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The News That Matters about the Nuclear Industry Fukushima Chernobyl Mayak Three Mile Island Atomic Testing Radiation Isotope

UK’s beautiful Lake District – no “final solution” for the nuclear waste problem.

Radiation Free Lakeland 28th Nov 2020, Millom Rock and Deer Parks, This is a lovely description of a walk in an amazingly beautiful area.unbelievable it could be seriously considered as a nuclear waste dump. This quarry and surrounding area is being seriously considered by Radioactive Waste Management (a government quango) for the “disposal” of heat generating nuclear wastes.

In order to justify new nuclear build such as that at Hinkley Point, there needs to be a “final solution” for the
nuclear waste. This is no solution it is an excuse. A very dangerous excuse.

https://mariannewildart.wordpress.com/2020/11/28/millom-rock-deer-parks/

November 29, 2020 Posted by | environment, UK, wastes | Leave a comment

Comprehensive research now shows that irradiated areas near Chernobyl have fewest mammals

Scientific American (accessed) 26th Nov 2020, More than 30 years after the Chernobyl nuclear plant’s meltdown, an 18-mile
radius around the site remains almost entirely devoid of human
activity—creating a haven for wildlife. But scientists disagree over
lingering radiation’s effects on animal populations in this region, called
the Exclusion Zone.

A new analysis, based on estimating the actual doses
animals receive in various parts of the zone, supports the hypothesis that
areas with the most radiation have the fewest mammals. “The effects we
saw are consistent with conventional wisdom about radiation,” says
University of South Carolina biologist Timothy Mousseau, co-author of the
new study in Scientific Reports. “What’s surprising is that it took this
long to start looking at this in a rigorous, comprehensive way.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/chernobyl-exclusion-zone-radiation-doses-reanalyzed/

November 28, 2020 Posted by | environment, Ukraine | Leave a comment

Precious Suffolk Coast bird habitat to be destroyed by Sizewell C nuclear ptoject

Bird Guides 22nd Nov 2020, Despite the UK Government this week announcing “greater protections for England’s iconic landscapes”, concerns are increasing over plans for a new twin nuclear reactor at Sizewell, on the Suffolk coast, with The Wildlife Trusts expressing deep worry. The Sizewell C project would cut through the Suffolk Coast and Heaths Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and its associated important wildlife designations.
Suffolk Wildlife Trust believes that the proposed development in such a wildlife-rich, fragile location would be catastrophic for UK nature when wildlife declines are so extreme that the Government recently has committed to protect 30% of the UK’s land by 2030 – to allow nature to recover. After a decade of assessing the impact, Suffolk Wildlife Trust believes that Sizewell C should not go
ahead. Christine Luxton, Chief Executive of Suffolk Wildlife Trust, commented: “Sizewell C would destroy a vast swathe of the Suffolk coastline in one of the most beautiful natural parts of the UK.
People visit this part of Suffolk from all over the country to enjoy the wild countryside. If this vast development gets the go-ahead, an area of the coast the size of 900 football pitches will be directly affected by the development. Barn Owls, Water Voles and Common Kingfishers will see their habitat destroyed.

https://www.birdguides.com/news/the-wildlife-trusts-raise-concerns-over-sizewell-c/

November 24, 2020 Posted by | environment, UK | Leave a comment

Sizewell C nuclear plant ‘not value for money’, and would sabotage the govt’s pledge for nature

November 19, 2020 Posted by | environment, UK | Leave a comment

Destruction of wildlife habitat, Coronation Wood to be felled, for Sizewell C nuclear project

TASC 16th Nov 2020, Despite every effort from lawyers representing Together Against Sizewell C
(TASC), and the invaluable financial and moral support from many concerned
citizens, TASC are devastated to learn that the Courts have refused its
application to make a final appeal to overturn the decision to allow the
destruction of Coronation Wood.
TASC member Joan Girling who brought the
case to court, said “Due to the crass decision-making of East Suffolk
Council, EDF have now been given the green light to carry out their
Sizewell B relocation plans which include taking their chain-saws to and
destroying the whole of Coronation Wood.
“It is totally premature to
allow the felling of the wood. Sizewell C may never get permission and a
100 year old wood cannot be replaced. Due to its removal there will be a
major loss of visual screening of the nuclear industrial complex causing
increased noise and light pollution, totally ignoring the site’s status
as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
Destroying the wood, its badger
setts, bird and bat habitats blows EDF’s environmental credentials out of
the water. There are alternatives but EDF and the council chose not to
pursue them. EDF is not concerned in any way, shape or form for the well
being of the ecology of the area, nor that of locals who are deeply upset
by their plans”

https://tasizewellc.org.uk/latest-on-coronation-wood-judicial-revue/

November 19, 2020 Posted by | environment, UK | Leave a comment

The Irish sea – plagued by dumped munitions and radioactive trash

Belfast Telegraph 13th Nov 2020, A report highlighting the dangers of underwater explosions and radioactive
waste has cast doubt on the viability of any Irish Sea bridge. The UK and Ireland Nuclear Free Local Authorities (NFLA) study focused on Beaufort’s Dyke, one of the deepest sections of water in Europe and a training sitefor nuclear submarines. Munitions from both world wars and radioactive waste, when it was permitted in Europe, are known to have been dumped in the stretch of sea.

https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/seabed-blasts-cast-doubt-on-the-viability-of-boris-johnsons-bridge-from-northern-ireland-to-scotland-39740984.html

November 17, 2020 Posted by | oceans, UK, wastes | Leave a comment

Guardians of UK’s precious habitat in Suffolk are fearful of government decision on Sizewell nuclear plan.

East Anglian Daily Times 12th Nov 2020, Guardians of one of Britain’s most precious habitats are waiting to see
how Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s 10-point plan for the environment will
affect their Suffolk site.

https://www.eadt.co.uk/news/rspb-minsmere-sizewell-c-damage-1-6926669

November 14, 2020 Posted by | environment, politics, UK | Leave a comment

UK’s Royal Society for the Protection of Birds condemns the Sizewell nuclear project

The Government looks set to fail in its first major domestic test over its declared commitment to the environment ahead of an upcoming speech by the Prime Minister. 

 A recent PR charm offensive by the energy company EDF extolling the green credentials of its proposals to build the Sizewell C nuclear reactor seems to be swaying government opinion, despite the fact that the project may irreversibly damage one of the UK’s most important and well protected wildlife sites. It is rumoured that the Prime Minister will announce the importance of future nuclear energy development in his upcoming 10-point speech on the environment.  

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds ’s Chief Executive, Beccy Speight, said: “The Government has committed to protect 30% of the UK’s land by 2030 to boost biodiversity, so allowing the destruction of one of the most nature rich places we already have in the UK would be a crazy decision. The Prime Minister must not let EDF pull the wool over his eyes regarding what a damaging project this would be. 

 “If EDF were to be given permission to build a brand-new twin nuclear reactor slap bang on the border of a globally important wildlife haven, then we believe that contrary to the ambition set out by this Government, nowhere in the UK is sacred anymore. The Government has stated that we are in an ecological emergency as well as a climate emergency and it simply cannot afford to waste taxpayer’s money destroying flagship reserves which mean so much to wildlife and people.” 

 The RSPB has waited for over a decade for EDF Energy to show them evidence that RSPB Minsmere won’t be irrevocably damaged if the energy giant builds the UK’s latest white elephant: Sizewell C. That evidence has never materialised and EDF continue to try and paint the development as environmentally friendly despite evidence to the contrary. 

 Home to a whopping 6000 species, Minsmere is widely acknowledged as one of Europe’s most important wildlife sites and has legal protection at both the national and international level. Protected animals that call the Suffolk coast home like otters, water voles, marsh harriers, bats and many more could all fall victim to this huge infrastructure project and legally protected land, Sizewell Marshes SSSI, could be built directly on. The concerns extend to marine life too with proposals suggesting waters off the local beaches could warm and that toxic chemicals could be pumped into the sea along with worrying numbers of dead fish. 

 Beccy Speight continued:   “We could be witnessing the horrors of HS2 all over again, wasting tax payers’ money on destroying irreplaceable homes for nature. If Sizewell C was to be built, it should come as no surprise to us all that we would once again be witnessing chainsaws and diggers decimating precious habitats which are not only important to wildlife, but to people’s health and wellbeing too.  For this to happen as we attempt to recover from a pandemic caused by a zoonotic disease only adds to the bitter irony of the situation. We urge the Government to think again.” 

November 12, 2020 Posted by | environment, opposition to nuclear, UK | Leave a comment

The accumulating radioactive water is another Fukushima disaster crisis

November 7, 2020 Posted by | Fukushima continuing, oceans | Leave a comment

Chernobyl’s bumblebees still affected by radiation

This new data shows effects on bumblebees are happening at dose rates previously thought safe for insects, and the current international recommendations will need to be re-evaluated.

November 5, 2020 Posted by | environment, radiation, Reference, Ukraine | Leave a comment

315 nuclear bombs and ongoing suffering: the shameful history of nuclear testing in Australia and the Pacific

315 nuclear bombs and ongoing suffering: the shameful history of nuclear testing in Australia and the Pacific, https://theconversation.com/315-nuclear-bombs-and-ongoing-suffering-the-shameful-history-of-nuclear-testing-in-australia-and-the-pacific-148909, Tilman Ruff, Associate Professor, Education and Learning Unit, Nossal Institute for Global Health, School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, Dimity Hawkins, PhD Candidate, Swinburne University of Technology
November 3, 2020
     The Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons received its 50th ratification on October 24, and will therefore come into force in January 2021. A historic development, this new international law will ban the possession, development, testing, use and threat of use of nuclear weapons.Unfortunately the nuclear powers — the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Russia, China, Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea — haven’t signed on to the treaty. As such, they are not immediately obliged to help victims and remediate contaminated environments, but others party to the treaty do have these obligations. The shifting norms around this will hopefully put ongoing pressure on nuclear testing countries to open records and to cooperate with accountability measures.

For the people of the Pacific region, particularly those who bore the brunt of nuclear weapons testing during the 20th century, it will bring a new opportunity for their voices to be heard on the long-term costs of nuclear violence. The treaty is the first to enshrine enduring commitments to addressing their needs.

From 1946, around 315 nuclear tests were carried out in the Pacific by the US, Britain and France. These nations’ largest ever nuclear tests took place on colonised lands and oceans, from Australia to the Marshall Islands, Kiribati to French Polynesia.

The impacts of these tests are still being felt today.

All nuclear tests cause harm

Studies of nuclear test workers and exposed nearby communities around the world consistently show adverse health effects, especially increased risks of cancer.

The total number of global cancer deaths as a result of atmospheric nuclear test explosions has been estimated at between 2 million and 2.4 million, even though these studies used radiation risk estimates that are now dated and likely underestimated the risk.

The number of additional non-fatal cancer cases caused by test explosions is similar. As confirmed in a large recent study of nuclear industry workers in France, the UK and US, the numbers of radiation-related deaths due to other diseases, such as heart attacks and strokes, is also likely to be similar.

Britain conducted 12 nuclear test explosions in Australia between 1952 and 1957, and hundreds of minor trials of radioactive and toxic materials for bomb development up to 1963. These caused untold health problems for local Aboriginal people who were at the highest risk of radiation. Many of them were not properly evacuated, and some were not informed at all.

We may never know the full impact of these explosions because in many cases, as the Royal Commission report on British Nuclear Tests in Australia found in 1985: “the resources allocated for Aboriginal welfare and safety were ludicrous, amounting to nothing more than a token gesture”. But we can listen to the survivors.

The late Yami Lester directly experienced the impacts of nuclear weapons. A Yankunytjatjara elder from South Australia, Yami was a child when the British tested at Emu Field in October 1953. He recalled the “Black Mist” after the bomb blast:

It wasn’t long after that a black smoke came through. A strange black smoke, it was shiny and oily. A few hours later we all got crook, every one of us. We were all vomiting; we had diarrhoea, skin rashes and sore eyes. I had really sore eyes. They were so sore I couldn’t open them for two or three weeks. Some of the older people, they died. They were too weak to survive all the sickness. The closest clinic was 400 miles away.

His daughter, Karina Lester, is an ambassador for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons in Australia, and continues to be driven by her family’s experience. She writes:

For decades now my family have campaigned and spoken up against the harms of nuclear weapons because of their firsthand experience of the British nuclear tests […] Many Aboriginal people suffered from the British nuclear tests that took place in the 1950s and 1960s and many are still suffering from the impacts today.

More than 16,000 Australian workers were also exposed. A key government-funded study belatedly followed these veterans over an 18-year period from 1982. Despite the difficulties of conducting a study decades later with incomplete data, it found they had 23% higher rates of cancer and 18% more deaths from cancers than the general population.

An additional health impact in Pacific island countries is the toxic disease “ciguatera”, caused by certain microscopic plankton at the base of the marine food chain, which thrive on damaged coral. Their toxins concentrate up the food chain, especially in fish, and cause illness and occasional deaths in people who eat them. In the Marshall Islands, Kiritimati and French Polynesia, outbreaks of the disease among locals have been associated with coral damage caused by nuclear test explosions and the extensive military and shipping infrastructure supporting them.

Pacific survivors of nuclear testing haven’t been focused solely on addressing their own considerable needs for justice and care; they’ve been powerful advocates that no one should suffer as they have ever again, and have worked tirelessly for the eradication of nuclear weapons. It’s no surprise independent Pacific island nations are strong supporters of the new treaty, accounting for ten of the first 50 ratifications.

Negligence and little accountability

Some nations that have undertaken nuclear tests have provided some care and compensation for their nuclear test workers; only the US has made some provisions for people exposed, though only for mainland US residents downwind of the Nevada Test Site. No testing nation has extended any such arrangement beyond its own shores to the colonised and minority peoples it put in harm’s way. Nor has any testing nation made fully publicly available its records of the history, conduct and effects of its nuclear tests on exposed populations and the environment.

These nations have also been negligent by quickly abandoning former test sites. There has been inadequate clean-up and little or none of the long-term environmental monitoring needed to detect radioactive leakage from underground test sites into groundwater, soil and air. One example among many is the Runit concrete dome in the Marshall Islands, which holds nuclear waste from US testing in the 1940s and 50s. It’s increasingly inundated by rising sea levels, and is leaking radioactive material.

The treaty provides a light in a dark time. It contains the only internationally agreed framework for all nations to verifiably eliminate nuclear weapons.

It’s our fervent hope the treaty will mark the increasingly urgent beginning of the end of nuclear weapons. It is our determined expectation that our country will step up. Australia has not yet ratified the treaty, but the bitter legacy of nuclear testing across our country and region should spur us to join this new global effort.

November 3, 2020 Posted by | environment, health, history, indigenous issues, Reference, wastes | Leave a comment

Now climate change, rising seas, swamping Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, victims of nuclear racism

Losing paradise,  Atomic racism decimated Kiribati and the Marshall Islands; now climate change is sinking them, Beyond Nuclear   https://wordpress.com/read/feeds/72759838/posts/29981415891 Nov 20, This is an extract from the Don’t Bank on the Bomb Scotland report “Nuclear Weapons, the Climate and Our Environment”.

Kiribati.  In 1954, the government of Winston Churchill decided that the UK needed to develop a hydrogen bomb (a more sophisticated and destructive type of nuclear weapon). The US and Russia had already developed an H-bomb and Churchill argued that the UK “could not expect to maintain our influence as a world power unless we possessed the most up-to-date nuclear weapons”.

The governments of Australia and New Zealand refused to allow a hydrogen bomb test to be conducted on their territories so the British government searched for an alternative site. Kiritimati Island and Malden Island in the British Gilbert and Ellice Islands Colony in the central Pacific Ocean (now the Republic of Kiribati) were chosen. Nine nuclear weapons tests – including the first hydrogen bomb tests – were carried out there as part of “Operation Grapple” between 1957 and 1958.

Military personnel from the UK, New Zealand and Fiji (then a British colony) and Gilbertese labourers were brought in to work on the operation. Many of the service personnel were ordered to witness the tests in the open, on beaches or on the decks of ships, and were simply told to turn their backs and shut their eyes when the bombs were detonated. There is evidence that Fijian forces were given more dangerous tasks than their British counterparts, putting them at greater risk from radiation exposure. The local Gilbertese were relocated and evacuated to British naval vessels during some of the tests but many were exposed to fallout, along with naval personnel and soldiers.

After Grapple X, the UK’s first megaton hydrogen bomb test in November 1957, dead fish washed ashore and “birds were observed to have their feathers burnt off, to the extent that they could not fly”. The larger Grapple Y test in 1958 spread fallout over Kiritimati Island and destroyed large areas of vegetation.

Despite evidence that military personnel and local people suffered serious health problems as a result of the tests, including blindness, cancers, leukaemia and reproductive difficulties, the British government has consistently denied that they were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation and has resisted claims for compensation.

Like the Marshall Islands, the low-lying Republic of Kiribati is now bearing the brunt of the effects of climate change. Salt water washed in on king tides has contaminated the islands’ scarce freshwater resources. Pits that are used to grow taro plants have been ruined and the healthy subsistence lifestyle of local people is under threat.

It is predicted that rising sea levels will further impact freshwater resources and reduce the amount of agricultural land, while storm damage and erosion will increase. Much of the land will ultimately be submerged. In anticipation of the need to relocate its entire population, the government of Kiribati bought 20km2 of land on Fiji in 2014.

The UK is set to spend £3.4 billion a year on Trident nuclear weapons system between 2019 and 2070. If Trident were scrapped, a portion of the savings could be provide to the Republic of Kiribati in the form of climate finance (see section 1.2.1). Scrapping Trident would also allow money and skills to be redirected towards measures aimed at drastically cutting the UK’s carbon emissions (see section 1.2.2) – action that Pacific island nations are urgently demanding.

The Marshall Islands.  The most devasting incident of radioactive contamination took place 8,000 km from the US mainland during the Castle Bravo test in 1954. The US detonated the largest nuclear weapon in its history at Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands, causing fallout to spread over an area of more than 11,000km. Residents of nearby atolls, Rongelap and Utirik, were exposed to high levels of radiation, suffering burns, radiation sickness, skin lesions and hair loss as a result.

Castle Bravo was just one of 67 nuclear weapons tests conducted by the US in the Marshall Islands between 1946 and 1958. Forty years after the tests, the cervical cancer mortality rate for women of the Marshall Islands was found to be 60 times greater than the rate for women in the US mainland, while breast and lung cancer rates were five and three times greater respectively. High rates of infant mortality have also been found in the Marshall Islands and a legacy of birth defects and infertility has been documented. Many Marshallese were relocated by the US to make way for the testing.

Some were moved to Rongelap Atoll and relocated yet again after the fallout from Castle Bravo left the area uninhabitable.

Rongelap Atoll was resettled in 1957 after the US government declared that the area was safe. However, many of those who returned developed serious health conditions and the entire population was evacuated by Greenpeace in 1984. An attempt to resettle Bikini Atoll was similarly abandoned in 1978 after it became clear that the area was still unsafe for human habitation.

A 2019 peer-reviewed study found levels of the radioactive isotope caesium-137 in fruits taken from some parts of Bikini and Rongelap to be significantly higher than levels recorded at the sites of the world’s worst nuclear accidents, Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Compounding the injustice of nuclear weapons testing, the Republic of the Marshall Islands is now on the frontline of the climate emergency. The government declared a national climate crisis in 2019, citing the nation’s extreme vulnerability to rising sea levels and the “implications for the security, human rights and wellbeing of the Marshallese people”.

At Runit Island, one of 40 islands in the Enewetak Atoll, rising sea levels are threatening to release radioactive materials into an already contaminated lagoon. In the late 1970s, the US army dumped 90,000 cubic metres of radioactive waste, including plutonium, into a nuclear blast crater and covered it with a concrete cap. Radioactive materials are leaking out of the crater and cracks have appeared on the concrete cap. Encroaching salt water caused by rising sea levels could collapse the structure altogether. The Marshallese government has asked the US for help to prevent an environmental catastrophe but the US maintains that the dome is the Marshall Islands’ responsibility. Hilda Heine, then President of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, said of the dome in 2019: “We don’t want it. We didn’t build it. The garbage inside is not ours. It’s theirs.”

The Runit Island dome offers a stark illustration of the ways in which the injustices of nuclear weapons testing and climate change overlap. Marshall Islanders were left with the toxic legacy of nuclear weapons testing conducted on their territory by another state. The country is now being forced to deal with the effects of a climate crisis that they did not create, including the erosion of the Runit dome.

The nations that contributed most to the crisis are failing to cut their emissions quickly enough to limit further global heating, leaving the Marshallese at the mercy of droughts, cyclones and rising seas. A recent study found that if current rates of greenhouse gas emissions are maintained, the Marshall Islands will be flooded with sea water annually from 2050. The resulting damage to infrastructure and contamination of freshwater supplies will render the islands uninhabitable.

If the US scrapped its nuclear weapons programme, it could give a portion of the billions of dollars that would be saved to the Republic of the Marshall Islands to help the country mitigate and adapt to climate disruption (see section 1.2.1 on international climate finance). The US could also use the freed-up funds to invest in its own Just Transition away from a fossil-fuel powered economy.   Read the full report.

November 2, 2020 Posted by | climate change, environment, history, OCEANIA, Reference, wastes, weapons and war | Leave a comment

Urgency to protect nature, or up to 850,000 animal viruses could be caught by humans

UN report says up to 850,000 animal viruses could be caught by humans, unless we protect nature, The Conversation   Katie Woolaston, Lawyer, Queensland University of Technology, Judith Lorraine Fisher, Adjunct Professor University of Western Australia, Institute of Agriculture
October 30, 2020   Human damage to biodiversity is leading us into a pandemic era. The virus that causes COVID-19, for example, is linked to similar viruses in bats, which may have been passed to humans via pangolins or another species.Environmental destruction such as land clearing, deforestation, climate change, intense agriculture and the wildlife trade is putting humans into closer contact with wildlife. Animals carry microbes that can be transferred to people during these encounters.

A major report released today says up to 850,000 undiscovered viruses which could be transferred to humans are thought to exist in mammal and avian hosts.

The report, by The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), says to avoid future pandemics, humans must urgently transform our relationship with the environment.

Humans costs are mounting

The report is the result of a week-long virtual workshop in July this year, attended by leading experts. It says a review of scientific evidence shows:

…pandemics are becoming more frequent, driven by a continued rise in the underlying emerging disease events that spark them. Without preventative strategies, pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, kill more people, and affect the global  economy with more devastating impact than ever before.

The report says, on average, five new diseases are transferred from animals to humans every year – all with pandemic potential. In the past century, these have included:

  • the Ebola virus (from fruit bats),
  • AIDS (from chimpazees)
  • Lyme disease (from ticks)
  • the Hendra virus (which first erupted at a Brisbane racing stable in 1994).
The report says an estimated 1.7 million currently undiscovered viruses are thought to exist in mammal and avian hosts. Of these, 540,000-850,000 could infect humans.
But rather than prioritising the prevention of pandemic outbreaks, governments around the world primarily focus on responding – through early detection, containment and hope for rapid development of vaccines and medicines…..

Finally, Australia is one of few countries without a national centre for disease control and pandemics.

But there are good reasons for hope. It’s within Australia’s means to build an organisation focused on a OneHealth approach. Australia is one of the most biologically diverse countries on the planet and Australians are willing to protect it. Further, many investors believe proper environmental policy will aid Australia’s economic recovery.

Finally, we have countless passionate experts and traditional owners willing to do the hard work around policy design and implementation.

As this new report demonstrates, we know the origins of pandemics, and this gives us the power to prevent them……  https://theconversation.com/un-report-says-up-to-850-000-animal-viruses-could-be-caught-by-humans-unless-we-protect-nature-148911

October 31, 2020 Posted by | 2 WORLD, environment, health | Leave a comment

A bit of good news – Chameleon last seen a century ago rediscovered in Madagascar

October 31, 2020 Posted by | environment, OCEANIA | Leave a comment

Santa Susana Field Laboratory site- historically radioactively polluted, but risks never being cleaned up

Yes, Santa Susana is a ‘landmark’ — as a historic environmental disaster, https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2020-10-27/hiltzik-santa-susana-environmental-landmark  By MICHAEL HILTZIK,  BUSINESS COLUMNIST OCT. 27, 2020

One thing is certainly true about NASA’s curious effort to place 2,850 acres above the Simi Valley on the National Register of Historic Places: The parcel is certainly a landmark.

Among the points in dispute is what makes it so.   To several local Native American tribes, including the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians, the Ventura County site’s cave drawings and rock shelters bespeak a cultural heritage dating back centuries.

The time has come for us to make sure that we hold the polluters accountable for their legacy….We will make sure the site gets cleaned up and we will exercise our legal authority in pursuit of that.

To environmentalists and the site’s neighbors, it’s historic for the extent of its contamination by chemical and nuclear research performed there during the Cold War.

The Santa Susana Field Laboratory site is “one of the most toxic sites in the United States by any kind of definition,” Jared Blumenfeld, head of the California Environmental Protection Agency, told me. “It demands a full cleanup.”

Just such a cleanup should have been started years ago. The three entities controlling portions of the site — Boeing Co., the U.S. Department of Energy and NASA — reached agreements with the state in 2007 and 2010 binding them to restoring the site to “background” standards.

The term means removing contaminated soil and buildings so thoroughly that the area would be as pristine as if the polluting activities had never occurred.

That work was supposed to be completed by 2017. Yet much of it has not even started — and it may be thrown into further doubt by NASA’s nomination of the site to the historic register.

Why the cleanup has been stalled isn’t entirely clear, although one obstacle has been the state’s failure to complete an environmental impact report for the cleanup.

The report is a highly technical document on which public comments are still being collected, according to Meredith Williams, director of the state Department of Toxic Substances Control, which is overseeing the process. Williams says the document is now expected to reach completion next spring or summer.

Instead of establishing the government’s responsibilities conclusively, the 2007 and 2010 agreements became part of the battlefield trod over by state and federal agencies. As recently as Sept. 28, the DTSC crisply informed NASA that its published plans for a reduced cleanup violate the agreement.

The state agency “strongly urge[d]” NASA not to issue a formal announcement of the plans. Four days later, NASA did so anyway.

Santa Susana deserves to be recognized as another example of how powerful interests manage to dodge their responsibilities to clean up after themselves by exploiting legal delays and loopholes, to the detriment of local communities.

It’s on a par with the successful effort of Exide Technologies to avoid paying for the cleanup of pollution it caused around its battery recycling plant in Vernon, which we recently chronicled. That case involved a private firm. This one is even worse, because the entities dodging their responsibilities include agencies of the federal government.

The historical nomination by NASA, says Daniel O. Hirsch, a former environmental faculty member at UC Santa Cruz who has been following the Santa Susana saga for some 40 years and serves as president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, an anti-nuclear group, could save Boeing, NASA and the Department of Energy hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup expenses.

“The only people who would lose would be the public,” Hirsch says. “They would continue to face elevated cancer risk from contamination” migrating from the site.

The tribes have said in video statements that a historical designation need not interfere with the cleanup, but such a classification will give them a say in how it proceeds.

To understand the gravity of the situation — and why local residents remain agitated about the delay’s implications for their health — let’s consider the site’s noxious condition.

Over a period of 75 years, the Santa Susana Field Lab hosted what the Natural Resources Defense Council says were “hundreds of nuclear and rocket testing buildings and structures,” emitting radioactive isotopes including plutonium-239.

The soil and water table were contaminated by PCBs, heavy metals, tricholoroethylene “and a witches’ brew of other poisons,” as the NRDC put it.

Nuclear reactors at the lab suffered at least four major accidents between 1959 and 1969, including one partial meltdown, two episodes of fuel damage and a separate release of radioactive gases. The government typically kept these incidents secret for weeks, sometimes longer. 

In a 2007 paper, researchers at the University of Michigan found the incidence rate of certain cancers, including thyroid, bladder and blood system cancers, to be more than 60% higher for residents living within two miles of the site in 1988-95 than for those more than five miles away.

The document that NASA filed this summer nominating the site for the National Register of Historic Places glosses over this history as though it never happened.

Absurdly, the nomination states that despite the activities of the government and Boeing, the area is “in a state similar to when the [tribes’] ancestors used and occupied the area.”

This summer, NASA nominated the lab site for inclusion on the national landmark registry, under the name Burro Flats Cultural District, citing its rich tribal history. A 12-acre portion of the site, encompassing the Burro Flats painted cave and a parcel traditionally used by Native Americans to observe the winter and summer solstices, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974. NASA asserts that its archeological research justifies expanding the landmark to encompass the entire laboratory site.

Then, on Oct. 2, the agency formally announced that it was considering a scheme to clean up the site to only a fraction of what is required by the 2007 and 2010 agreements. That flouted the state’s Sept. 28 warning not to do so, lest it result in “necessary actions to enforce” the agreements.

The historical nomination is opposed by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Committee to Bridge the Gap generally because they see the move as subterfuge through which NASA can slink away from its cleanup responsibilities.

Given this chronicle, it’s hardly surprising that any action by the government inspires skepticism.

“NASA and the DOE have a mixed history, to be polite, and the neighborhood distrusts them immensely,” says Sam Cohen, a legal advisor to the Chumash tribe.

“It’s going to take years to clean up the land,” Cohen says. “We need to be at the table at the beginning or we’re going to be disappointed at the end.”

There are, as it happens, plenty of grounds for distrust. One is that the boundaries of the nominated land correspond exactly to the Santa Susana Field Lab property lines, even though it’s rare that any historical site be chosen with regard to ownership boundaries.

Another is that the proposed designation tracks suspiciously closely to a provision in the 2010 agreement reached by the federal government and the state, exempting from cleanup “Native American artifacts that are formally recognized as Cultural Resources” — which is what NASA is requesting.

These factors and others prompted the NRDC and Committee to Bridge the Gap to warn the state Historical Resources Commission, which must rule on any federal nomination to the historical register, that NASA’s move is “an attempt by the Trump administration to breach the SSFL cleanup agreements.”

Yet the commission bulled ahead, debating the issue at a meeting Aug. 14. At that meeting tribal representatives supported the nomination while a representative of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, Hirsch and members of Hirsch’s group all spoke against it.

A NASA representative told the commission, however, that the proposed designation wouldn’t affect the cleanup at all. “NASA continues to be committed to a cleanup at Santa Susana Field Lab,” she said. The commission, apparently mollified, endorsed the designation unanimously.

But NASA’s critics noticed that the NASA representative, Rebecca Klein, chose her words carefully. “She said they were committed to ‘a cleanup,’” Hirsch observes. “She didn’t say they were committed to the 2010 agreement.”

NASA told me by email that the cleanup standards embodied in the agreement are not “scientifically and technologically achievable.” The standards cannot be met “even if we backfill all removed soil with the store-bought topsoil many of us use in our own yards and gardens,” agency spokeswoman Shannon Segovia told me. The agency says its proposed cleanup would remove up to 90% of the contamination as the agreement requires but involve removal of 70% less soil.

CalEPA’s Blumenfeld says the decision of how to perform the cleanup isn’t up to NASA. “The 2007 and 2010 agreements are legally binding and don’t leave a lot to the imagination,” he says. “They’re very descriptive and prescriptive to infinitesimal levels of detail.”

He adds that the government’s approach to Santa Susana is oddly bifurcated. The Department of Energy, which is largely responsible for the nuclear cleanup, has been relatively cooperative, having started to dismantle the radioactively contaminated buildings on the site.

NASA, however, “is in the camp of trying to spend as little money as possible to do as little work as possible.” It may see its historical nomination as a tool to undermine the 2010 agreement, “but it’s not going to achieve that,” Blumenfeld says.

As for Boeing, which inherited its share of the cleanup in 1996 when it acquired Rockwell International’s aerospace and defense businesses, also has dragged its feet, but its responsibility is currently subject to court proceedings.

All this leaves unexplained how ironclad legal agreements could be flouted with impunity for a decade or more. In the past, blame has settled upon the Brown administration for failing to pursue the cleanup aggressively.

Blumenfeld says that era is over. He says all the parties should understand that “we’re very serious about implementing the legally binding agreements and about our regulatory authority. … There’s this bizarre time in history that we’re trying to explain no longer exists where NASA feels like they get to set the cleanup standards and Boeing feels they get to set the cleanup standards.”

For years, he says, “there was the sense by the polluters that trying to push back would save money on the cleanup.” Polluters shirking their cleanup responsibilities is nothing new, he adds.

“The time has come for us to make sure that we hold the polluters accountable for their legacy. … We will make sure the site gets cleaned up and we will exercise our legal authority in pursuit of that. That hasn’t been the message that they’ve heard for the previous 10 years, but we’re changing it.”

Will that happen? Let’s hope that we don’t have to wait another 10 years to find out.

October 29, 2020 Posted by | environment, USA, wastes | Leave a comment