC, National Academy Press 2000), 3-7; Norman Kempster, Study: Nuclear Sites Won't Be Safe, Los Angeles Times (August 8, 2000).

126. U.S. Department of Energy, Accelerating Cleanup, 1-6.

127. The United States boycotted the November 2001 UN conference to encourage support for the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (D.G. Kimball, CTBT Rogue State?, Arms Control Today (December 2001). The National Academies of Sciences has discredited objections of Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty opponents that led to the U.S. failure to ratify it in 2001. For example, opponents argued that some countries might develop nuclear weaponry or improve their stockpiles through clandestine testing, and the U.S. stockpile would deteriorate and become unreliable without testing (National Academies of Sciences, Division on Policy and Global Affairs, Technical Issues Related to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (Washington, DC, National Academy Press 2002), 96 p.; L.R. Sykes, Four Decades of Progress in Seismic Identification Help Verify the CTBT, EOS, Transactions of the American Geophysical Union 83 (2002): 497, 500; Charles Seife and Michael Day, Under a Cloud, New Scientist (November 6, 1999): 18-19).

128. While not barring new nuclear weapons facilities, the 188 nation-member Nonproliferation Treaty of 1970 requires good faith efforts to create a treaty that would result in "general and complete" nuclear disarmament. The George W. Bush administration's call for revitalizing the "nuclear complex" by funding a new factory to produce plutonium triggers for bombs and increase weapons research funds seem closer to an abrogation of the treaty. (Michelle Nijhuis, Courting the Bomb, High Country News 35 No. 16 (2003): 10-15, 19; J.H. Cushman Jr., Nuclear Report Bound to Have Instant Fallout, New York Times (March 10, 2002); D.G. Savage, Nuclear Plan Meant to Deter, Los Angeles Times (March 11, 2002); Brad Knickerbocker, US Sees Renewed Role for Nukes in Military Arsenal, Christian Science Monitor (May 27, 2003); Dan Stober, Boost In Nuclear Funding to Aid Livermore Laboratory, San Jose Mercury News (February 10, 2002)) The GAO cites compelling evidence that supports reevaluating nuclear waste disposal issues before building new facilities—a case in point is tritium production at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and the new facility to manufacture plutonium bomb triggers. (U.S. General Accounting Office, Nuclear Cleanup—DOE Should Reevaluate Waste Disposal Options Before Building New Facilities, U.S. General Accounting Office GAO-01-441 (2001), 32 p.)

129. U.S. General Accounting Office, Nuclear Health and Safety—Consensus on Acceptable Radiation Risk to the Public is Lacking, U.S. General Accounting Office GAO/RCED-94-190 (1994), 32 p.

130. Corbin Harney. [Online]. Available: http://www.shundahai.org.

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240,000 Year contamination - Plutonium Dispersal Experiment

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