Citizen scientists are uncovering risks that governments would rather cover up
November 20, 2019
By Cindy Folkers
When reactors exploded and melted down at the Fukushima nuclear power complex in March 2011, they launched radioactivity from their ruined cores into the unprotected environment. Some of this toxic radioactivity was in the form of hot particles (radioactive microparticles) that congealed and became airborne by attaching to dusts and traveling great distances.
However, the Fukushima disaster is only the most recent example of atomic power and nuclear weapons sites creating and spreading these microparticles. Prior occurrences include various U.S. weapons sites and the ruined Chernobyl reactor. While government and industry cover up this hazard, community volunteer citizen science efforts – collaborations between scientists and community volunteers – are tracking the problem to raise awareness of its tremendous danger in Japan and across the globe.
After the Fukushima nuclear disaster began, one highly radioactive specimen, a particle small enough to inhale or ingest, was found in a private home where it should not have been, hundreds of miles from its source, in a vacuum cleaner bag containing simple house dust.
From Physicians for Social Responsibility, Los Angeles
November 9, 2018
THE SANTA SUSANA FIELD LABORATORY (ROCKETDYNE) BURNED IN THE WOOLSEY FIRE, THREATENING TOXIC EXPOSURES FROM CONTAMINATED DUST, SMOKE, ASH AND SOIL. THE DEPARTMENT OF TOXIC SUBSTANCES CONTROL DENIES RISK THAT IT CREATED BY DELAYING THE LONG PROMISED CLEANUP.
For Immediate Release: November 9, 2018
Contact: Denise Duffield, 310-339-9676 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Melissa Bumstead 818-298-3192* or email@example.com,
Last night, the Woolsey fire burned the contaminated Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), a former nuclear and rocket engine testing site. Footage from local television showed flames surrounding rocket test stands, and the fire’s progress through to Oak Park indicates that much of the toxic site burned.
A statement released by the California Dept. of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) said that its staff, “do not believe the fire has caused any releases of hazardous materials that would pose a risk to people exposed to the smoke.” The statement failed to assuage community concerns given DTSC’s longtime pattern of misinformation about SSFL’s contamination and its repeated broken promises to clean it up.
“We can’t trust anything that DTSC says,” said West Hills resident Melissa Bumstead, whose young daughter has twice survived leukemia that she blames on SSFL and who has mapped 50 other cases of rare pediatric cancers near the site. Bumstead organized a group called “Parents vs. SSFL” and launched a Change.org petition demanding full cleanup of SSFL that has been signed by over 410,000 people. “DTSC repeatedly minimizes risk from SSFL and has broken every promise it ever made about the SSFL cleanup. Communities throughout the state have also been failed by DTSC. The public has no confidence in this troubled agency,” said Bumstead.
Testimony of Daniel Hirsch,
President of Committee to Bridge the Gap
18 September 2008
Before the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works
SSFL [Santa Susanna Field Laboratory] is a good case study of problems at federal nuclear facilities throughout the country. The AEC/DOE [Atomic Energy Commission/Department of Energy] for decades operated these extraordinarily dangerous enterprises with little consideration for environmental regulation or protection of the public.They felt they were above the law, and the affected people nearby simply did not matter.
Corners were cut, rules bent, safety restrictions ignored. When accidents resulted, they were covered up.
Leaking high level waste tanks at Hanford, contamination from reactor accidents and improper waste disposal at INEEL, reprocessing failures at Savannah River, releases from Paducah and Oak Ridge and so many other nuclear sites—the story is always the same. Sloppy practices, inadequate attention to safety, lack of concern about the neighboring public, failure to be candid about problems—the result has been contamination that is amongst the biggest environmental insults this country has ever faced…
There are some who now argue for a revival of all things nuclear. They want scores more reactors. They want irradiated nuclear fuel to be reprocessed. They want breeder reactors to make even more plutonium.
But to do that, they need the country to experience a kind of nuclear amnesia.
They need us to forget the meltdown of the SRE [Sodium Reactor Experiment’, the explosion of the SL-1 [Idaho], the near-disaster of the N reactor [Hanford]. They need us to forget the immense contamination from the last time we tried reprocessing, the tens of billions of dollars it is costing to try to redress the damage from reprocessing at Hanford, Savannah River, and West Valley. They need us to forget the meltdown of the EBR-1 breeder in Idaho and Fermi I breeder, when we almost lost Detroit.
For those in the impacted communities from the last nuclear era, it all seems like nuclear déjà vu again. We hear echoes of all the old discredited claims again: that nuclear will be “too cheap to meter,” even as the industry asks for a hundred billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies and guarantees; that we will somehow find a solution to the radioactive waste problem, even though sixty-six years after the first reactor wastes were created no solution is in sight; that the risk of accident is non-existent, even as industry asks for immunity from liability from such accidents; that proliferation and terrorism risks can be ignored, even as we face a world in which countries are getting nuclear weapons from civil nuclear technology.
We hear the same old claims that nuclear is safe and clean;
yet our communities are still trying to get the government to clean up the radioactive contamination from all the past nuclear accidents, spills, and other releases from the last time we tried this.
It is said that those who forget the lessons of the past are condemned to repeat them, and repeat them, and repeat them. A sensible energy policy cannot depend upon collective amnesia. The last time we went down this road, it resulted in an unmitigated disaster for which we are still paying, in billions and billions of dollars of cleanup expenses, but more importantly, in poisoned land and water, and cancers in brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, cousins and nephews.
Let us learn from our mistakes rather than going blindly into repeating them. Otherwise, this deeply troubled nuclear past will indeed be prologue.