GREENPEACE URGES EN ROUTE NATIONS
TO BAN THESE DEADLY TRANSPORTS
Cape Town / Amsterdam --- Ten deadly nuclear cargoes of weapons-usable plutonium fuel are to travel from Europe to Japan each year via South Africa, according to a ReutersŐs story published today. In light of this information, Greenpeace urged all potential en route nations concerned by the risks associated with these shipments to redouble their efforts in opposing this and future transports being conducted by European and Japanese nuclear industry.
The latest information comes as two ships laden with some 450 kg of weapons-usable plutonium, contained in 40 plutonium fuel elements (MOX), rounded the Cape of Good Hope bound for Japan early Friday morning (13th August). The ships are now believed to be in the South West Pacific Ocean heading for Australia, New Zealand and Japan.
"Unless 'en route' states redouble their opposition and ban these transports, the prospect of a nuclear catastrophe occurring off their coast lines will increase dramatically", warned Mike Townsley of Greenpeace International from Cape Town.
"[The transporting nations] Britain, France and Japan must be forced to end their deadly trade in nuclear materials, including weapons-usable plutonium fuel. They have not consulted the 'en route' nations but are simply planning to impose unacceptable risks on the worldŐs coastlines", Townsley added.
by Bill Estep
PADUCAH, Ky. -- For years, James Chesnut watched friends and former co-workers die of cancer, and suspected a link to hazards at the uranium plant where they once worked.
That suspicion grew in the last week with the unfolding news that thousands of workers were unknowingly exposed to plutonium, a highly radioactive substance brought into the Paducah plant from 1953 to 1976.
"It made you shiver all over," Chesnut said of the news. "The word plutonium scares people for the fact it's one of the most poisonous substances known."
The amount of plutonium brought into the plant was small. And some former workers suggest that the mushrooming reaction to the news -- political attention, the flurry of headlines and calls for investigations -- is unwarranted.
But others are concerned that while they were holding some of the best-paying jobs in the area, helping make material for bombs to win the Cold War, they were exposed to radiation and chemicals that could be the seeds of sickness and death.
"There's long periods when you show no effects, but there's this ticking bomb in you," said David Fuller, union president at the McCracken County plant.
The firestorm started with newspaper accounts one week ago about a federal lawsuit that alleged that plant workers came in contact with plutonium and other highly radioactive material. The suit, filed by three current plant employees, charges that federal contractors who ran the facility covered up evidence of the exposure, and that radioactive waste was dumped in nearby fields.
Tests have shown contamination in water outside the plant area.
Federal Energy Department officials said there is no evidence of an immediate threat to workers or the public from plutonium, and that modern safety measures at the plant are good.
But officials said they don't know what might have happened 30 or 40 years ago.
U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson ordered an investigation, and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, Gov. Paul Patton and others have joined the call to find out what happened.
Former workers interviewed last week said the plant cut corners on safety before the 1980s to boost production. "Anything went," one said. For some, that's a bigger concern now that they know they were dealing with materials far more dangerous than uranium.
Chesnut, 70, who retired in 1993 after 41 years at the plant, is helping to coordinate health screening for former workers under a federal grant that had been in place for some time. Interest in getting tested was up last week, with 18 calls to Chesnut in one day.
"I'm sure people are worried now," he said.
Cold War competition
Construction on the sprawling Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant began in 1951 as America's nuclear Cold War with Communism escalated.
The plant, built west of town, was designed to enrich uranium by mixing it with chemicals and forcing it through filters to boost the potency for use in atomic bombs and, later, nuclear-power reactors.
Plentiful water from the nearby Ohio River, cheap power from the Tennessee Valley Authority and good rail access played a role in Paducah getting the plant, but the lobbying efforts of Vice President Alben Barkley of Paducah also were key.
There were only two other enrichment plants in the United States, at Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Portsmouth, Ohio.
The Paducah plant once employed more than 2,000 people. It transformed the small river town, drawing people from throughout the region and other states in search of steady, high-paying jobs.
Local merchants complained that they couldn't keep help because clerks making $40 a week could get $100 or more at the plant.
"It was some of the best jobs in the area," said B.J. Bond, 72, who retired from the plant in 1992 after 40 years.
The number of houses being built in town shot up from 148 in 1950 to 741 in 1952. Downtown stores were packed with shoppers, and Paducah's traffic jams drew national attention, author John E.L. Robertson wrote in a 1980 history of the city.
People took pride in working at the plant. The pay was one reason, but many also considered themselves part of the war effort.
"We felt like we were working in defense of the country," Bond said.
Much of the technology in the plant was secret. Workers had to have a security clearance -- adding to the feeling they were an elite group -- and were reminded often not to disclose information about the plant.
"They'd say, 'If anyone asks what you make out here, you tell them $7 an hour,'" said Al Puckett, 73, an employee at the plant from 1953 to 1965.
The culture of confidentiality continues even today for some former workers, who refused to talk publicly last week.
The goal of the plant in the early years was simple, former workers said: Produce as much as possible as quickly as possible. In the process, safety took a back seat among managers and workers alike, said Wayne Koster, who worked at the plant from 1962 to 1988.
"As far as safety was concerned, they threw it to the wind. Anything went," said Koster, 74.
Former workers said the process of enriching the powdery uranium in the giant, hot buildings left a coating of the mildly radioactive black dust on the floor and workers' clothes.
"The uranium dust was everywhere," said Ken Carpenter, 60, who worked at the plant from 1967 to 1991.
There were also releases of uranium gas and highly radioactive "hot spots," and other potential hazards, former workers said -- asbestos, toxic chemicals and deafening noise.
A spokesman for Union Carbide Corp., which operated the plant for the federal government from the time it opened until the mid-1980s, said the company had no comment on its safety practices at the plant.
Koster has significant hearing loss and coughs often because of lung problems. His lung condition is consistent with exposure to asbestos and toxic agents, including acid, according to the results of a physical exam.
Koster said he doesn't blame the company for his exposure to asbestos, because the danger wasn't clear years ago.
Former workers said they didn't understand the dangers of exposure to uranium and other toxins in the 1950s and 1960s.
"A foreman used to tell me, 'Aw, that stuff can't hurt you. You could eat it,'" Puckett said.
Plutonium, however, is thousands of times more radioactive than uranium.
Much of the lawsuit, which alleges that workers were exposed to plutonium and other highly radioactive materials without their knowledge, is sealed. Portions were leaked to The Washington Post, which first reported the story last Sunday.
The newspaper reported that plutonium and other highly radioactive materials wound up at Paducah as part of a government experiment to recycle uranium.
The uranium had already been burned in reactors in order to make plutonium. The government hoped to squeeze more uranium out of the used reactor fuel by passing it through the diffusion process at Paducah.
Workers had known of other potential hazards at the plant for years, and a few said they even knew about the plutonium. But for many others, the news was a surprise.
"Shock. Anger. Concern about their health," was the reaction for many, said Fuller, president of the Paper, Allied-Industrial, Chemical & Energy union local at the plant.
But not everyone shares that concern. Several former workers said they think the reports on plutonium and other potential hazards at the plant have been blown out of proportion.
Any exposure to plutonium would have been minuscule, some said.
"It doesn't bother me at all," said J.C. Watkins, a shift supervisor who retired in 1989 after 38 years at the plant.
Watkins said there is no proof that exposure to uranium, plutonium or other substances at the plant caused health problems for workers.
"I think we've got a lot of people out there trying to find a way to make a fast buck," said Watkins, 72. "This is a godsend for the lawyers."
Koster said safety at the plant improved significantly after the mid-1980s, and that he's not concerned about whether he was exposed to plutonium.
He and his family built a good life with his job at the plant, Koster said.
"I don't like to hear anyone complain," he said.
Most former workers know someone who has died of cancer, but it's difficult to link those diseases with exposure to materials at the plant.
One reason is that there's never been a project to chart comprehensive medical histories and perform health screening of current and former workers at the Paducah plant.
Still, some people see new justification for their concerns in the news of the last week.
"We're sorta getting proof now," Puckett said.
The allegation that the plant covered up a danger to workers, however, was a surprise in the community.
The plant, which switched from a defense role to making fuel for nuclear power 30 years ago, is a major, respected employer with 1,700 jobs. It supports civic causes and pays some of the best wages in the area -- $14.90 to $21.20 for workers under the union contract.
"I never look at that plant in a negative way at all," said McCracken Judge-Executive Danny Orazine.
Even some former workers who are upset because they weren't told about the plutonium temper their criticism.
Bond, who had a tumor removed from his bladder in 1983, said workers were deceived.
"Don't get me wrong," though, he adds. "We're all proud of the plant. It's not a blind loyalty."
1:00 p.m. /13 heure de l'après midi
Monday / lundi August 16, 1999 / 16 août, 1999
DES CITOYENS DU CANADA COMMENCENT UN PROCéS
CANADIAN CITIZENS FILE LAWSUIT
TO STOP THE EXPROPRIATION OF B.C.'S NANOOSE BAY
BY THE CANADIAN FEDERAL GOVERNMENT
D'ARRÊTER L'EXPROPRIATION DE NANOOSE BAY
EN COLUMBIE BRITTANIQUE PAR LE GOUVERNEMENT FÉDÉRAL
DES CITOYENS DU CANADA COMMENCENT UN PROCéS
N O N U K E S / R I E N N U C L É A I R E
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF BRITISH COLUMBIA
AND IN THE FEDERAL COURT OF CANADA/ ET LA COUR FÉDÉRAL DU CANADA
THE HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTE OF CANADA,
HIS EMINENCE LAZAR PUHALO, ARCHBISHOP OF THE UKRANIAN ORTHODOX ARCHDIOCESE OF CANADA,
ROSEMARY LARSON, CITIZENS CONCERNED ABOUT FREE TRADE,
CONSTANCE CLARA FOGAL, AND THE DEFENCE OF CANADIAN LIBERTY COMMITTEE/ LE COMITÉ DE LA LIBERTÉ CANADIENNE
HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN IN RIGHT OF CANADA,
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF CANADA,
THE MINISTER OF PUBLIC WORKS AND GOVERNMENT SERVICES,
THE MINISTER OF DEFENCE,
THE PRIME MINISTER AND
OTHER MEMBERS OF CABINET,
MICHAEL GOLDIE, AND
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
Margarite E. Ritchie LL.D., Human Rights Institute of Canada (613) 232 2920
Archbishop Lazar Puhallo, (604) 826 9336 :lawyer Manuel Azevedo, (604) 687 0231
Rosemary Larson, CCAFT (604) 683 3733: lawyer Harry Rankin Q.C. (604) 682 2781
Connie Fogal, DCLC (604) 872 2128 h (604) 687 0588 w: lawyer Rocco Galati (416) 536 7811
Globe and Mail
by Robert Matas
British Columbia Bureau
The Federal Court of Canada and the B.C. Supreme Court have been asked to issue interim injunctions to prevent Ottawa from moving ahead next month with the controversial expropriation, which has drawn opposition from across the country and across the political spectrum.
The federal government does not have the constitutional authority to expropriate provincial lands for military purposes during peacetime, the alliance says in a statement filed yesterday in the B.C. court.
The hostile expropriation would "literally destroy Canada as a confederation of provinces," Marguerite Ritchie, of the Ottawa-based Human Rights Institute of Canada, said in an interview.
If the federal government can seize a part of any province's territory it wishes then no province is safe, she said. "No province would have joined the confederation on that basis."
The alliance also intends to seek court orders to halt the work of Michael Goldie, who is to file a report on the expropriation by Sept. 3, and to stop the United States Navy from entering or using the range.
Lawyer Manuel Azevedo, representing Archbishop Lazar Puhalo of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and others, said one of the grounds for the lawsuit is that the U.S. Navy is trespassing. The United States continues to use the site and to cross public shipping lanes, including B.C. ferry routes, without proper authorization, he said.
About 500 to 800 submarine-launched torpedoes are fired each year on the range. In the past three decades, the submarines have dumped 93,000 kilometres of copper wire, 2,200 tons of lead, lithium batteries, smoke flares and other toxic materials on the seabed, the group maintains.
Accidents associated with the range in the past decade include a nuclear carrier that spilled a five-kilometre oil slick on the range, a Chilean submarine travelling from the range that struck and sank a B.C. sailboat, and a U.S. submarine that snagged the nets of a B.C. fisherman.
Archbishop Puhalo of the Diocese of Canada said the religion has its headquarters in Ukraine and has worked with victims of the devastating explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant 13 years ago.
"We're sensitive to the possibility of nuclear accidents and we're not prepared to trust any government, especially the U.S. government," he said in an interview. "The military complex of a foreign nation has no business operating in Canada."
Meanwhile, in a document filed in Federal Court in Toronto yesterday, the alliance asked for a judicial review of Ottawa's actions. The expropriation is unconstitutional, public hearings on the expropriation are a sham conducted contrary to natural justice and common law, and Ottawa does not have jurisdiction to confirm the expropriation, the group contends.
"We want everything stopped until the constitutional issues are dealt with," lawyer Rocco Galati said in an interview from Toronto.
Federal officials have not yet reviewed the documents and were unable to comment, Diana Dowthwaite, a spokeswoman with the Department of Public Works, said in an interview from Ottawa.
The federal government started expropriation proceedings after negotiations with the B.C. government broke down over an extension of a lease for the seabed off the coast of Vancouver Island.
The seabed has been used mostly by the U.S. Navy since 1965. The province owns the seabed and the federal government leases the 225-square-kilometre site. The lease expires on Sept. 4.
B.C. Premier Glen Clark initially tried to use the lease renewal for leverage in negotiations over salmon and in appeals for federal support for dying fishing communities.
Ottawa says the province's demands on issues unrelated to Nanoose killed the talks.
The court action has been launched by the Human Rights Institute of Canada, Archbishop Puhalo, Citizens Concerned about Free Trade and the Defence of Canadian Liberty Committee and some private citizens. The B.C. government is not part of the court action.
Agence France Presse English
NAIROBI - The UN environment agency is to investigate possible radioactive contamination in Kosovo following NATO's use there of arms incorporating depleted uranium, officials said here Friday.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is evaluating overall war damage to the environment in the Balkans, the agency's spokesman Tore Brevik told AFP.
"There are international concerns that radioactive material may have been used and we will cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency and WHO (World Health Organisation) to investigate that because we do not have the necessary expertise," said Brevik.
Concerns have been raised, mainly by the US media, that NATO used uranium-tipped shells during its 11-week bombing raids in Kosovo.
UNEP is looking into the direct effects on the environment and human settlements impacts of the conflict in the Balkans and into the wider consequences to countries of the region, including Bulgaria and Romania.
An initial UN mission to the region found that damage to oil refineries, fuel dumps and chemical and fertiliser factories, as well as toxic smoke from huge fires and leakage of harmful chemicals into the soil and the water table, had contributed to as yet unassessed pollution.
British Columbia Gov't
by Mark Collins
Intergovernmental Relations Secretariat
Province of British Columbia
The Government of British Columbia's case against the expropriation was presented on August 4 and 5 by lawyer Greg McDade.
The presentation includes statements by
A table showing the accident record of ships which have come to the Nanoose Bay testing range is also included.
The complete text of B.C.'s presentation is available on the internet.
by Gordon Barthos
The guy is one strange and scary dude.
He sports an Elvis hairdo, a Mao suit, and elevator shoes.
Though millions of his people are starving, they're encouraged to revere him "as if he were God." He may half-believe it himself.
Yet he's afraid of the whole world, more or less.
And he may have a nuclear bomb tucked under his bed, though no one knows for sure. Certainly, he has the ability to build one.
Kim Jong Il is North Korea's autocratic and reclusive leader, the chief cheerleader of the Hermit Kingdom, the last Stalinist bastion standing.
He's been making the front pages in recent days, threatening to test-fire a long-range missile - the Taepodong 2. It can hurtle 6,000 km. across the Pacific, to hammer our side of the big water.
It's probably a bluff to extort more political recognition, cash, food aid or technical co-operation out of the United States, China, South Korea and Japan. But that doesn't make it any less worrisome.
Kim Jong Il is but one reason why good people, including Canadian war vets, still turn out to recall the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II, and to lobby for wholesale nuclear disarmament.
The 75 stalwarts who showed up at Nathan Phillips Square last week for the Aug. 6 ceremony may have been thin in numbers, with hairlines to match, but they know their history. They lived under the threat of nuclear holocaust for much of their lives. They don't want to see it repeated.
While the Cold War is a fast-fading memory now, its legacy of unfinished nuclear business is still very much with us.
The U.S., Russia, Britain and France, if not China, have been drawing down their stockpiles of aging nuclear bombs. But there's no desire to do away with them utterly.
North Korea may or may not have The Bomb. But India and Pakistan certainly do, and they're threatening each other with them even as fighting rages in Kashmir and on other frontiers. Israel has The Bomb. And regimes like Iran, Iraq and Libya would dearly love to follow suit. China can now make neutron bombs, which kill people but spare property.
And while the number of superpower warheads has shrunk dramatically from 50,000 or so, the U.S. and Russia aren't even close to living up to the terms of the 1993 Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (Start 2) which called for no more than 3,500 warheads on each side.
Much-delayed START 3 talks, to cut warheads to no more than 2,500 on each side, have yet to begin. In any case there's no great expectation that they will produce anything good, quickly. Not without persistent public pressure.
Rather, the residual great-power arsenal, coupled with nuclear proliferation elsewhere, the creep of missile technology, and lax controls in Russia, has fueled fears that some "rogue regime" might acquire a Bomb and lob it at its enemies.
That fear is driving a push in the U.S. to develop nation-wide defences against attack by missiles.
Even if a defence were technologically feasible, which is in dispute, it could take hundreds of billions of dollars to develop and decades to deploy.
That cost hasn't deterred lawmakers in Washington, who spend $250 billion a year on defence and who are googly-eyed over the prospect of $3 trillion in budget surpluses in the next decade.
But Canada and other U.S. allies are being urged to get "on board" for missile defence, committing tax dollars that could surely be better spent elsewhere.
All this after the North Atlantic Treaty Organization itself issued a statement at its 50th anniversary summit in Washington in April acknowledging that the "reduced salience" of nuclear weapons obliges the alliance to "consider options for confidence and security building measures." In other words, review NATO's excessive reliance on nuclear weapons.
Yet political energy that should be going into promoting faster big-power disarmament and preventing small-power proliferation, is instead being channeled into rationalizing the continuation of existing arsenals, and developing defences against them.
Ban-the-Bomb face paint, flower power slogans and Hiroshima/Nagasaki commemorations may seem like something from the faded pages of Cold War history. But who among us can afford to be heedless to the unfinished business that flows from that long standoff?
There weren't many young people in Nathan Phillips Square last week. Yet idealism, energy and commitment are precisely what it will take to keep up the political pressure for disarmament.
Somebody has to carry the torch for sanity, as an older generation bows out.
Yes, we've come a long way since the Cold War. The world today is unlikely to snuff itself in a nuclear eclipse. But a Hiroshima-type tragedy could happen again, killing untold millions in a fraction of an instant.
Cold War discipline is breaking down. So is support for treaties that until now have curbed space-based weapons and missile defences. We face the danger of a whole new arms race.
Because the bombs are still out there.
In some places, already flashpoints, they're multiplying.
And no one can say for sure how many may wind up in the hands of Elvis imitators with a God complex.
Editorial : page A21
by Barbara Yaffe
Before badly damaging relations by moving to expropriate, Ottawa should sit down with B.C. and explore key questions of Canadian values and foreign policy.
B.C. hearings into the federal expropriation of the Nanoose test range end early next week, which means time is running out.
This would be a good occasion for the feds and the province to act like responsible adults, for one to approach the other and say: 'Hey buddy, let's work this out.'
The two parties could meet over frothy Frappuccinos at Starbucks and lay cards on the table.
They'd certainly agree on these straightforward facts.
Over coffee, the two parties would probably agree off the top that expropriation is too blunt an instrument for two parties with an ongoing relationship to deploy.
They might decide they are simply deadlocked. That it would help to have a third party to mediate or arbitrate a solution.
ADR Chambers, a private firm with a Vancouver office, offers retired judges for just such missions, eminent chaps like Ontario's former chief justice Charles Dubin and former Supreme Court judge Willard Estey.
Or the two might decide the issue is bigger than access to a single military testing site in B.C. and that mediation and arbitration would be premature at this point.
After all, Canadian values are at play -- for example, do Canadians sanction the use of nuclear-powered equipment against wishes of the local citizenry, the people who would suffer from any accident.
It involves Canada's posture toward an imperious American policy -- U.S. refusal to say whether its subs and ships test or carry nuclear material.
Is this an appropriate policy between two nations professing to be best friends, especially given that the Americans are using our land, not their own, to test.
It would be useful to explore such matters before trying to reach a consensus.
And there are ways to do this. Progressive Conservative leader Joe Clark has suggested hearings by an all-party parliamentary committee.
It could be empowered to call witnesses, including from the U.S. defence establishment. And to propose recommendations toward a solution.
Or, a full parliamentary debate could be undertaken.
That would give B.C. voters a chance to hear where the seven Liberal MPs representing B.C. stand on the issue. They've been remarkably silent to date.
Or the Senate could get involved. Aren't these the folks who are supposed to do the sober second thought stuff?
A Senate committee might be co-chaired by one Liberal senator from B.C. and one Tory. (Reformers and NDPers are excluded from the upper chamber; never having formed government, they aren't yet part of the patronage machine.)
Off the top, a deal could be struck to allow the status quo to prevail at Nanoose until a solution is reached.
That would prevent a rushed or forced outcome. At the same time, political forces would keep pressure on those studying the situation to come to a timely resolution.
This sit-down-and-talk approach makes more sense than expropriation -- scheduled to take effect by Sept. 20 -- because it allows for the airing of the fundamental issues involved.
And, importantly, it would prevent negative fallout from any action imposed against the will of one of the two parties.
This is key. Because in Canada, when a province feels it has been wronged by Ottawa, the episode gets recorded in a mythical "regional ledger book."
And that record never, ever goes away.
Two examples of such entries in the western ledger book: the National Energy Program, imposed against Alberta's will, and the CF-18 contract, lost by Manitoba despite a better bid than the Quebec winners.
Of course, Quebec has a voluminous ledger book of its own.
This is precisely what would happen if the feds continue to ignore the province's will and barrel on with unilateral expropriation of the Nanoose seabed territory.
The action will become another historic illustration of the contemptuous way Ottawa treats the West.
Expropriation is tantamount to one of the two fellows at Starbucks standing up, throwing his frap in the other guy's face and walking out the door -- an outrageous incident that would not be soon forgotten.
WASHINGTON - The U.S. economy could benefit from cutting carbon emissions, creating nearly a million jobs as new pollution-free technology is employed next decade and energy is saved, according to a study.
By 2010, some 870,000 jobs could be generated and $43 billion in annual savings recorded as a result of implementing energy-saving practices across the nation, according to a study conducted by the Tellus Institute and World Wildlife Fund.
The groups said reductions in global warming causing carbon gases could even exceed the targets set in the Kyoto climate change treaty.
"With smart policies, climate protection could even become an economic engine, unleashing entrepreneurial creativity on a problem that threatens huge economic and environmental costs," said Jennifer Morgan, director of the World Wildlife Fund Climate Campaign.
Kyoto calls for the world's industrialised nations to trim carbon emissions by an average of 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by the years 2008-2012. The framework has not been ratified by the U.S. Senate, due to objections by many lawmakers to the emission limits which they believe will cost millions of jobs as a result of higher fuel prices and other factors.
The study said the largest increases in new jobs would be in services and construction. California would lead in job creation, with 95,000 additional jobs, but thanks to varied state economies, 29 states would gain at least 10,000 new jobs each, the report said.
The findings contradict claims from industry, and other forecasts on the costs of cutting carbon emissions.
SAN FRANCISCO - The U.S. Geological Survey said the Energy Department's plan to build a vast nuclear waste repository in Nevada's Yucca Mountain was potentially risky, but no better option existed for dealing with the nation's nuclear waste.
USGS Director Charles Groat, in a foreword to a newly released report by his agency on the Yucca Mountain plan, said the U.S. public "should know that the choices are not clear cut and that none is without risk."
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing a draft environmental impact statement on the plan to store huge amounts of radioactive waste at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles (144 km) from Las Vegas.
An eventual storage site, which would not be built until the latter part of the next decade at the earliest, could be used to house spent nuclear fuel currently stored at reactors across the country.
About 38,000 tons (34,000 tonnes) of waste currently exists. That amount is expected to double in the coming years.
The Geological Survey, a division of the Department of the Interior, reviewed the Department of Energy proposal with a special view to the engineering and earth sciences elements of the plan.
"If Yucca Mountain is developed as the nation's first underground repository for high-level radioactive materials, it would be one of the most complicated and expensive engineering projects ever undertaken by the U.S.," said Geological Survey researcher Tom Hanks, author of the agency's report.
The only alternative currently available would leave the waste dotted at more than 100 sites around the country, he said. Hanks added that the alternative plan would pose greater risks to a broader range of society than consolidating the material all at one site.
"Seventy thousand metric tons of high-level radioactive waste has to go somewhere," the report's authors said.
Late last year, Energy Department officials said Yucca Mountain was a promising site for a permanent storage facility, but added further scientific study was needed before construction started.
A final recommendation on Yucca Mountain is not due to be made until 2001.
Environmentalists oppose the site for a number of reasons, including fears that ground water could be contaminated by leaking radioactive fuel, and its proximity to Las Vegas.
by Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON - Citing the risk of an accidental nuclear war, activists are pressing the United States and Russia to take nuclear missiles off hair-trigger alert during the technology-challenging year 2000 rollover.
A network of international groups announced a drive this week to try to persuade U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin to "stand down" the approximately 2,500 nuclear-armed missiles now poised on each side for immediate firing.
Standing down the missiles means adding steps before they can be fired. The idea is to give commanders more time to make sure they are acting on solid information, not scrambled data caused by a computer glitch.
Representative Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, introduced a sense of the Congress resolution last week calling for the "de-alerting" of as many U.S. nuclear weapons "as is feasible and consistent with national security."
"Today the Russian command-and-control system is decaying," Markey said.
He said the so-called Y2K bug in computers not programmed to recognise the year 2000 made the date change a particularly dangerous period.
The stated fear is that Y2K-related computer glitches could cause the Russians in particular to conclude they are under attack, triggering mistaken retaliation. Russia acknowledges that it lags far behind the United States overall in making its systems ready for 2000 changeover.
Friends of the Earth, an Australian environmental group, spearheaded an effort to send a letter to Clinton and Yeltsin that was signed by 271 groups, including Greenpeace International.
"If Y2K breakdowns produce inaccurate early-warning data, or if communications and command channels are compromised, the combination of hair-trigger force postures and Y2K failures could be disastrous," the groups said in their letter.
They added that there should be a "safety-first" approach to Y2K and nuclear arsenals.
Alice Slater, president of the New York-based Global Resource Action Centre for the Environment and a U.S. coordinator of the letter campaign, said activists were organising grass-roots efforts in many countries to highlight the issue.
"In a sense, Y2K is a crisis and an opportunity," Slater said in a telephone interview.
She described the current drive to de-alert missiles temporarily as a "first step" in a larger effort to ban nuclear weapons altogether.
The Pentagon has invited Russia to send military officers to a proposed temporary joint "early-warning center" in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to avoid any possible missile-launch miscues as the new century dawns. But Russia has not responded since the U.S.-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia, its ally, earlier this year.
Bruce Blair, a former U.S. nuclear missile launch officer who analyses targeting issues at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the Y2K glitch itself could not cause accidental missile firings because people had to make the ultimate decisions on both sides.
But he said permanently de-alerting all or most nuclear missiles made sense in the post-cold War world as a safety precaution.
"Yeltsin's the last person you'd want to wake up in the middle of the night with a request for permission to launch" on what might be a false alarm, he said.
Supporters of nuclear power claim they have been vindicated by a pioneering experiment in which two British scientists inhaled plutonium to mimic the effects of a nuclear war -- and showed no side effects from the exposure.
Fears that plutonium is a danger to mankind are unfounded, claimed Eric Voice, 73, who inhaled the element 18 months ago at the Atomic Energy Authority (AEA) laboratory at Harwell, Oxfordshire, in southern England.
Voice, 73, a nuclear scientist, said he and his unnamed colleague, in his 60s, had been well since absorbing a minuscule quantity of plutonium.
Doctors praised the courage of the volunteers. Research has been hamstrung by fears that it might kill the subjects. American scientists were vilified after 18 dying hospital patients were injected with the element in 1946.
Voice said ignorance over how plutonium affected metabolism was a gap that medical science needed to fill.
"There will in the future be a nuclear war or an accident and we should know how it is going to affect us."
The scientists inhaled a mixture of two isotopes and all material excreted by them was collected and measured. The experiment was sanctioned by the industry watchdog, the National Radiological Protection Board and funding came from the European union's radiation protection unit. The results of the study will be published next year.
"Because of the work already done we now know a great deal about what plutonium does in the bloodstream and where it goes.
"The vital link we're now making is how it gets into the blood in the first place," said Voice, who believes that plutonium has never harmed a human, except at Nagasaki, where the United States dropped a bomb during the Second World War.
The type of plutonium he inhaled -- element 244 [sic: should be isotope 244, that is, plutonium-244] -- has a enormous half-life, said the scientist. "It's something like 80 million years, so it's a very slow emitter. I don't think I need worry too much about what could happen in the rest of my lifetime."
Some cancer experts were not so sure. "You can never say that about plutonium because even a very small amount carries a risk," said Ernest Knox, who sat on the official committee to monitor radiation exposure.
The study involved the scientists inhaling a mixture of two isotopes. Material excreted by them in the first three weeks was collected and measured to ensure the radioactivity was insignificant and would not endanger the environment.
The research will show how much of the plutonium is excreted from the body and how quickly. It will also provide accurate information on absorption levels in the lungs and the speed with which it travels to the gut.
A spokesman for the NRPB confirmed the research had been carried out and said it will help establish how small doses affect nuclear workers.
Vivienne Nathanson, head of health policy and ethics at the British Medical Association, said Voice's qualifications and consent meant his participation involved no ethical dilemma.
"It's his field, he's supposed to know about this, so there's really no problem about this experiment. It's like a throwback to earlier times when doctors experimented with vaccinations on themselves."
by Joby Warrick
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson ordered an immediate investigation yesterday into reports that thousands of unsuspecting employees at a Kentucky uranium plant were exposed on the job to cancer-causing plutonium.
Richardson said he would meet with workers at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and would request a National Academy of Sciences study to probe the links between worker illnesses and exposure to radioactive materials that occurred over decades at the federally owned plant.
He also called for expanding a newly created program to bring health screening and medical treatment to thousands of workers who may have been put in harm's way at Paducah and similar facilities that were part of the government's nuclear weapons complex.
"I have long maintained that we must correct the sins of the past by compensating workers who have been medically damaged," Richardson said in an interview. "I don't want this to be known as the department of excuses for not dealing with workers who have been harmed."
His remarks came after The Washington Post reported that workers at the Paducah plant had been unwittingly exposed to plutonium and other radioactive metals that entered the plant over decades in shipments of used uranium from military nuclear reactor fuel. The report was based in part on sealed court documents filed as part of a lawsuit by workers and an environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council. The suit alleges that government contractors concealed evidence of the exposure for decades while allowing plutonium and other hazards to spread into the environment.
The workers also allege that former plant managers allowed contaminated waste to be dumped into a state-owned wildlife area and a landfill not licensed for hazardous waste. They further contend that radioactively contaminated gold and other valuable metals may have been shipped out of the plant without being properly tested.
Thomas Cochran, a nuclear expert with the NRDC who reviewed conditions at the plant, said health and safety practices there were the worst "outside the former Soviet Union." Former plant operators had not been served with the suit and declined to comment. The whistleblowers and their Washington attorney, Joseph Egan, said they also could not comment because of the judge's seal on the case.
Energy officials sent a team to Paducah for an initial probe after the documents were first filed in June, Richardson confirmed. "They did not uncover any imminent threats . . . but we are continuing to investigate these concerns," Richardson said.
The expanded investigation he announced yesterday would seek to uncover "what actually occurred, who was responsible and what must be done to assure that it never happens again," he said.
Among the specific measures:
Paducah workers were exposed to plutonium through shipments of contaminated uranium that arrived at the plant from 1953 to 1976, a period when national security priorities often surmounted concerns over risks to workers and the environment. The plutonium shipments stopped, but contaminants remain spattered over hundreds of acres of buildings and grounds. Workers did not learn of the problems until at least 1990, and some contend they were never told.
The U.S. Enrichment Corp., a government-chartered private corporation that took over management of the plant this year, contends that all significantly contaminated areas have been cleaned up or marked with warning signs.
Although no comprehensive study of worker medical histories has been conducted, current and former workers at the plant have linked past exposures to a string of cancers and other diseases.
Richardson said although many of the exposures at Paducah were historical, the government bears responsibilities for those who may have been injured.
"Even though it was the 1950s and everyone was gung-ho," he said, "it doesn't mean that you can forget about workers who have been made sick."
LONDON - Shares in British Energy fell yesterday, after a newspaper report raised concerns about the safety of its nuclear power stations, dealers said.
By 09:52 GMT, the stock fell 14p or 2.7 percent to 505p, even as the FTSE 100 gained 0.5 percent.
Earlier on Monday, British Energy said it was currently reviewing a draft report prepared by the Nuclear Installations Inspectorate (NII).
According to The Sunday Times, the NII report said British Energy had cut so many staff jobs at its power stations that there are not enough people to run the stations safely.
Sutherlands industry analyst Fraser McLaren said the NII audit was distinct from normal safety inspections and was designed to make sure British Energy would maintain adequate technical support following the merger of its Scottish Nuclear and Nuclear Electric divisions.
"The shares are down in a knee-jerk reaction to perceived safety problems," he said.
"Nuclear safety is one of investors' biggest concerns but in our opinion the report is a formality and any concerns will probably be addressed during discussions over the next three months."
British Energy said the NII report made clear there was no question of any of the company's nuclear power stations being closed down.
NII Chief Inspector Laurence Williams, in a statement issued on Sunday in response to the Sunday Times story, said the draft report was a working document meant for discussion with British Energy and not the finished article.
"Current stations are operating within acceptable safety cases - this audit was done to see how staffing reductions were affecting the ability of British Energy to maintain their safety standards into the future", said Williams.
He added: "British Energy is currently a company with good nuclear safety standards."
Separately, the company announced a capital reorganisation which involved a new 'A' share issue . The majority of shareholders took their option to sell immediately and volume in the new shares topped 474 million.
WASHINGTON - U.S. Energy Secretary Bill Richardson ordered an investigation on Sunday into whether thousands of workers were unwittingly exposed to plutonium for more than two decades at a federally owned plant in Kentucky.
The Washington Post, citing court documents, plant records and interviews, reported that uranium workers at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant inhaled plutonium-laced dust brought into the plant for 23 years until as recently as 1976.
The workers were exposed to the plutonium and other radioactive metals in work areas, locker rooms and even cafeterias, the newspaper said. The government did not inform workers about the hazard even after employees started to notice a string of cancers in the 1980s.
"I've ordered a full investigation to examine these issues," Richardson said in a statement. "I am determined to uncover more about what actually occurred, who was responsible and what must be done to assure that it never happens again."
Richardson said a team of health experts was sent to the plant in June to assess the situation and found "no imminent threats" to public health, worker safety or the environment. The investigation is continuing.
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences will independently investigate any possible links between illnesses and exposure to hazardous materials at Paducah and other Energy Department sites, he said.
Richardson also ordered a department official to Paducah to meet with workers, began an immediate medical surveillance programme for current workers and ordered a comprehensive study of employees' medical histories dating back to the 1950s.
The Energy Department will review the legal responsibility of contractors at the plant and seek to expand a compensation programme for current and former workers made ill by exposure to beryllium at Energy Department nuclear sites to include workers exposed to radioactive materials, Richardson said.
"I will not rest until these issues are fully dealt with and any injured workers are fairly compensated," he said.
The Post said a lawsuit filed under seal in June by three current plant employees alleges that radiation exposure was a problem at Paducah well into the 1990s. The suit names two private firms that managed the uranium enrichment plant in the 1980s and 1990s, but the Post said these two companies had not been served with the suit and would not comment on it.
The Post said the Paducah plant issue was an "unpublished chapter in the still unfolding story of radioactive contamination and concealment in the chain of factories across the country that produced America's Cold War nuclear arsenal."
Radioactive contaminants from the 750-acre (300-hectare) plant, built in 1952, spilled into ditches and eventually seeped into creeks, a state-owned wildlife area and private wells, the newspaper said.
Plutonium, a key ingredient in nuclear bombs, is a highly radioactive metal that can cause cancer if ingested in quantities as small as one millionth of an ounce.
The Post said plutonium was introduced to the Paducah plant, designed to handle the vastly less less radioactive metal uranium, in tiny but highly dangerous quantities in used uranium brought to the plant from 1953-1976 as part of an experimental nuclear reactor fuel recycling programme.
ADELAIDE - Eight Australian women yesterday set off on camels on a 1,000 km (620 miles) trek through desert lands to protest government plans to establish a national radioactive waste dump in the central Australian outback.
Organisers of the "Humps not Dumps" anti-nuclear camel expedition said the trek would last more than two months, with the women armed with solar and wind powered communications.
The trek was in support of Aboriginal elders whose lands had already been contaminated by British nuclear tests in the 1950s and 1960s, the women said in a statement marking their departure from William Creek, 950 km (590 miles) north of Adelaide.
"The proposed nuclear dump is a 'out of sight, out of mind' approach to dealing with existing nuclear waste and is yet another act of dispossession and genocide against indigenous people," they said.
The women, most of who come from the Victorian state capital Melbourne are aged from 19-33 and come from diverse backgrounds.
Eighteen remote sites have been identified in the region by the Australian government as possible locations for disposing of low-level radioactive waste.
WASHINGTON - President Clinton will soon issue an executive order spurring research on producing fuels and chemicals from plants, grasses, trees and crop residues, Senate sources said.
The announcement involving the Energy and Agriculture Departments was expected on Thursday. It would add momentum to making renewable fuels competitive with petroleum.
"We may have some announcements," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman told reporters who asked about biomass fuels.
Major focus of the initiative would be "research, research, research," said a Senate staff worker who asked not to be named. Biofuels could be competitive in five years with sufficient research into mass production methods, he said.
At present, ethanol distilled from corn is the leading biofuel, used mainly as a gasoline additive to meet clean-air rules. It enjoys a federal tax break.
Proponents say biomass - plants, crops, grasses or trees - could be a renewable source of fuels, chemcials and electricity.
According to another Senate staff worker, biomass amd biomass products would benefit from the expected announcement.
Legislation was pending in the Senate to create a research programme on making biofuels cost-competitive. It would authorise $49 million a year for six years for use by government, universities and private industry.
BRUSSELS - Annual electricity consumption in the 15 member countries of the European Union will increase to 2,723.3 terawatt hours (TWh) in 2010, from 2,282.3 TWh in 1997, according to a new report from the industry.
Consumption in the EU-15 plus 11 other European states is forecast to grow by 20 percent between 1997 and 2010 to 3,341.3 TWh, according to Unipede and Eurelectric, which represent the European electricity industry and its affiliates abroad. Growth will be slower than the increase in gross domestic product.
The organisations' annual outlook report found a growing tendency towards both concentration and decentralisation in the industry, which had a total turnover in 1997 in the 26 countries covered of more than 189 billion euros ($202.9 billion).
The ratio of investment to turnover ranged between 57.3 percent in Slovakia and 4.7 percent in Luxembourg.
The report forecast that electricity consumption in Germany would increase by around 0.6 percent per annum between 1997 and 2010, reaching 545 TWh by 2010.
In Italy, consumption will rise by 2.2 percent every year up to 2005, then by 1.8 percent over the following five years, slowing to 1.3 percent to 2020. Usage will rise from 271.4 TWh in 1997 to 360 TWh in 2010 and 410 TWh in 2020.
The report said it was more difficult to predict the rise in consumption in France, though growth rates will fall behind increases in gross domestic product. Consumption could rise to 516 TWh in 2010 from 410.3 in 1997.
British consumption is forecast to rise to 469.5 TWh in 2020 from 343 TWh in 1997, according to the report.
Emissions of sulphur dioxide and nitrous oxides from the power generation industry in the biggest European economies are expected to decline between now and 2020, though carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise unless there is a shift in policy, Unipede/Eurelectric forecast.
Germany will manage to reduce emissions of all three, while carbon dioxide emissions will continue to rise in France, Britain and Italy.
Efforts are, however, underway in the EU to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, following undertakings made at the December 1997 Kyoto summit on climate change, which could change the prognosis for carbon dioxide emissions in the medium-term.
Emissions in central and eastern European countries are unlikely in the next 20 years to approach the levels reached before the collapse of Communism, the report forecast.
Unipede/Eurelectric's EURPROG programme was created in 1968 to analyse data from industry associations on the development of the electricity sector in the EU.
It has now been expanded to include data for the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Norway, Switzerland, Cyprus, Romania, Slovenia, Latvia and Lithuania.
At the end of 1997, about 26 gigawatts of new capacity were under construction in the 26 countries, including 55.7 percent conventional thermal, 20 percent nuclear and 10.5 percent hydro. Maximum net generating capacity totalled about 692 GW, the report found.
The extension of nuclear capacity will be limited to France, the Czech Republic and Slovakia in the years to 2005, plus some minor upgarding in Finland, it said. ($1=.9316 Euro).
by David Luhnow
EDINBURGH - Anyone who has visited Scotland knows is not the ideal place for solar energy, but it may be well positioned to lead a revolution in harnessing the power of the ocean's waves, experts said yesterday.
Greenpeace's flagship Rainbow Warrior has returned to its birthplace in Scotland this week as part of its first visit to Britain in 10 years to promote so-called wave power, members of the environmental organisation said on Tuesday.
"The energy contained in the waves off the Scottish coast has the potential to provide almost three times the electricity needs of the whole of the United Kingdom," Greenpeace campaigner Nick Milton told a news conference aboard the ship.
Two Scottish companies have been awarded 15-year contracts from the government to help develop the new technology.
Britain wants to produce up to 10 percent of its electricity from "green" sources like wave, solar and wind power by 2010.
Wavegen, a private company based in Inverness and working with Queen's University in Belfast, is installing the first commercial wave machine on the western island of Islay in the next few months, company officials said.
Waves smashing into a gully will force air through a turbine, producing some 500 kilowatts of electricity - a small amount but enough to power more than 300 homes and give extra energy to some of the island's famous whisky distilleries.
Edinburgh-based Ocean Power Delivery Ltd will also install a snake-like floating machine using technology from Scotland's offshore oil industry off the coast of Islay by 2002, producing about 750 kilowatts of electricity.
Wave power has been described as the "Cinderella" of renewable energy. Britain funded wave power research in the late 1970s due to the oil crisis but later ended the programme. Earlier this year, it began official funding again.
According to a report commissioned by the government, the cost of harnessing wave power has fallen by 10 times in the last 17 years - making it nearly commercially viable.
"Wave power is at the stage wind power was at 10 years ago. Now the wind power global market is worth more than one billion pounds ($1.6 billion)," Milton said.
The British coastline has some of the strongest currents and waves in the world, making it an ideal place to exploit wave power, according to the government-commissioned report.
Some members of the new Scottish parliament said they would actively encourage the body to give money and resources to allow Scotland to lead the way in wave technology.
"The new Scottish parliament was set up to identify these kinds of opportunities that not necessarily would have been seen (by London). I will work to ensure we champion their cause," George Lyon, a representative from the Argyll and Bute region, told Reuters. ($1=.6202 Pound).
by Joby Warrick
PADUCAH, Ky.--Thousands of uranium workers were unwittingly exposed to plutonium and other highly radioactive metals here at a federally owned plant where contamination spread through work areas, locker rooms and even cafeterias, a Washington Post investigation has found.
Unsuspecting workers inhaled plutonium-laced dust brought into the plant for 23 years as part of a flawed government experiment to recycle used nuclear reactor fuel at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, according to a review of court documents, plant records, and interviews with current and former workers. The government and its contractors did not inform workers about the hazards for decades, even as employees in the 1980s began to notice a string of cancers.
Radioactive contaminants from the plant spilled into ditches and eventually seeped into creeks, a state-owned wildlife area and private wells, documents show. Plant workers contend in sealed court documents that radioactive waste also was deliberately dumped into nearby fields, abandoned buildings and a landfill not licensed for hazardous waste.
The sprawling Kentucky plant on the Ohio River represents an unpublished chapter in the still-unfolding story of radioactive contamination and concealment in the chain of factories across the country that produced America's Cold War nuclear arsenal. Opened in 1952 in an impoverished region, the 750-acre plant built a fiercely loyal work force of more than 1,800 men and women who labored in hot, stadium-sized buildings turning trainloads of dusty uranium powder into material for bombs.
Today, the Department of Energy contends that worker exposure was minimal and that contamination is being cleaned up. A lawsuit filed under seal in June by three current plant employees alleges that radiation exposure was a problem at Paducah well into the 1990s.
The Post's investigation shows that contractors buried the facts about the plutonium contamination, which occurred from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s, in reports filed in archives. Plutonium, a core ingredient in nuclear bombs, is a highly radioactive metal that can cause cancer if ingested in quantities as small as a millionth of an ounce. The Paducah plant was designed to handle only uranium, a mildly radioactive metal.
"The community to this day has no idea of the kinds of contaminants they were exposed to," said James W. Owens, a Paducah lawyer representing residents whose water has been polluted by the plant.
Health consequences remain unclear. No comprehensive study of worker medical histories has been attempted at Paducah. In neighborhoods where older workers live, stories abound of cancer clusters and unusual illnesses. One 20-year veteran worker who died in 1980 compiled a list of 50 employees he worked with who had died of cancer.
"Everything was so safe, so riskless," the worker, Joe Harding, said in an interview just before his death. "Today we know the truth about those promises. I can feel it in my body."
Even though the plant's procedures and purpose have changed -- Paducah's enriched uranium is now used in commercial nuclear power plants -- problems have continued. Workers weave between makeshift fences that cordon off hundreds of radioactive "hot spots" scattered across the complex. In one corner of the plant, mildly radioactive runoff trickles from a nearly half-mile-long mound of rusting barrels that still contain traces of uranium.
"The situation is as close to a complete lack of health physics as I have observed outside of the former Soviet Union," Thomas Cochran, nuclear program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, said in documents filed in the lawsuit.
The Department of Energy, which owns the plant, said it could not comment on allegations made in the suit because of the court-ordered seal. The agency is investigating the charges and dispatched a team to Paducah to determine if conditions posed an immediate threat to workers or the public.
Energy Secretary Bill Richardson said the agency's national security goals had "sent many of our workers into harm's way," but he said the agency must now live up to its responsibility to "right the wrongs of the past." Two weeks ago, Richardson pledged millions of dollars for medical monitoring of nuclear workers who were exposed to beryllium, a highly toxic metal.
"The Department of Energy will continue to take any actions that are necessary to ensure the protection of public health, the workers and the environment," he said.
Still, agency officials, in a written response to questions from The Post, strongly defended past safety practices at Paducah and said no workers are at risk today.
"The plant's monitoring data did not indicate an accumulation of [plutonium and other highly radioactive wastes] in the workplace or the environment that would be a health concern to workers or to the public," the DOE said.
That position is vigorously contested in more than 2,000 pages of documents filed in the lawsuit by two of the plant's health physicists, or radiation safety experts, and a veteran worker who had his esophagus removed after three decades of work inside contaminated buildings. Copies of the documents were obtained by The Post from government sources.
"The management line for years has been there was an insignificant amount" of plutonium at Paducah, said Mark Griffon, a health physicist at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell who is participating in a federal study of radiation conditions at nuclear weapons plants, including Paducah. Griffon reviewed plant documents provided by The Post.
"If the levels were this significant," he said, "it raises an important question: Why weren't workers ever monitored?"
The two health physicists suing the plant say in court documents they tried to call attention to the radiation problems but were confronted by a culture of unconcern.
"I was told by my superior . . . in so many words that 'this is Paducah -- it doesn't matter here,' " said one of the physicists, Ronald Fowler, 50, who came to the plant in 1991.
The suit was brought under a law that allows employees to collect payment for exposing fraud against the government. It was filed under seal to give Justice Department officials an opportunity to decide whether to join the suit or begin a criminal investigation.
The suit names Lockheed Martin and Martin Marietta, which managed the uranium enrichment plant during the 1980s and 1990s. It does not name the original manager, Union Carbide, which ran the facility for a 32-year period during which the bulk of the contamination occurred. None of the companies had been served with the suit and none would comment on the allegations.
The current plant operator, U.S. Enrichment Corp., a government-chartered private company that assumed management this year, concedes past problems but says safeguards are now in place. USEC, which sold shares to the public last year, says it has fully disclosed the plant's environmental problems to regulators, workers and stockholders.
"It was acknowledged by all sides that contaminated conditions existed, . . . but USEC wasn't responsible for them," said Jim Miller, USEC executive vice president.
Paducah is the latest DOE facility to be rocked by lawsuits and revelations of contamination. Cleaning up the complex is expected to cost $240 billion and take at least 75 years.
Measured by the gram, the contamination at Paducah isn't nearly as extreme as that in plutonium production plants such as Washington state's Hanford Nuclear Reservation, where vast swaths of land have been sealed off from humans. But unlike the workers at those plants, employees at Paducah did not know of the risks in the uranium dust they breathed every day.
Worker exposure to such dust has cost the government in the past. The Energy Department paid a $15 million settlement five years ago to former workers who had breathed uranium dust at the Fernald Feed Materials Production Center near Cincinnati.
The difference between the dust at Fernald and that at Paducah comes down to one word: plutonium.
For Two Decades, Freight Cars Brought Unknown Danger
The Paducah complex was the second of three U.S. government plants designed after World War II to create enriched uranium. The plants were operated for the government by private contractors who over time were paid bonuses for running safe, efficient facilities.
In the beginning, uranium ore was scarce. The Atomic Energy Commission, forerunner of today's Energy Department, tried to fill the gap by "recycling" leftover uranium -- from nuclear reactors that made plutonium for bombs -- through the enrichment process at Paducah.
From 1953 to 1976, more than 103,000 metric tons of used uranium was shipped to Paducah, records show. It arrived in freight cars as a fine black powder. Unknown to workers, the powder contained dangerous substances left over from the plutonium-making process -- fission byproducts such as technetium-99 and heavy metals known as "transuranics": neptunium and plutonium.
"Plutonium is roughly 100,000 times more radioactive per gram than uranium," said Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research.
Over time, through spills and waste discharges, the contaminants accumulated in the miles of pipes used to gasify and enrich uranium, around loading docks and in ditches, documents show.
Plant officials were aware of the plutonium and other contaminants as early as the mid-1950s -- it made their recycled uranium less efficient. But they believed the amounts were too small to pose a health threat.
Today, the DOE is able to rely only on a contractor's estimate of the total amount of contaminants introduced in that period: 12 ounces of plutonium, 40 pounds of neptunium and 1,320 pounds of technetium-99.
The government today takes the same position as it did in the 1950s: The amounts were most likely not enough to harm workers. "The general protection provided to workers from the hazardous effects of uranium would have provided adequate protection" from the contaminants, the DOE statement said.
But documents obtained by The Post show that plant officials became increasingly concerned about the contaminants. A 1992 report by Martin Marietta concluded that they caused "significant" environmental problems and "also pose a radiation hazard to the workforce." A 1988 study done for the DOE by a private contractor said the plutonium could "represent a significant internal dose concern even at very low mass concentrations."
Plant records draw an instructive comparison that underlines the hazards posed by plutonium: The 12 ounces of plutonium in the black powder delivered more than twice as much radiation into the environment as the 61,000 pounds of uranium that flowed out of the plant in waste water into the Ohio River between 1952 and 1987.
Bosses Took Threat With a Grain of Salt
In the noisy, cavernous buildings where uranium was processed, workers did not receive the warnings. The conditions there were "extremely dusty . . . sometimes to the point where it was very difficult to see or breathe," said Garland "Bud" Jenkins, 56, a 31-year-veteran uranium worker and one of the three employees involved in the lawsuit against Lockheed Martin.
To protect their skin from the uranium dust, workers wore cotton coveralls and gloves. But respiratory protection was optional -- old Army gas masks, which fit poorly and were seldom used, former and current workers said.
At lunchtime, workers brushed black powder or green uranium dust off their food. "They told us you could eat this stuff and it wouldn't hurt you," said Al Puckett, a retired union shop steward. To dramatize the point, he said, some supervisors "salted" their bread with green uranium dust.
The workers took the dust home at shift's end.
"We frequently discovered that our bed linens would be green or black in the morning, from dust that apparently absorbed into our skin," Jenkins said.
Exposure to uranium dust decreased after the late 1970s, when the plant stopped receiving the black powder and began processing a more refined form of uranium. In 1989, the DOE adopted more stringent worker safety rules.
By then the plutonium had permeated the land around the plant. In the 1960s and 1970s, when the powder spilled, workers would shovel it up and wash the remnants into the nearest ditch, Jenkins said. More than a dozen ditches flow directly from the plant onto state property and private lands.
There are no nationwide limits for plutonium in soil; cleanup standards depend on modeling the degree of public access to the contaminated spot. But the DOE has set cleanup limits at nuclear blast sites in the South Pacific of 15 picocuries of plutonium per gram of soil.
Contractors measured plutonium at levels up to 47 picocuries in ditches outside the plant and 500 picocuries on plant grounds.
Those measurements were made after the first evidence of environmental problems outside the plant surfaced in 1988, when a county health inspector found technetium and chemical carcinogens from the plant in a farmer's well. The discovery of the poisoned wells prompted a multimillion-dollar ground-water cleanup under the Environmental Protection Agency's oversight.
Although plant managers posted creeks and ditches with warning signs in the early 1990s, the signs do not refer to plutonium or any other radioactive contaminants. Some warn of possible contamination with cancer-causing chemicals; others merely caution against eating local fish.
Lawsuit Alleges Deliberate Dumping
In addition to the substances that flowed or spilled out of the plant through the drainage ditches, the employees contend in their lawsuit that a wide variety of contaminated substances were deliberately dumped into the environment. Spilled black powder and empty radioactive waste containers allegedly were placed in dumpsters and trucked to a sanitary landfill on DOE property licensed only for trash and garbage. Rubble from demolished buildings and contaminated railroad ties allegedly were dumped in nearby woods and fields. Slag from uranium smelters was put in abandoned concrete bunkers in a state wildlife area outside the plant, according to the lawsuit.
"There was only one dumpster for all waste, whether radioactive, hazardous, toxic or ordinary," Jenkins said.
Plant records describe at least two dozen unlicensed radioactive debris piles on state lands outside the plant. Last year, ground-water tests turned up technetium directly beneath the sanitary landfill.
A 1990 DOE audit of Paducah found inadequate controls over waste disposal and a faulty system for tracking contamination that forced managers to rely on "word of mouth."
Charles Deuschle, 56, a health physics technician and the third employee in the lawsuit, said he was "shocked" when his surveys discovered radioactive contamination in such places as the plant's cafeteria.
"I saw conditions that would never have been tolerated in any other nuclear location where I have worked," Deuschle, who came to Paducah in 1992, said in court documents.
Internal plant surveys included in the suit found high levels of radiation on street surfaces, manhole covers and loading docks and in locker rooms as recently as 1996.
The plant's current managers maintain that all significantly contaminated areas have been addressed. "Hot" surfaces have been coated with absorbent paint, and warning signs have been posted, they said. Rope fences keep passersby away from radioactive equipment rusting in the open. Drain pipes and fire hydrants are coated with warning paint. Two dilapidated buildings where the black powder was once processed are padlocked. In 1997, regulatory oversight of the plant was transferred to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which declined to comment on allegations in the sealed lawsuit.
Even the employees involved in the suit concede that safeguards have improved recently. But they insist that problems remain. This spring, elevated radioactivity was found in a parking area near the administration building, plant documents show.
Soil collected from a ditch outside the plant's fence by The Post in June and analyzed at a commercial lab contained 2.6 picocuries of plutonium, slightly higher than the NRC's suggested guideline for cleaning up nuclear sites.
The Post, using two hand-held detectors, also found sharply elevated radiation levels in the debris piles on the state wildlife lands. One such area was an unmarked pile of rotting railroad timbers near fishing ponds and campgrounds.
Public Reports Tell Only Part of the Story
Environmentalists, plant workers and neighbors claim that plant officials play down the hazards.
"They cloak it in jargon," said Mark Donham, a member of a citizens advisory board that meets monthly with plant cleanup officials. "You have to order the documents and then spend hours and hours looking at them to learn anything."
DOE officials say the facts and figures about the plutonium contamination inside the plant have been duly recorded since 1991 in thick inspection reports. But these are kept in archives rarely visited by the public.
In the annual environmental reports that circulate to the public, the contamination is described as "trace" amounts of "radionuclides," a catchall term that can include mildly radioactive uranium as well as highly radioactive plutonium.
A 1991 "site investigation" report, done by the plant's contractor and stored in the archives, shows much higher levels of plutonium than the annual environmental reports. The DOE said the reports use different methods and measure different things.
The result has been that the DOE can claim full disclosure about the contamination while plant workers and neighbors remain in the dark, said Owens, the attorney for the plant's neighbors.
"The company has engaged in a cynical disinformation campaign that centered on downplaying risks and presenting confusing and misleading information," he said.
Inside the plant, the first disclosure of plutonium to workers came around 1990 after managers summoned top union leaders to discuss the results of tests ordered after the state found the poisoned wells.
"They took it seriously," a union official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said of Martin Marietta's presentation. But "the health effects weren't viewed as serious. We just vehemently stressed that the contamination should be cleaned up."
Plant managers insist that workers today are fully aware of the potential hazards. USEC cites worker training programs that it says include a briefing on plutonium and other radioactive hazards at the plant.
But officials with the union's Washington office contend workers still don't know a fraction of what they were exposed to. "What we're seeing now," said Daniel Guttman, former staff director of the federal Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments, "is the outcropping of the glacier."
Deficient Monitoring Compounded the Risk
The health effects for Paducah workers remain an open question.
The DOE said 442 Paducah workers were tested in 1997 and only 8 percent displayed measurable amounts of radiation. It said screening tests since 1992 have found no evidence of plutonium exposure in workers.
But the greatest exposure to workers would have occurred before the enhanced monitoring that began in the late 1980s.
In 1990, the DOE audited safety practices at Paducah and found scores of deficiencies in radiation monitoring and worker protection. The audit team said Paducah failed to properly monitor radiation to workers' internal organs -- even though plant managers had been repeatedly warned to do so.
Radiation-measuring equipment was either missing or not properly calibrated, the report said, and workers weren't being tested for the kinds of radiation known to exist at Paducah. Whether the plant's equipment and personnel were even capable of detecting exposure to plutonium and other transuranics was "questionable," the audit said.
Bolstering claims by workers that they had been left in the dark about radioactive hazards, the report found no mention of transuranics in plant safety procedures.
"Onsite environmental radiological contamination conditions are largely unknown," the report said. "A formal program with well-defined monitoring, sampling and analysis requirements does not exist."
Independent experts are investigating Paducah as part of two national studies of environmental and safety issues in the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. Both studies are relying primarily on data supplied by the plant. Officials brought in two years ago to review past radiation hazards told The Post they were not informed that Paducah workers may have been exposed to significant amounts of plutonium.
Neither was Harold Hargan, a plant worker for 37 years. Hargan was one of about six workers who he says were told in 1990 that a test had found plutonium in their urine.
"It surprised me. Hell, it surprised the doctor," Hargan said. "Everybody knew there was no plutonium at Paducah."
What Happened Inside the Plant
Uranium is a naturally radioactive element that comes mainly in two forms, or isotopes: uranium-238 and a small amount of uranium-235. Only U-235 is fissile, or capable of being split in a nuclear chain reaction. To make bombs or nuclear fuel, uranium must be "enriched" by increasing the proportion of U-235.
The Mission: Uranium Enrichment
Since the late 1970s, Paducah has purchased uranium hexafluoride from other companies. Today, the enrichment process begins here.
The enriched uranium is shipped to another plant for further enrichment to make commercial nuclear fuel. In the past, some was converted to highly enriched uranium for bombs.
Enormous amounts of uranium are left over after enrichment.
The processes used at Paducah also can move backward, turning uranium hexafluoride back into greensalt, or into depleted uranium metal for use in armor-piercing munitions or armor plating.
Uranium hexafluoride mixed with magnesium yields greensalt, uranium metal and slag.
Beginning about 1953, uranium from spent nuclear fuel was sent to Paducah to be enriched. Each shipment contained small amounts of plutonium and other radioactive contaminants.
Processing uranium generated large amounts of contaminated airborne dust inside the buildings. Also, radioactive material often was spilled, then swept up by hand, hosed into gutters or placed in regular trash receptacles, whistle-blowers say.
Workers carried uranium home on their skin and clothes.
Old nuclear warheads were dismantled at Paducah, where the radioactive material was extracted and gold and other precious metals were recovered.
The recovered gold was melted into bars. Whistle-blowers allege some was shipped away without being measured for radiation.
Tens of thousands of drums used to ship uranium are stored outdoors at the plant. Many drums still contain radioactive material.
This "depleted" uranium -- still radioactive -- is stored in tens of thousands of cylinders in open lots.
The plant continues to store significant amounts of various recovered metals deemed too contaminated to ship.
The concrete-like gray slag, a contaminated byproduct of the process, allegedly was trucked to sanitary landfills and dumped in public areas near the plant. Large amounts of contaminated slag remain on the site.
Hazards Inside the Plant
For decades, plutonium and other radioactive hazards quietly spread through this Kentucky uranium plant, exposing unsuspecting workers to an invisible and potentially lethal threat. Red areas on this diagram denote contamination that was detected around the main work areas in 1992.
SOURCES: "Radiological Survey of Selected Outdoor Areas, Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant, Paducah, Kentucky," prepared by Oak Ridge Associated Universities, April 1992; Washington Post research.
Satellite photo from U.S. Geological Survey.
Radioactively contaminated slag and rubble from demolished buildings was dumped outdoors in more than two dozen places around the plant. For decades, waste water containing uranium, plutonium and cancer-causing chemicals was discharged into ditches and creeks that flow into the Ohio River, three miles away.