Call Apples, Apples and Oranges, Oranges"
"Know Your Fruit"
by Matthew Lasek
There has been a good deal
of discussion about Sandia Nationals Labs' "Mixed Waste Landfill."
We know it contains "depleted" uranium and the Department of
Energy wants to put it under "Stewardship"-that is to "cap"
it, then "monitor" it, and finally enact "institutional
controls." Having followed the issue for a while I know what these
words mean and how they are supposed to confuse and defuse the average
citizen. The DOE/nuclear industry is quite adept at coining terminology
that makes very dangerous things sound quite harmless. This terminology
masks the true hazards and lulls most citizens into unconsciousness. It's
time to call apples, apples. It is for this reason that I would like to
translate some terms you may come across into honest English.
Instead of the innocuous
sounding "Mixed Waste Landfill," let's call it what it is, "Albuquerque's
leaking, nuclear waste dump." It has leaked. It contains three decades
worth of debris from nuclear experimentation and construction. It is a
dump. And, like it or not, it is all ours Albuquerque. If you are reassured
by the fact that the dump contains "depleted" uranium, you should
be careful. In nature, uranium occurs in several forms ("isotopes.")
Uranium 238 and Uranium 235 are two examples. They are mined together
and over ninety-nine percent of uranium in nature is Uranium 238. Uranium
235 is the most useful in reactors and bombs. "Depleted" uranium
is essentially uranium mixtures that have been processed to remove the
Uranium 235. It is more concentrated and purer than Uranium 238 found
anywhere in nature. If it gets in your body it can cause cancer and other
disorders associated with radiation exposure. Uranium 238 is also dangerous
because of its toxicity. Similar to the metal lead, uranium has chemical
properties that can make you very sick. Your kidneys are particularly
susceptible. Remember "depleted" refers to the constituents
of the material, not to its potential danger.
Maybe you are not concerned
because the Mixed Waste Landfill contains mostly "low level waste,"
with measurements of possible contaminants hovering around "background"
or "natural" levels. "Low level" does not mean the
same thing all the time. To some degree it means all radioactive materials
not produced in a nuclear reactor. Others use it to refer to elements
with a low amount of radioactivity. What is important to know is that
"Low level waste" can be dangerous. It can cause cancer and
genetic and birth defects. "Background" does not mean "natural"
and neither of these mean "safe." "Background levels"
of uranium, for example, describe the amount of uranium at a particular
site that is not from the specific source in question, i.e. the Mixed
Waste Landfill. "Background levels" can include contamination
from other sources and can be very high and very dangerous. Additional
contaminants from the source in question (Mixed Waste Landfill,) even
if they are small, can increase the danger. Just because something is
"natural" does not mean it is "safe." There are many
things in nature which are quite dangerous which we must keep away from.
Even the definition of a "safe" amount of radiation, uranium,
etc. is hotly debated and is by no means a scientific certainty.
The DOE wants to initiate
"Stewardship" at the MWL insinuating that they will have the
care-taking responsibility for the nuclear waste dump. Their "care-taking"
entails a "cap," "monitoring," and "institutional
controls." Translation: put a couple of feet of soil on top of it,
take periodic measurements that would discover a leak after it is too
late, and ?????. You see, not even the DOE knows exactly what "institutional
controls" is supposed to mean. Not very reassuring I know, but don't
worry, they have "ideas." As an introduction to some of their
"ideas" about this nuclear waste dump, I'll tell you about their
first one. The DOE/SNL applied for a permit to do absolutely nothing,
not even "cap" or "monitor" the dump. Now that's creative.
And when the National Academy of Sciences released a report characterizing
"Stewardship" around the country as a failure, what was the
response of Sandia representatives? A concrete solution to the mishaps?
No. They called it a "challenge." I guess we will all find out
if they are up to it.
Even describing this as
a DOE/ Sandia Labs affair is misleading. It fails to mention a very important
player, Lockheed Martin (LM). They have done a good job keeping their
name out of this controversy and avoiding any bad press. Lockheed Martin
is the company that manages the labs and makes all the money off its research
and "stewardship." This is a publicly-traded, for-profit company
that has had financial woes for many years. It is quite common for such
companies to cut corners at the expense of local residents to increase
profits. A Sandia representative stated that the Mixed Waste Landfill
will "set the standard for 'Stewardship' in New Mexico." What
standard is it setting? One in which no attempts at cleanup are made,
followed by halfhearted monitoring.
It is important to know
that money is driving this issue. Lockheed Martin and other defense contractors
prefer to rake in profits from weapons development while virtually ignoring
the waste they continuously produce. "Stewardship" is an answer
to their prayers. They can produce all the waste they want and claim to
"monitor" it as it infringes on human populations and fragile
ecosystems. While refusing to spend more time and money finding an effective
and safe way to deal with this waste, the Lockheed Martins of the world
make billions as the Department of Energy barrels forward developing weapons.
They will spend more money in fiscal year 2001 than was reportedly spent
in any year of the cold war (even when adjusted for inflation.) How do
you like them "apples?"
Now that you know about
the apples, let's discuss the oranges. Many of the reasons that DOE/SNL/LM
supporters that have offered as to why Albuquerque's nuclear waste dump
should not be cleaned up amount to comparing apples to oranges. They are
little more then distractions and diversions and have no logical connection
to the cleanup of this site. Some have said that it would take money away
from other health related services like childhood vaccinations. Since
when does the DOE, et al. vaccinate children? Why does the DOE, et al.
not only want to poison our children with their dump, but also take away
their vaccinations? Others have shared with us that 65% of all cancer
is caused by smoking and diet. That may be a potent wake up call for those
that choose to smoke and consume an unhealthy diet, but what does that
have to do with this nuclear waste dump? Hundreds of thousands of people
still contract cancer annually from causes other then smoking and diet.
Why should we add yet another cause to the list: contaminated drinking
water in Albuquerque? And what if YOU fall in that other 35%? Are you
willing to sacrifice YOUR life or YOUR CHILD'S life so that the DOE, et
al. can save some money and trouble? We have also been told that there
is greater risk in driving to work than is posed by the Mixed Waste Landfill.
Well, I CHOOSE to drive to work, take that risk, and reap the reward of
a paycheck so I can LIVE. If the DOE, et al. refuses to clean up this
nuclear waste dump, they make the choice for all of us, they reap the
rewards while we suffer the consequences: losing our drinking water and
maybe even our lives. I have also been told that there are municipal landfills
that could contaminate water sources so the nuclear waste dump should
not concern me. I have been told that we should focus our money and efforts
on those contaminators, not on the DOE et al.'s. What sense does that
make? Because there are other ways to be poisoned, we should ignore this
one? And since when does the DOE spend money on cleaning municipal landfills?
They did spend money on an anti-missile laser for Israel ($250 million)
and developing and promoting nuclear power (at least $19 million in 1999
alone) which produces even more of this waste. These expenditures are
only the tip of the iceberg. They spend billions and billions of dollars
making MORE nuclear weapons when we have enough today to destroy the world
a thousand times over. Why won't the DOE/SNL/LM pay to cleanup their own
mess, and do it with their own money (which is of course OUR money?) DOE/SNL's
proposed "2001" budgets are $17.3 and $1.4 billion respectively;
Lockheed Martin's reported net earnings in 1999 = $382 million.
There have been other excuses
against cleanup. They have changed many times, but one that has persisted
after the others were proven specious is that the dump is too dangerous
to clean up. They have, in the past, cleaned up sites that contain every
item that is in this dump. Furthermore, if these materials are so dangerous
then why not have some consistency in DOE policy-STOP MAKING MORE OF IT.
If they insist on producing ever more of these materials then their first
priority should be to find a way to safely clean and isolate all past
and future waste. THEY ARE NOT DOING THIS NOW!!!
Before discussion of Albuquerque's
nuclear waste dump proceeds any further, the people of Albuquerque need
to know what is being discussed. In order to have an honest discussion,
the DOE/Sandia/Lockheed Martin need to stop with the smoke screens. They
need to cease with the lies, the doubletalk, the misleading terminology,
and the unrelated diversions. They need to start calling apples, apples
and oranges, oranges. So to the people of Albuquerque, all I can suggest
is: know your fruit!