Radioactive Life Styles
Paducah…Hanford…Rock Flats…Savannah River…Idaho National Laboratory…
By John LaForge, Nukewatch Staff
WASHINGTON -- Paducah, Kentucky becomes the latest chapter in the grim history of the nuclear age. "What goes around comes around," was never truer than in the business of nuclear weapons. Threatening to poison and kill millions of fellow human beings with particularly horrible weapons, has, it turns out, poisoned and killed thousands of the North Americans who worked building the bombs.
Across the country areas the size of whole states -- Hanford, Savannah River, Oak Ridge, Rocky Flats and now Paducah -- have been contaminated with highly radioactive wastes that will really threaten national security for thousands or millions of years.
In response to revelations about the Paducah factory, as if money could compensate for the induced cancers, immune system disorders and genetic damage that will haunt multiple generations, the DOE now talks about taking care of the workers it so ruthlessly lied to and abused.
In an unusually harsh tone, the Washington Post reported August 8 that the government and military contractors kept secret their severe and prolonged radiation contamination of workers at the Paducah, KY nuclear weapons factory -- "even as employees began to notice a string of cancers." One health physicist who warned of the dangers was told, "this is Paducah -- it doesn't matter here." The Post said that contamination continued well into the 1990s.
The Post called its analysis, "the still-unfolding story of radioactive contamination and concealment in the chain of factories." Still-unfolding. You can say that again, since the plutonium and other highly radioactive metals involved are so long-lasting and because radiation-induced genetic damage is passed from generation to generation.
The DOE has promised more study and said it will try to add the Paducah workers to its ever-expanding list of employees it made sick and to whom it owes compensation.
"Unsuspecting workers inhaled plutonium-laced dust brought into the plant for 23 years," the Post reported. "One 20-year veteran worker who died in 1980 compiled a list of 50 employees he worked with who had died of cancer." Al Puckett, a retired shop steward told the Post, "They told us you could eat this stuff and it wouldn't hurt you." At lunchtime, workers brushed black powder or green uranium dust off their food, the Post reported.
While the DOE still claims that exposures were minimal, plutonium can cause cancer if even a single particle (one millionth of an ounce) is ingested or inhaled. In addition, the government kept no records of internal radiation exposures, so it has no basis from which to estimate. It is no accident that the government lacks exposure data, as it has a vested liability interest in not knowing.
A worker lawsuit against operators Lockheed Martin and Martin Marietta charges that radiation contamination is still a problem. Crude fences mark hundreds of radioactive "hot spots" throughout the complex, and new ones are found every year.
In yet another installment of the Vietnam-era carpet bombing defense "We had to destroy the village to save it," Energy Secretary Bill Richardson told the Post that the DOE's "national security goals had 'sent many of our workers into harm's way' in the past." He claimed that no workers are at risk today.
New York Times, Aug. 10 & July 15, 1999;
Superior Telegram, Aug. 9, 1999;
Washington Post, Aug. 8, 1999;
Seattle Times, Aug. 8, 1999.