It’s as safe as mother’s milk, they’ll say When wanting to assure you that it’s all O.K. But mother’s milk can be a deadly dish If mom, a downwinder, eats Columbia River’s fish, Or consumes white snow – garden salads on the spot Then mother’s milk can become a deadly lot.
So I fed poison to my nursing son With radioactive iodine-131. Just because we lived in the wrong place I maimed my babe for that nuclear race.
This was written by a woman who has lived all of her life in Eastern Washington and remembers consuming local milk and produce around the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. Her husband loved to fish the Columbia River downstream from Hanford. Her name withheld by request. She says, “When [my youngest son] was seven – and again when he was eight years old – I had two surgeries for thyroid cancers. I didn’t tell people because it would be hard on our children….
“In 1985 my husband died quite suddenly. Early in 1986 word got out that radioactive iodine-131 and other pollutants had been released in large amounts by the government just to see what would happen to us downwinders from the nuclear plant at Hanford, Washington.
With the injuries from my thyroid cancers and the worry over my husband’s bladder and bone cancers, I was very angry and felt betrayed by my government. They used us as guinea pigs but we weren’t even that good because the government never followed up to see what did happen to us downwinders. I write poems, but they are all too mild for my anger at my government.” [Reprinted from the Hanford Health Information Network.]
This atrocity against all people is once again in the news.
In an extraordinary but not surprising statement, the Department of Energy has admitted that an explosion of a toxic radioactive waste container at the plant on May 14, 1997 exposed workers and released toxic materials into the atmosphere, including plutonium. This from the supposedly “closed” plant, the former flagship of the Department of War’s nuclear bomb plants (that’s what the Defense Department used to be called until the name was changed after World War II – it makes easier to get money from the taxpayers when you are asking for a “defense” budget rather than a “war” budget). Hanford may now rival Chernobyl as the most toxic site on planet Earth, with cleanup costs (if cleanup is even possible for such a site) estimated in the hundreds of billions of dollars. The site promises to be toxic for tens of thousands of years.
The May 14th explosion and series of errors is just part of the legacy of this nightmarish place. We as human beings must be angry about that place and what it represents. We must learn what is going on there and use our power to get something done about it.
Since 1943 when 600 square miles of land in Washington State was legally condemned and 1,500 residents of the towns of Richland, Hanford, and White Bluffs were ordered to leave their homes within 30 days, Hanford has released hundreds of thousands of curies of radioactive iodine-131 and other radioactive by-products into the atmosphere. Between 1944 and 1972, Hanford released as much as 740,000 curies of iodine-131 into the air!
For comparison, the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant partial core meltdown in 1979 released 15 curies of radioactive iodine-131 into the air; the Chernobyl accident released 35 million to 49 million curies of iodine-131 in 1986.
Thousands of lives have been adversely affected by this subtle, insidious, and mostly intentional radiation poisoning. Only today are some of these victims realizing what has given them cancer, killed their mates and children, and so horribly affected their lives. This information was kept secret until February 1986, when public pressure resulted in the release of 19,000 pages of U.S. Department of Energy documents under the Freedom of Information Act.
During the 30 years of Hanford’s operation, a staggering 440 billion gallons of radioactive toxic wastes were dumped into the ground! Underground nuclear waste tanks have leaked hundreds of thousands of gallons of waste. No complete records of the exact contents of these waste containers were kept, so the clean-up teams don’t even know what they are dealing with most of the time.
But the Cold War is over, you may say, right? Is it really. Is there anything behind the talk we hear of peace from our leaders? Has much of anything changed? It doesn’t appear so. In fact, it could be argued that things are much worse. Things are different, but the building of our nuclear arsenal has not stopped.
Did you know that in 1990, the amount of plutonium in the civilian sector of the world was 654 metric tons and in the military was 257 metric tons? By the year 2010, the amount of military plutonium is expected to remain the same while the civilian plutonium will grow to 2,100 metric tons! Civilian plutonium is plutonium produced in power generating nuclear reactors. Plutonium is a by-product of these reactors and many countries are planning to use this deadly material to power other reactors. This plutonium could conceivably be used to make a nuclear bomb.
We still spend over a trillion dollars world-wide on the military. Countries all over the world are building nuclear weapons stockpiles. The U.S continues to test nuclear weapons – they call them “sub-critical tests” to get around the current moratorium on testing – because the military wants to build a new generation of smaller, more powerful nuclear bombs. Scotland, of all places, is estimated to have as many as 266 Trident submarine warheads, many purchased from the U.S., each one a powerful nuclear weapon. It is estimated that Britain builds a new nuclear bomb every 8 days!
Five countries have nuclear-powered naval vessels: Russia, the United States, Great Britain, France and China. Even India is currently building a nuclear sub! The submarines of the Western countries typically have only one reactor on board, whereas two reactors power most Russian submarines. Excluding Russia, these nations have 132 nuclear submarines. Russia has 109 nuclear subs in its fleet. Britain has 13 nuclear subs, France has 11, and China has 6. The United States, the country of “peace,” has a staggering 101 nuclear submarines. Two hundred and forty one nuclear subs in the world!
At least 20 nuclear bomb-carrying U.S. subs are at sea 24 hours a day, each ready to fire on virtually any target in 15 minutes. One U.S. Trident submarine carries the explosive power of 1,000 Hiroshima bombs. The locations of these subs is the most closely guarded of secrets.
And we are still building more! Nine nuclear submarines are under construction in the U.S. alone. So much for the end of wartime.
“It wasn’t necessary to hit them with that awful thing,” said Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe and later President of the United States, referring to the atomic bomb dropped on Japan.
And we must remember the horror of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, two cities murdered by the U.S. But we had to do this to end the war, didn’t we? Well, diaries and documents released since then tell a different story. It seems that President Truman and his senior staff did not believe that we needed to drop the bomb on Japan to end the war. They believed that Japan would surrender without an invasion. In fact, diplomatic contacts and decoded Japanese wireless transmissions proved that surrender was imminent. So why was the bomb used?
Records suggest that Truman and his advisors believed that if they showed the world that they were willing to use the bomb, it would aid them in negotiating with Stalin over the future of Eastern and Central Europe. There was also a pervasive, racist disregard for Japanese life. The bomb was used to literally burn a memory into the minds of communist and non-European nations of an image of scientific and technological superiority for the Allied countries.
So, for the sake of image and to test the effects of our new weapons, 200 000 human lives were horribly ended and since 1945, more than 680,000 people have died or have been affected by the radiation released in those blasts.
These are sobering revelations. I wonder personally what to do with all this awareness. During an Environmental Science class I taught yesterday, I was trying to share environmental awareness with people who had never considered these issues before. Three of my students were police officers who, in the course of their duties, have witnessed the aftermath of illegal toxic spills and see the effects of a disconnected world daily. They fight each day for personal survival, let alone have the time for global thinking. I sometimes feel deflated at the daunting task of opening my fellow travelers’ eyes. But we must go on. We must love the beauty of this world and work towards stopping the folly.
Nuclear madness must stop. We can stop it. Everyday, we should do these things:
- E-mail or write our elected representatives (the Resources section below will tell you how) and tell them to stop this nuclear madness.
- Not support nuclear power in any form. Governments and corporations cannot be trusted with that power. There is no way that the relatively small amount of electrical power that is produced can justify the nuclear waste, the excess plutonium, or the temptations to make bombs.
- Insist that our elected representatives do something NOW about those who are suffering from the effects of Hanford and all the other bomb-making plants in the country. Insist that they stop all the studies and simply use the abundant money available in the world to help these people. We must stop letting them whine about who should be responsible and simply make them take responsibility. (Still think that money is an issue? See the Resources section below.)
- All nuclear testing must stop. Now. The U.S. must show the world that it is willing to take the first step.
- The U.S. must get out of the arms business. We sell our weapons of destruction to other nations. This is nuts and it must stop.
- All nuclear submarines should come home NOW. Set them up in ports around the country, build impenetrable “caskets” around them (NASA has the technology to build these cases – they do for their deep space probes) as museums so that people can learn of how insane we can be.
- Refuse to trade with any country with nuclear war technology.
But there are so many other horrors in our world? How can we invite this awareness into our lives and survive? I think we can, every day.
- We must surround ourselves with this knowledge and awareness and get very very angry. Feel the obscenity of these numbers, feel the horror of these events.
- Then, feel your feet firmly on the ground and take a deep breath. Center yourself. You have work to do.
- Look at your own personal priorities. What does your day look like? Do you take the time to nurture yourself – take a bath, do something creative, take a nap, exercise? Do you take the time to spend meaningful moments with those in your life that you love? Or do you feel hopelessly driven from one activity to another, not really in control of your own time?
- Change your priorities. Make the time for nurturing activities and communication with loved ones. Don’t wait for someone or something to come into your life that will allow this to happen. Do it now.
- Decide what is important to you. What values do you want to have? What values do you want the world to have? What do you want to be remembered for when you are gone? What do you want children to think of you?
- Make “mindfulness moments” part of your every day, time when you will fully allow the awareness horrors in the world to come in. Visualize the starving child, the suffering and frustrated person poisoned by Hanford, the homeless, the nuclear stockpiles, the Trident submarines traveling at sea, waiting to strike, and whatever else you have chosen to care about.
- Take an action of some kind every day. Teach someone about what you know. Send e-mail messages to your elected representatives making your demands clear. Choose to not buy something from a socially irresponsible company and write them a note telling them about it. Use your power every day.
- Allow yourself an occasional “day-off.” Bring your vision for change to mind in some quiet moments, pray for peace, and then go do something for yourself or your loved ones. After a while, you won’t need a day-off.
- Look at each day as a precious, vital collection of moments that must be savored, for they will never occur again.
Awareness does not have to be feared. Your day can include walking around the block in the morning, loving your partner, going to work, taking time to see the trees at lunch or wishing there were some, writing an e-mail message to your senator, and having dinner. We can make the desire for change a daily part of our life rather than a feared, unfulfilled dream.
We must take our power now. Hanford will always be there to remind us of what can happen when people believe the unbelievable – that those in Washington have anything other than a personal agenda of terror and greed. And those nuclear subs will continue to sail – until we say STOP!
Please, dear mother Earth, Help me to stand firm on my own two feet Drawing on the solid earth below me Help me to know the constancy of your strength the power that is you, oh dear mother earth Help me to walk with the blood of rivers in my veins and the dark crumbling soil of earth in my flesh let my muscles be strong as tree trunks that rise up out of your belly To dance in the sky and sing praises to the life all around Beating, pulsing, rich and full with your sweet energy. Oh dear mother earth live in this body today. Sing loudly in every breath I take Stretch wildly and flow freely with all the directions I move and come home with me, come home to my belly live deep in my soul oh mother earth, SING!
— Stephanie Kaza
Ah, not be cut off, not through the slightest partition shut out from the law of the stars. The inner – what is it? if not intensified sky, hurled through with birds and deep with the winds of homecoming.
— Ranier Maria Rilke
* Jackie Giuliano is a Professor of Environmental Studies for Antioch University, Los Angeles, the University of Phoenix, and the Union Institute College of Undergraduate Studies. He is also the Educational Outreach Manager for the Ice and Fire Preprojects, a NASA program at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to send space probes to Jupiter’s moon Europa, the planet Pluto, and the Sun.