The Threat from Made-in-USA WMDs

by Mina Hamilton
April 8, 2004

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Iraq's alleged nuclear threat sinks into the dustbin of history. Americans can stop worrying about atomic perils? Wrong.

Americans are at risk from American-as-apple-pie, Stars-and-Stripes, and made-in-USA, WMDs.

A just-released study, Danger Lurks Beneath: The Threat to Major Water Supplies from US Department of Energy Nuclear Weapons Plants, details the danger. Written by Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, a high energy, nuclear physicist, who has been studying nuclear hazards for 28 years and published by the public interest group, the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, this book will curl your hair.

Danger Lurks Beneath shows EVEN IF THE US NUCLEAR ARSENAL IS NEVER USED a deadly plague has been released upon the land and water. Though most of the 13 nuclear weapons factories are currently shutdown (a situation President Bush would love to change), the contamination is spreading.

The process of manufacturing nuclear bombs is not dramatic. Unlike an actual nuclear exchange no humans are burned to a crisp, no cities are pulverized. But the ingredients for a nuclear bomb must be mined, sheared, heated, melted, liquefied, transformed into gas, spun, fashioned into metal, nuked, chopped up, put through chemical baths, extracted - all the while unleashing a host of poisons.

The hazard isn't just to the citizens living nearby to the factories. The poisons threaten us all.

Imagine the distance between Boston and New York. It's a five-hour, pedal-to-the-metal highway jaunt. It's also the alarming distance toxins have migrated away from the Hanford nuclear weapons factory in Washington.

Mussels and oysters found on the Washington coast are contaminated with radioactive poisons that flowed down to the coast from Hanford, 200 miles upstream. This is one of many devastating findings in Danger Lurks Beneath.

How can we take in the enormity of what's happened and is still happening?

We learn that four major rivers and many minor rivers are already contaminated or at risk. The Columbia River in Washington, the Snake River in Idaho, the Tuscaloosa River in Georgia, the Rio Grande in New Mexico, the Great Miami River and Ohio Rivers in Ohio.

How do we wrap our minds around four major rivers at risk? What does it mean for people who swim, fish or drink from those rivers? What about people picnicking alongside those rivers? Are the grasses along the banks safe? Is the sediment toxic?

The risk is not a hypothetical, let's-worry-in-ten-years matter. At the Fernald nuclear weapons factory in Ohio the plant managers deliberately poured - via a buried pipeline -tons of uranium into the Great Miami River. Yes, TONS. And this is a river that flows into the Ohio River from which many municipalities draw drinking water.

Ohio communities are not the only ones whose water supplies are threatened. One water reservoir has already had to be shutdown, the Great Western reservoir in the suburbs of Denver. It's contaminated by runoff from the Rocky Flats factory. Now a second nearby water reservoir, Standley Lake, is also polluted by radioactivity.

The information in Danger Lurks Beneath is so shocking we want to comfort ourselves, assure ourselves, Hey we don't live there or near there. Problem: The toxins are seeping into the food chain in sinister ways. For example, ever eat farm-fed trout? That delicious, fresh trout staring up from your plate was probably grown in water drawn from the Snake River aquifer in Idaho. The nearby Idaho nuclear weapons factory is polluting the aquifer.

For the first time in 2000, plutonium was detected in two locations in this aquifer. A host of other nasty chemicals and radionuclides had already been found in this vital water source.

Not that the trout are contaminated, at least, as far as we know. But here's an indicator of how real the threat is: several years ago a trout farmer tried to sell his Idaho hatchery business to the company, W.R. Grace. He was turned down. What were W.R. Grace's reasons? They didn't want a fish farm that gets its water from a source above which nuclear waste is buried. (1)

W.R. Grace was not whistling in the dark. It's a company that knows about nuclear hazards. Back in the 1960's, Grace ran a now-defunct nuclear reprocessing factory in West Valley, NY.

Danger Lurks Beneath shows that the contamination from nuke weapons factories is widespread and it's traveling along unknown and unmapped pathways. We're fooling ourselves if we think we're safe -- anywhere.

The information is this book would be easier to swallow if there were a villain, an archenemy like Saddam to blame. But these villains are US government employees making extraordinarily dumb decisions, decisions driven by a blind dedication to so-called national security.

During four decades worth of bomb making the Atomic Energy Commission and its successor the Department of Energy adopted an out-of-sight, out-of-mind policy. Dump the waste where nobody can see it. Pump poison into aquifers, pipe it to rivers, dump it into streams, ponds and trenches, site burial grounds in swamps. And, all the while, lie about what you're doing.

This WMD threat makes Saddam's "nuclear" menace look like a cupcake. Ditto North Korea's or Iran's.

Don't expect President Bush to make jokes about this threat. No way is he going to engage in a comic routine looking under the desk in the Oval Office for by-products of the US's bomb building spree.

Ralph Nader, Dennis Kucinich, John Kerry, the US Congress, the media and any sane member of the human species should be trumpeting the findings of this report across the land. Will they? Are they?

Are we?

(1) Perspectives of a Former Idaho Trout Farmer, www.ieer.org/sdafiles

To obtain a copy of Danger Lurks Beneath go to www.ananuclear.org. If you don't feel up to the 270-page study, an Executive Summary is available. Also you can download individual chapters on nuclear factories nearest you or your family and friends.

Mina Hamilton is a writer based in New York City. She is a Contributing Editor to Danger Lurks Beneath: The Threat to Major Water Supplies from US Department of Energy Nuclear Weapons Plants. She can be reached at minaham@aol.com

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