for what you can do about this
The following combines elements of the original 10/7 press release
and the October 1997 edition of The Nuclear Monitor,
a Publication of the Nuclear Information & Resource Service, pp. 3-4.
1424 16th Street NW, Suite 404
Washington, DC 20036
For Release Tuesday 10/7/97
Contact: Diane D'Arrigo NIRS 202 328-0002
The Department of Energy (DOE) has signed a precedent-setting contract with private companies including BNFL, a subsidiary of British Nuclear Fuels Ltd, that guarantees the company a profit on sales of radioactively contaminated metal to the marketplace. Under the contract, BNFL would take apart the uranium enrichment plant at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. The metal from the decommmissioning would be sold on the open market.
As of the signing of the contract, title to the federally-owned radioactive metal waste from enrichment of uranium for nuclear reactors, was shifted to BNFL. Once stripped from the radioactive buildings, the metal will be transported to privately owned, state-licensed companies who will process and sell it on the open market. The scrap could be used for cars, I-beams of buildings, anything made with stainless steel. BNFL already has plans for a contract with a company (Ovonics) that makes nickel metal hydride batteries that could end up in items such as scooters, cars, computers and toys.
The amount of radioactively
contaminated metal entering
the marketplace is on the verge of
a dramatic, exponential increase.
As atomic reactors and weapons factories close, decommissioning begins. There is an imminent danger that radioactive metal is and will be released into circulation. The amount of contaminated metal entering the marketplace is on the verge of a dramatic, exponential increase.
The threat comes from two directions:
- First, there are specific contracts such as the DOE and BNFL deal to decommission parts of the immense bomb complex. This contract at Oak Ridge, Tennessee is both dangerous and a warning knell of more such contracts to come at Oak Ridge and across the country.
- Second, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) are in various stages of rolling out the red carpet for these unacceptable practices, legalizing release of radioactive metal, other materials (plastic, concrete, etc.) and properties from regulated control. This is despite the public's consistent previous objections to such dangerous, irreversible policies. The most recent policies are suspected to have originated or been sanctioned in closed-door meetings of federal agencies (the Interagency Steering Committee on Radiation Standards) which operates in secrecy reminiscent in some ways of the Manhattan Project. DOE is already releasing and the EPA is developing standards to justify unrestricted radioactive releases into the public domain. NRC's highly objectionable rule setting allowable radioactive levels for buildings and property to be released has already been finalized.
Since the BNFL contract involves subcontracting to metal processors that are licensed by the state, the release of radioactivity is being permitted through Tennessee's authority as an "Agreement State" with the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Essentially, state-level regulators from one of the most nuclear states in the country, are setting defacto standards, using loopholes and exemptions, for routine contamination of the unsuspecting public.
"The government regulators are completely selling out and setting the stage for irreversible contamination of the planet. We made a big mistake creating this mess. There is absolutely no justification for spreading it around and letting a few sloppy nuclear companies make a bundle out of the scrubbing, smelting and selling it in the open market." Diane D'Arrigo of NIRS charged.
DOE is already releasing and
the EPA is developing standards
to justify unrestricted radioactive
releases into the public domain.
"Unwitting consumers are subsidizing decommissioning costs as hunks of radioactive machinery and metal shielding are transformed into dinnerware and swingsets." said D'Arrigo.
This raises some serious questions for the public: Will mothers need to take geiger counters with them when shopping for childrens' toys? How will you know if the metal used to make your child's orthodontic braces have traces of radioactive contamination from nuclear bomb factories?
The sole-source, noncompetitive contract between BNFL and DOE, signed in late August 1997, to decommission three huge uranium enrichment factories at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee nuclear reservation will cost an estimated $300 Million ($292,748,000+ TK) and result in the release of an estimated 112,000 tons of radioactive nickel, copper, aluminum and steel scrap into commerce in the US and abroad. Once into general use, the radioactive metal can be recycled, reused and resmelted over and over again, disseminating radioactivity and multiplying exposures to the public and workers in any encounter with metal objects.
This large-scale release of radioactive metal into the public domain is being done in violation of the basic scientific and internationally accepted principles that there is no safe level of exposure to ionizing radioactivity and that exposures should be minimized and prevented. There will be no protection of the public, no warning, no notification, no verification of individual and multiple exposures.
"This is the tip of the iceberg--a horrifying, precedent-setting contract to spread radioactivity from nuclear weapons production into our daily lives," stated D'Arrigo. "And there will be more to follow at Oak Ridge, other atomic weapons sites and from nuclear power reactors from repairs and closures."
The Oil Chemical and Atomic Workers union (OCAW) sued to halt the project on August 22.
The lawsuit charges that DOE violated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to conduct a formal Environmental Impact Statement on the project and that DOE violated Section 3161 of the National Defense Authorization Act which requires displaced nuclear workers to be retrained and hired to clean up the thousands of contaminated nuclear sites scattered throughout the United States. The lawsuit also charges the DOE-financed Community Reuse Organization of Tennessee (CROET) failed to provide retraining and hiring preference to laid-off nuclear workers, as mandated by law.
Essentially, state-level regulators
from one of the most nuclear states
in the country, are setting defacto
standards, using loopholes and
of the unsuspecting public.
"Long-time skilled union workers are being displaced and replaced by low-paid, untrained, uncertified contract workers who don't have the vaguest idea how to operate in highly contaminated areas like the K-25 Oak Ridge site," said Richard Miller, an OCAW policy analyst.
"And what about the truck drivers who won't even know that they're hauling hot stuff; the steel workers and factory workers who use the radioactive material? And warehouse workers? And retail workers who sell the products? Or the people who live near facilities through which the radioactive material passes?"
BNFL has a long history of radioactive pollution in the United Kingdom. That record includes a recent study financed by Britain's public health agency, showing that children throughout the United Kingdom have accumulated plutonium--the most toxic of all radioactive poisons--in their teeth from BNFL's dirty operations at its flagship site in Sellafield, Cumbria, in southern England. Sellafield's pollution has also turned the Irish Sea into the most highly radioactive-contaminated body of water on the face of the Earth. Groundwater sources in the area are also threatened with contamination from a new BNFL radioactive waste burial scheme to be located there.
So why was the BNFL group chosen with no consideration of alternative existing proposals? One competing group even claims to have a safer, more effective decontamination technology.
It could be a matter of clout. Joe LaGrone, DOE's former general manager at Oak Ridge became a BNFL vice-president in 1995 immediately after leaving DOE. Al Alm, DOE Asst. Secretary for Environmental Management took his government job, allegedly as one of the overseers of the BNFL contract, shortly after leaving SAIC, a major partner on BNFL's "team."
James Schlesinger--former Secretary of Energy and past head of the Atomic Energy Commission--is now a board member at BNFL Inc. Former Secretary of State Elliot Richardson is also a BNFL Inc. board member. Robert C. Stempel, former CEO of General Motors, now Chairman of the Board of Energy Conversion Devices is another BNFL partner in the deal.
Even Vice President Al Gore has weighed in favor of the questionable contract. "This is good news for Tennesseans. This reinventing government initiative not only solves an environmental problem, but will create jobs and stimulate the economy in the Oak Ridge area as well," said Gore in an October 30, 1996 statement. Gore's endorsement of the deal came before the contract was actually signed, just a few days before the 1996 elections, and even before a call for alternative bidders was formally posted by the Department of Energy.
"Neither DOE nor the state of Tennessee should allow radioactively contaminated materials into everyday commerce," said OCAW International President Robert Wages when the OCAW suit was announced. "Children should not be subjected to radioactive contamination from metals mined out of nuclear weapons plants when they receive toys or are fitted for orthodontic braces. Especially when the justification is to merely enhance the profits of a company seeking to cash in on a lucrative government contract," Wages concluded.
Despite the long line of heavy hitters greasing the radioactive skids, environmentalists, labor union activists and concerned health professionals are uniting to stop the unrestricted radioactive waste dumping. At Monitor presstime, environmental groups were preparing a separate suit against DOE for its failure to require Environmental Impact Statements for the project.