Sunday, October 21, 2012

See No Evil, Hear No Evil (When It Comes to Radiation Contamination)

A reader forwarded me an excellent essay about a small town in western Pennsylvania contaminated with uranium.

What struck me the most was the last paragraph, in which the author relates the reaction of people to his facebook page:

Men, women, and children were poisoned by that uranium fuel plant and that glass plant. Yet, for the most part, they ignore this, content to contemplate instead their “warm and fuzzy” memories, as one person put it on my hometown facebook page.

The town seems to be dying because of radiation contamination from decades of uranium fuel processing, but people would rather dwell on warm and fuzzy feelings.

That's very similar to what may be happening in Fukushima. Or for that matter, in Japan. What a wonderful place it was. What a wonderful place it will be. Forget the present. (Fukushima I Nuke Plant's official mascot was an ostrich, after all.)

From "Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate" blog:

Poisoning People in Apollo: All in a Day’s Work

May 18, 2012
Michael D. Yates

Apollo is a small town in western Pennsylvania, part of the old coal and steel belt that surrounds Pittsburgh. The shallow Kiskiminitas River, a tributary of the Allegheny, flows through the borough. Although it is close to my hometown, I never knew much about it, except that my artist uncle once made a glass carving for the town to commemorate the Apollo astronauts the community had embraced.

I remember passing through Apollo and noticing a large industrial complex at the edge of town. Years later, I learned that this plant was owned by the Babcock & Wilcox Corporation, and it produced uranium fuel. Babcock & Wilcox, a global conglomerate, has been involved in nuclear-related industrial production ever since the Manhattan Project, designing, fabricating, and supplying components for nuclear power plants, ships, submarines, and weapons.

The facility in Apollo and another one in nearby Parks Township, initially built by the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) in 1957 and later bought by the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) and then by Babcock & Wilcox, closed in 1986. Left behind were contaminated land and water and sick and dead residents. Victims and their families sued the companies in the mid-1990s for damages suffered, and ARCO and Babcock & Wilcox were forced to pay $80 million to compensate victims for cancers and loss of property value. Sadly, by the time the lawsuits were settled, in 2008 and 2009, 40 percent of the claimants had died.

Meanwhile, Babcock & Wilcox declared bankruptcy in 2000 to avoid liability in thousands of lawsuits by employees subjected to asbestos, a substance that businesses have known since the 1930s causes cancer. As a condition of exiting bankruptcy, it set up a trust fund to pay asbestos claimants; the amount of money put aside was far less than the company would very likely have had to pay if it had faced those lawsuits.

Recently, nearly one hundred new lawsuits against ARCO and Babcock & Wilcox were filed by scores of people claiming that they got cancer as a result of exposure to radiation. A report to the federal court by an expert witness stated that the two companies “knew about worst-in-the-nation releases of radioactive materials that spanned decades, but opted not to do enough to protect neighbors from cancer-causing dust.” NUMEC showed an almost wanton disregard for safety. “In the first few years, the company lost so much uranium—enough to build several nuclear bombs—that the FBI investigated whether someone was actually stealing the material and selling it to a foreign country!” At the Parks Township facility, which produced plutonium and enriched uranium, NUMEC buried radioactive waste in an open unfenced field close to where children played. It is implausible that Babcock Wilcox, with its many nuclear projects over a long period of time, did not know about the problems with the entities it was buying. Yet, it did nothing to protect its workers or the community. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,

A top official in 1974 viewed memos on the facility [which Babcock Wilcox bought in 1971] and wrote that if they were accurate, ‘we are guilty of gross irresponsibility in continuing to operate our uranium facilities.’ He threatened to shut them down, but the company didn’t stop making highly enriched uranium there until 1978, and it ended all production in 1984.

The actions of these corporations helped to destroy a town and its people, and it appears they knew what they were doing. They not only located a nuclear plant in a town, but then failed to shut it down when they knew that workers and residents were being poisoned. “ ‘A lot of people have lost not only their entire savings but their homes,’ due to the health effects and loss of property value caused by the plants, said Patricia Ameno, of Leechburg, who sued the companies in a previous round of litigation . . . . ‘Their families have been torn apart by illnesses and deaths.’” Ms. Ameno, whose body has been wracked by cancer and brain tumors, added, “I saw the town I grew up in … disintegrating, just like the bricks on that plant.” One of the persons who posted a comment on the Post-Gazette article noted that a 1999 piece in the same newspaper showed that one-sixth of Apollo’s population had some type of cancer!

I posted the Post-Gazette story on a facebook page dedicated to men and women who grew up in my hometown in the 1950s and 1960s. Most know about the Apollo plant. And they all lived in a town dominated by the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company, which poisoned its own employees with asbestos and silica dust and whose now abandoned property is so full of harmful chemicals that it cannot even donate it to the town. Outside town, near the company-owned fields on which I used to play baseball, “waste lagoons” built by the company and fed by pipes that went under the river have been leaking “arsenic, chromium, lead, manganese, copper, zinc, mercury and other toxic compounds into the river.” Despite this, only two persons commented on what I posted. If a post concerns some ancient bit of trivia or the local hoagie shop, members of the group fall all over themselves to make some meaningless remark. But something so important is met with silence.

Sadly, a family member is a manager at Babcock Wilcox. I have always wondered how he could do this. The division of the company in which he works is knee-deep in the bowels of the military-industrial system. It “manages complex, high-consequence nuclear and national security operations, including nuclear production facilities and the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve.” In others words, it is part of the U.S. war machine, making money by helping the government kill people, just like it killed people more directly in Apollo.

Thousands of people grew up in and near Apollo. They have learned what harm the corporations who employed them and their relatives and friends have done and continue to do. Men, women, and children were poisoned by that uranium fuel plant and that glass plant. Yet, for the most part, they ignore this, content to contemplate instead their “warm and fuzzy” memories, as one person put it on my hometown facebook page. And many hundreds of thousands of men and women work as managers for horrendous corporate criminals like Babcock Wilcox without ever questioning their actions. Perhaps this tells us something about what those who raise their voices in protest are up against. Including the plaintiffs challenging Babcock Wilcox. I wish them success.

The author has a follow-up piece on October 20, 2012, describing how Babcock & Wilcox is attacking people who dare sue the company.

(H/T John Noah)


Apolline said...

Thank you, I translate for my blog.

BTW, Ultraman, I am rather concerned to have no mail news from TBT since several weeks.

Do you know something about this person ?

Thank you for your answer.

Anonymous said...

There seems to be one stupid rule by which most people live their life : always choose comfort. Comfort = no change, same environment, same people around. And therefore denial.

Anonymous said...
broadcast on French TV...

Anonymous said...

In case of Fukushima, there are 2 types of people. The first one worries and takes measure to leave. 60% of children under 20 y/o left minamisoma already.
While there is another group of people, those who play the authority rules, deny danger and force others to get contaminated.
These are staying.
The positive thing about Fukushima is that those who playing the evil rules of the authorities will become sick, probably many will die, and this "species" of evil human will eventually become extinc from the genetic and biological impairement of Fukushima.
The world might be a better one once they are gone.

Anonymous said...

When it comes to nuclear power this type of story can be found all across the world

Links to Nuclear Fuel Suppliers and Agents (see who's polluting your country).

Nuclear Fuel Fabrication - Current Issues (USA)

Westinghouse Starts Production of Nuclear Fuel at Columbia for AP1000™ Units in China

Anonymous said...

Babcock & Wilcox shit all over Pennsylvania they were also the guys who manufactured the PWR at Three Mile Island. They used threats against their victims back then to.

"The investigation strongly criticized Babcock and Wilcox, Met Ed, GPU, and the NRC for lapses in quality assurance and maintenance, inadequate operator training, lack of communication of important safety information, poor management, and complacency, but avoided drawing conclusions about the future of the nuclear industry."

kintaman said...

I think this is simply human nature and it knows no national boundaries. There are some folks who will flee, like myself, but most will stay and live in the warm and fuzzy memories of the past and prayers for the future.

I will admit that even though I evacuated the one time from Japan I do not think I have the strength/will for another if it becomes worse. It simply took too much out of us to do it - both financially and emotionally. We are drained completely and trying simply to live a happy life together.

I deal with the anger, fear, worries (for those still near Fukushima and consuming contaminated food) and frustrations daily but try to mask it for the sake of my family and our sanity.

I wish this could all just go away by means of some miracle but I know that is just a dream. I then wish that all those responsible for the disaster and subsequent lies (at all levels) to be harshly punished and sent to Fukushima Daiichi to work forever to clean it up. That is just my feeling though.

Anonymous said...

3 Nuclear bombs that crashed in Spain in the 1960s, they didnt blow up but plutonium was scattered around is the article , hey exskf ,might be worth doing a blog post on this ..


Anonymous said...

@ 10:12

Broken Arrows and are actually pretty common the US admits to 32 lost and damaged nuclear weapons. Palomares wasn't the worst example on January 24, 1961 a B-52 on alert broke up and dropped two weapons over Goldsboro, North Carolina and they nearly detonated.

"Lapp wrote in Kill and Overkill that each device involved in the Goldsboro incident was equipped with "six interlocking safety mechanisms, all of which had to be triggered in sequence to explode the bomb." Lapp said that "five of the six interlocks had been set off by the fall..." and thus, "only a single switch prevented the bomb from detonating and spreading fire and destruction over a wide area."

"Daniel Ellsberg, famously of the Pentagon Papers case, was quoted in the April 1981 issue of Mother Jones as saying that during his time at the Pentagon he saw "a classified document" about the Goldsboro incident which verified Lapp's claim. Ellsberg stood by his story in a telephone interview for this project, and repeated his 1981 assertions that when the behavior of safety features in both bombs involved in this incident are taken into account, every kind of safety interlock had failed."

"Lapp and Ellsberg have other support in their claims that only a single switch prevented one of the devices from detonating. In September of 1983, Robert McNamara, who served as Secretary of Defense in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, said at a press conference: "The bombs' arming mechanism had six or seven steps to go through to detonate, and it went through all but one, we discovered later" (Greensboro Daily News, 16 September 1981, pg. A1)"

This doesn't include all the warheads lost on sunken Russia nuclear subs or the incidents too secret to release to the public. The accident in Spain is just one hair on the nuclear head. What is the chance other members of the Nuclear Weapons club haven't had or will have their own close calls?

The military used an array of code words for nuclear accidents. Here is the language of accidental annihilation.

Bent Spear
Broken Arrow
Emergency Disablement
Emergency Evacuation
Empty Quiver
Faded Giant
Dull Sword

Anonymous said...

“In the first few years, the company lost so much uranium—enough to build several nuclear bombs—that the FBI investigated whether someone was actually stealing the material and selling it to a foreign country!”

Ummm, they were. Crickets....

Anonymous said...

The disappearance of hundreds of lbs. of highly enriched Uranium was know as the Apollo affair.

"The Apollo Affair was a 1965 incident in which a US company, Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), in Apollo and Parks Township, Pennsylvania was investigated for losing 200-600 pounds of highly enriched uranium. In 1965, the FBI investigated Zalman Shapiro, the company's president, over the loss 200 pounds of highly enriched uranium. After investigations by the Atomic Energy Commission, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, other government agencies, and inquiring reporters, no charges were ever filed. A General Accounting Office study of the investigations declassified in May 2010 stated "We believe a timely, concerted effort on the part of these three agencies would have greatly aided and possibly solved the NUMEC diversion questions, if they desired to do so."

Some claim it went to Israel others claim "it ended up in the air and water of the city of Apollo as well as in the ducts, tubes, and floors of the NUMEC plant."

Anonymous said...

Holy crap , the nuclear rabbit hole goes very deep indeed.... these close calls are waiting to happen again at some point and no one knows shit about it all ..

Unknown said...

and this has been increasing every single day for decades and no one says a thing?

Greyhawk said...

There's also an H-Bomb in the Atlantic Ocean off Savannah, Georgia. The US Navy could not find it in the mud. Sleep well everybody.

michael d yates said...

Friends, thank you for posting my essay. And thanks to readers for the thoughtful and useful comments. Michael D. Yates

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