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#124 - Military-Industrial Stupidity, 10-Apr-1989

If you have been reading the papers in recent months, you know that the
military and the federal Department of Energy (DOE) have been suddenly
found out hiding millions (perhaps billions) of pounds of radioactive
wastes that they hadn't told anybody about and they don't know what to
do with. For forty years they've kept this little secret from Congress,
from the press, and from local citizens who were breathing and drinking
the stuff. It is a story of treachery unparalleled in our history.

For forty years the military (plus their civilian pals in the
Department of Energy and their industrial co-conspirators like GE,
Westinghouse, DuPont and Kerr-McGee) have dumped and buried millions
upon millions of pounds of radioactive wastes into seepage basins,
holding ponds, pits, lagoons, landfills, shafts, cribs, subsurface
leaching fields, and deep injection wells. They have dumped additional
millions of pounds of radioactive wastes into local creeks, streams,
and rivers. They have intentionally and regularly released additional
tonnages into the atmosphere. In some cases, they haven't even kept
maps of where they dumped the stuff. In almost all cases, records of
how much they dumped are vague, incomplete and--by their own admission-
-inaccurate.

All this is in addition to the estimated 1,752 toxic chemical dumps
that the military has, so far, identified as their own. They're still
discovering new ones each time they look. These are a story in
themselves, but for another time.

Now a citizen watchdog group has begun the long, difficult job of
cataloging this monstrous problem. The Radioactive Waste Campaign in
New York City has released a study called DEADLY DEFENSE in which they
begin to document the worst excesses of the "military-industrial
complex" that President Eisenhower warned us about as he was leaving
office in 1960.

Here we will not document the horrors. You must get DEADLY DEFENSE for
that. In it, you will find a quiet, even-handed, understated, fact-
filled compendium of intractable problems at the following military
sites: Bendix Plant, Kansas City, MO; Feed Materials Center, Fernald,
OH; Hanford Reservation, Richland, WA; Idaho Engineering Lab, Arco, ID;
Lawrence Livermore Lab, Livermore, CA; Los Alamos National Lab, Los
Alamos, NM; Mound Labs, Miamisburg, OH; Nevada Test Site, Mercury, NV;
Oak Ridge Reservation, Oak Ridge, TN; Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant,
Paducah, KY; Pantex Plant, Amarillo, TX; Pinellas Plant, Largo, FL;
Portsmouth Uranium Enrichment Complex, Portsmouth, OH; Reactive Metals,
Inc., Ashtabula, OH; Rocky Flats Plant, Golden, CO; Sandia Labs,
Albuquerque, NM; Savannah River Plant, Aiken, GA. And all this, of
course, is only a tiny part of the full story.

We will focus here on three important lessons revealed by this bleak
history of stupidity, treachery and deception:

1) The government should never again get into the business of creating
new industries. The government started the nuclear weapons industry; to
make it appear more benign and useful, they started the "nuclear power
industry" to generate electricity by splitting atoms. (Friendly Citizen
Atom, a smiley-faced little fellow with a lightning bolt through his
head, was going to make electricity too cheap to meter.) It is now
crystal clear that the whole thing has gone bad. Both the weapons
industry and the nuclear power industry have bungled their work,
consistently tried to cover up their massive mistakes, and generally
acted irresponsibly. Both industries are inefficient and enormously
expensive, and both have covered the planet with huge reservoirs of
deadly radioactivity, most of which are already leaking and all of
which will continue to leak for as long as anyone can imagine into the
future. These radioactive dumps will plague future generations with a
pestilence of death, disease, fear and expense, time out of mind.

2) The only way to cure the problem of radioactive contamination of the
planet is to stop making the stuff. There is talk in the newspapers
these days of creating a new generation of nuclear power plants. Even
the NEW YORK TIMES has taken to writing silly editorials about
"inherently safe" nuclear power plants. Such talk is complete nonsense.
Even if we could build nuclear plants simple enough to be run safely by
yo-yos, plants that never melted down and never spewed glowing dust
over the inhabitants of surrounding communities, those plants would
still produce massive quantities of radioactive wastes that would have
to be put somewhere forever. The nature of split atoms is such that
they release heat (which can make steam to make electricity), but the
heat is always accompanied by tremendous quantities of newly-created
radioactive crud. THE MOST FUNDAMENTAL LAWS OF PHYSICS DECREE THAT THIS
IS SO. This crud has to be put someplace. Once it's in that place
(wherever it is), the crud will begin to disperse into the environment.
Slowly but surely it will be carried into the food chains of the world,
blown on the wind, transported by water, eaten by insects, fish, birds,
mammals and eventually humans. The most fundamental laws of physics
decree that this is so. Nature's processes, driven by the second law of
thermodynamics, cannot be stopped. They are as inevitable as tomorrow's
sunrise. The only possible solution to the problem of planetary
contamination by radioactivity (and halogenated hydrocarbons) is to
stop making the stuff. Period. Every other industrial path leads,
finally, to planetary death. What Barry Commoner said about chemical
contamination is equally true about radioactive contamination:
pollution must be considered a terminal disease. It cannot be cured
once is has been allowed to happen. It can only be PREVENTED.

3) An active citizenry is our only hope. Government and industry cannot
police themselves. For forty years, we have left our most high-tech
technologies in the hands of the nation's smartest scientists and
engineers, who have been funded and managed by the country's most
successful entrepreneurs. Now, like Rip van Winkle, we wake up to find
that, between them, these technical geniuses and financial wizards have
contaminated the planet and every living thing on it with radioactivity
and with exotic toxic chemicals, threatening the health, well-being and
peace of mind of every human alive. They have spread radioactivity and
halogenated hydrocarbons EVERYWHERE. Not a square foot of the planet
has been spared. These masterminds have claimed--against all common
sense and contrary to the most fundamental scientific principles--that
burying the stuff in holes in the ground would protect us. The holes,
of course, are now leaking. Faced with their shocking record of
stupidity and ruination, they now claim they can dispose of the stuff
in immensely complex and expensive incinerators, or rebury it in deep
salt caves, to solve the fundamental problems. It is an unmatched
record of technical arrogance utterly devoid of common sense.

These military folks and their industrial co-conspirators, are clearly
the sloppiest, most deceitful, most dangerous people in America. If
they're active in your community, look into it. You won't like what you
find, but your children will respect you and thank you.

Get: Marvin Resnikoff and others, DEADLY DEFENSE; MILITARY RADIOACTIVE
LANDFILLS (NY: The Radioactive Waste Campaign, 625 Broadway, 2nd Floor,
New York, NY 10012; phone (212) 473-7390. $15.00 plus postage; bulk
rates available.

--Peter Montague

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Descriptor terms: radioactive waste; landfilling; leaks; kansas city,
mo; fernald, oh; hanford, wa; arco, id; livermore, ca; los alamos, nm;
miamisburg, oh; nevada test site; mercury, nv; oak ridge, tn; paducah,
ky; amarillo, tx; largo, fl; portsmouth, oh; ashtabula, oh; golden, co;
albuquerque, nm; aiken, ga; radioactive waste; military; dod; doe;
citizen activism;