“I feel that at least several hundred scientists trained in the biomedical aspect of atomic energy – myself included – are candidates for Nuremberg-type trials for crimes against humanity for our gross negligence and irresponsibility. Now that we know the hazard of low-dose radiation, the crime is not experimentation – it’s murder.”
Dr. John Gofman, former Manhattan Project scientist, speaking in 1979.
As the third anniversary of the ongoing Fukushima disaster rolls around, we get yet another reminder that monkeys should not play with atoms: last month, on Valentine’s Day, there was, apparently, quite a bad radiation leak at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), in the New Mexico desert. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is a Department of Energy (DoE) experimental nuclear waste dump. The waste is stored 2000 feet below ground in vast salt mine caverns. The Department of Energy announced that the Valentine’s Day leak was a “puff” of unfiltered radiation that came up one of the mine’s vent shafts, and contained isotopes of plutonium and americium (here). Now, as with all things nuclear, there’s a great deal of obscurification and thus confusion surrounding the event at WIPP. The DoE have been coming out with the usual “It’s only a small leak, nothing to worry about” stuff. Test results published by the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring Research Center (CEMRC) show that levels of plutonium and americium released at the site were ‘moderate’ (here), but of course the thing about stuff like plutonium is that if only a microscopic amount gets in the body there’s a good chance it will kill you. Going on the figures given by CEMRC, this blogger calculates that 461 grams of plutonium were released into the environment. It’s generally accepted that one millionth of a gram is enough to kill a person (it won’t kill you straight away. It can take many decades before cancer develops, which is how the nuke industry get away with mass murder).
At the time of writing, it’s been confirmed by the DoE that 17 workers at the plant have now been found to have traces of americium and plutonium in their body. Apparently, the leak occurred during the evening and no one was down in the mine. These unlucky workers were above ground. As for WIPP itself, operations have actually been halted since 5th February, when, apparently, a vehicle caught fire inside the mine. Dense black smoke could be seen coming from a ventilation shaft (you can find a news piece about it here). Whenever you see stuff like this at a nuclear installation it’s time to worry, folks. In this instance let’s hope there’s a good outcome, although KRQE News 13 have started to report that traces of plutonium are now being detected in Carlsbad, the nearest population centre, 26 miles to the west of WIPP (here).
The above video was captured by someone who remains unknown. Incidentally, KRQE News 13 are based in Albuquerque, the largest city in New Mexico, whose baseball team are known as the Isotopes. New Mexico has a long history of all things nuclear, including the Trinity test in July 1945, which was the world’s first atom bomb explosion. The atom was first split in 1938, yet it was the Trinity test that really started the clock ticking down.
As a result of the Fukushima disaster, groups of concerned citizens are now doing their own radiation monitoring (because their corrupt governments won’t tell them what’s going on). One such American group is called RadCast.org. The problem is that off-the-shelf geiger counters can’t usually detect alpha radiation (transuranic elements like plutonium and americium are mostly alpha emitters). You need specialist equipment for that. Also, alpha radiation does not penetrate very far, and compared to beta or gamma radiation is not that dangerous as an external radiation source. Alpha emitters, though, are very vigorous and long lasting, and if they get inside your body, and nestle-up against your cells, the prognosis is not good.
Here’s Arnie Gundersen’s take on what’s happening at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant…
Editing in: as a curious aside, WIPP is run on behalf of the DoE by a company called ‘Nuclear Waste Partnership LLC’, which is a partnership between URS Energy and Construction Inc. and Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Group. Eight days after the ‘vehicle fire’ in the mine, and one day before the radiation leak was announced, URS share prices plummeted (here).