Nuclear Weapons Waste in Your Water Bottle, Hip Replacement, Baby’s Toys, Jungle Gym?

by JOHN LaFORGE

Even the deregulation-happy Wall St. Journal sounded shocked: “The Department of Energy is proposing to allow the sale of tons of scrap metal from government nuclear sites — an attempt to reduce waste that critics say could lead to radiation-tainted belt buckles, surgical implants and other consumer products.”

Having failed in the ‘80s and ‘90s to free the nuclear bomb factories and national laboratories of millions of tons of their radioactively contaminated scrap and nickel, the DOE is trying again. Its latest proposal is moving ahead without even an Environmental Impact Statement. Those messy EISs involve public hearings, so you can imagine the DOE’s reluctance to face the public over adding yet more radiation to the doses we’re already accumulating. It would be a pretty hard sell, what with dental X-rays, medical X-rays, mammograms, CAT scans, PET scans, radio-isotope “seeds” and cocktails, food irradiation, every-day releases of radioactive gases and water from 104 nuclear power reactors, major releases like Fukushima, radon from rocks, whole-body X-rays at airports (that you can refuse) and cosmic rays during flights.

Not long after Chernobyl spread radiation around the world in 1986, the National Council on Radiation Protection doubled its estimate of our annual radiation dose, from 170 millirems to 360. A few years ago it raised the estimate again, to 620 millirems per year. The agencies that both create radioactive waste and estimate the radiation doses it gives to us, say the latest increase is due mostly to rapid growth in the use of medical X-rays and radio-isotopes in medicine. Should the DOE be allowed to haphazardly add still more?

Still, the DOE wants to deregulate and actually sell 14,000 tons of radioactive scrap metal (both volumetrically and topically contaminated) from the nuclear war system — uranium enrichment, plutonium extraction, etc. — and “recycle” the waste to the commercial clean scrap metal industry. From there, according to the watchdog group Nuclear Information and Resource Service, the radioactive stuff “could be turned into anything from your next pants zipper to baby toys.”

The DOE claims that potential radiation exposures to men, women and children would amount to a “negligible individual dose.” But anyone with a scrap of understanding of DOE and the Atomic Energy Commission knows not to believe a word of their assurances. The DOE famously said that rainwater would take thousands of years to seep through Yucca Mountain to a deep waste repository; it ran through the mountain in 40 years.

Even Some in Congress Object

Rep. Ed Markey wrote to Energy Secretary Steven Chu Jan. 11, calling the deregulation proposal “unwise” and urging that it “should be immediately abandoned.” Rep. Markey warned that radioactive products could “ultimately be utilized by pregnant women, children and other vulnerable populations.”

The DOE has never officially acknowledged — in spite of the National Academy of Sciences’ 2006 findings — that the same radiation dose does far more harm to women than to men. The drastically increased vulnerability of fetuses and infants is well known, but the whole population is nevertheless treated as the same big, young, Caucasian male (“reference man”) in most radiation risk assessments.

The DOE’s assessment of the proposal’s risks neglects the fact that exposures can go on for years from a watch or from medical implants or tableware or other items, leading to many millirems for many years. A millirem per year over 30 or 70 years is 30 or 70 millirems which is not trivial, NIRS points out.

The DOE currently bans the release of its radioactive scrap under a moratorium that began in 2000. The ban must not be lifted, but should be made permanent and expanded to keep all radioactive waste — plastic, concrete, soil, asphalt, etc. in addition to all metals — under control, out of commercial recycling and managed as the deadly hazard it is. NIRS.org has more details.

You can tell the DOE to continue to keep its radioactive metal out of the commercial metal supply, commerce, and our personal items. You can demand a full environmental impact statement. Comment deadline is Feb. 9, 2013. Email to: scrap_PEAcomments@hq.doe.gov (with an underscore after “scrap_”). Snail mail to: Jane Summerson / DOE NNSA / PO Box 5400, Bldg. 401K. AFB East / Albuquerque, New Mexico 87185

John LaForge works for Nukewatch and edits  its Quarterly newsletter.

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
Weekend Edition
September 4-6, 2015
Lawrence Ware
No Refuge: the Specter of White Supremacy Still Haunts Black America
Andrew Levine
Compassionate Conservatism: a Reconsideration and an Appreciation
Paul Street
Bi-Polar Disorder: Obama’s Environmental Bait-and-Switch Politics
Arun Gupta
Field Notes to Life During the Apocalypse
Steve Hendricks
Come Again? Second Thoughts on My Ashley Madison Affair
Ron Jacobs
Bernie Sanders’ Vision: As Myopic as Every Other Candidate or Not?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Arkansas Bloodsuckers: the Clintons, Prisoners and the Blood Trade
Richard W. Behan
Republican Fail, Advantage Sanders: the Indefensible Budget for Defense
Ted Rall
Call It By Its Name: Censorship
Susan Babbitt
“Swarms” Entering the UK? What We Can Still Learn About the Migrant Crisis From Che Guevara
Kali Akuno
Until We Win: Black Labor and Liberation in the Disposable Era
John Wight
Adrift Without Sanctuary: a Sick and Twisted Morality
Binoy Kampmark
Sieges in an Age of Austerity: Monitoring Julian Assange
Kathleen Wallace
The Child Has a Name, They All Do
David Rosen
Why So Few Riots?
Norm Kent
The Rent Boy Raid: Homeland Security Should Monitor Our Borders Not Our Bedrooms
John Helmer
IMF Officials Implicated in Theft, Concealment of Ukraine Loan Corruption
Michael Welton
Canada’s Arrogant Autocrat: the Rogue Politics of Stephen Harper
Patrick T. Hiller
There’s Nothing Collateral About a Toddler Washed Ashore
Ramzy Baroud
Palestine’s Crisis of Leadership: Did Abbas Destroy Palestinian Democracy?
Pepe Escobar
Say Hello to China’s New Toys
Sylvia C. Frain
Tiny Guam, Huge US Marine Base Expansions
Pete Dolack
Turning National Parks into Corporate Profit Centers
Ann Garrison
Africa’s Problem From Hell: Samantha Power
Christopher Brauchli
Poor, Poor, Pitiful Citigroup
Norman Pollack
Paradigm of a Fascist Mindset: Nicholas Burns on Iran
Roger Annis
Canada’s Web of Lies Over Syrian Refugee Crisis
Chris Zinda
Constitutional Crisis in the Heart of Dixie
Rannie Amiri
Everything Stinks: Beirut Protests and Garbage Politics
Missy Comley Beattie
In Order To Breathe
James McEnteer
Blast From the Past in Buenos Aires
Edward Leer
Love, Betrayal, and Donuts
Cesar Chelala
Cruelty is Not a Human Right
Louis Proyect
Migrating Through Hell: Quemada-Diez’s “La Jaula de Oro”
Charles R. Larson
Class and Colonialism in British Cairo
September 03, 2015
Sal Rodriguez
How California Prison Hunger Strikes Sparked Solitary Confinement Reforms
Lawrence Ware
Leave Michael Vick Alone: the Racism and Misogyny of Football Fans
Dave Lindorff
Is Obama the Worst President Ever?
Vijay Prashad
The Return of Social Democracy?
Ellen Brown
Quantitative Easing for People: Jeremy Corbyn’s Radical Proposal
Paul Craig Roberts
The Rise of the Inhumanes: Barron, Bybee, Yoo and Bradford
Binoy Kampmark
Inside Emailgate: Hillary’s Latest Problem
Lynn Holland
For the Love of Water: El Salvador’s Mining Ban
Geoff Dutton
Time for Some Anger Management
Jack Rasmus
The New Colonialism: Greece and Ukraine