Sunday, August 28, 2011

Tenth Anniversary of 9/11: So, Who Are the Terrorists Now?

While the United States continues to fight two endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it appears that our government is capitulating to some wealthy billionaires intent on terrorizing the American political process with hefty lobbying to protect their own interests.  Koch Industries (pronounced "coke") heads the list and it is endangering the lives millions of Americans.  Take a look at these stories.  --Olga

Since 9/11, Koch Industries has fought against tougher government rules on chemical plants
Koch plant in Texas.  Courtesy of AP

Koch Industries, a leader of industry resistance to proposed post-9/11 anti-terrorism safeguards at petrochemical plants, owns 56 facilities using hazardous chemicals that put 4.8 million Americans who live nearby at risk.

Schools, homes, hospitals, office parks, churches, recreation areas, nursing homes and daycare facilities dot the properties that surround the Koch plants.
In the government's "worst case" scenarios, the millions working or living near the plants could be threatened by explosions, chemical spills or clouds of deadly gas, federal records show. Among the hazardous chemicals stored and used at Koch sites are formaldehyde, chlorine, anhydrous ammonia and hydrogen fluoride.

Koch's own reports to the U.S. government were reviewed by iWatch News. The records, known as risk management plans, are maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency. Access is strictly controlled: members of the press and public can only examine 10 plans per month, under the watchful eye of EPA officials.
A decade after the worst terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, Koch insists that its neighbors are safe, and are adequately protected by federal and state regulations.

All chemical firms are "vulnerable to human error, acts of nature, theft and sabotage," Koch acknowledges. "It is impossible to completely eliminate every threat."

But "chemicals are at the heart of many of our businesses," the firm says, in a section titled "Chemical Safety" on Koch's website. "The ones used in our facilities are handled with care and by trained professionals."

The Kansas-based conglomerate vows that it "places compliance and safety before profit."

Koch did not respond to repeated inquiries for comment to this story over a week's time.

Koch lobbies against stricter rules

Charles and David Koch, the owners of the country's second-largest private corporation, are libertarians of long standing, who contend that government regulations, taxes and subsidies stifle individual initiative and hamper American competitiveness. In recent years, the Kochs have played an increasingly public role as financial angels for conservative causes, politicians and foundations.

In Washington, Koch is a leader in efforts to oppose counter-terrorism proposals that would require that petrochemical firms use less hazardous practices and chemicals.

Lobbying disclosure reports, filed with Congress, show that this year Koch has deployed at least 20 lobbyists, from four lobbying firms, to shape legislation on Capitol Hill and the regulatory work of federal agencies.

Aside from its own in-house team of lobbyists, Koch has hired the firms of Hunton & Williams; Siff & Associates, and Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti to lobby the Senate, House of Representatives, the Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security....

Calls for Safer Substances

Congressional calls for change, endorsed by the Obama administration, would restructure federal rules and inspection procedures and require the use of "inherently safer technology" (IST) to reduce the potential consequences of a terrorist attack....

House and Senate bills that would require that firms use safer technologies have been the top priorities of Koch lobbyists working on the issue. On its website, Koch says that IST proposals are "onerous" because they "would require manufacturers to use certain products and processes without regard for practicality, availability or cost."

"Mandating IST would result in even more job losses and higher consumer prices as American manufacturers struggle to comply with the new regulations and compete with overseas manufacturers," Koch says.

Under the current regulatory regime, Koch notes, "not one incident of terrorism has occurred."

A Flint Hills Resources oil refinery in Rosemount, Minn. Flint Hill Resources is a subsidiary of Koch Industries. Courtesy of Zachary Korb/Flickr.
According to the iWatch News analysis of EPA records, the Koch facilities with the greatest number of neighbors who would be threatened by a worst case release or terrorist attack are:
  • An Invista chemical plant in LaPorte, Texas, where a spill and vaporization of formaldehyde could threaten almost 1.9 million potential victims within 25 miles.
  • A Georgia-Pacific plant in Camas, Wash., where a chlorine spill and gas cloud could endanger 840,000 people within 14 miles.
  • A Flint Hills refinery in Corpus Christi, Texas, where 350,000 people living within 22 miles would be threatened by a hydrogen fluoride spill and vaporization.
  • And a Koch Nitrogen plant in East Alton, Ill., where 290,000 people live within 11 miles, and face the potential danger of a poisonous anhydrous ammonia cloud.

Koch's Web of Influence
Koch Industries is spending tens of millions to influence every facet of government that could affect its global empire


Koch Inc., headquartered in Wichita, Kan., spends tens of millions of dollars to lobby Congress and federal agencies on issues ranging from oil and gas to the estate tax.   Larry W. Smith/Associated Press

At an EPA hearing last summer, representatives from Koch Industries argued that moderate levels of the toxic chemical dioxin should not be designated as a cancer risk for humans. 

When members of Congress sought higher security at chemical plants to guard against terrorist attacks, Koch Industries lobbyists prowled Capitol Hill to voice their opposition.

And when Congress moved to strengthen regulation of the financial markets after recent collapses, Koch Industries — a major commodities and derivatives trader — deployed a phalanx of lobbyists to resist proposed changes.

Charles and David Koch, the owners of the country’s second-largest private corporation, are libertarians of long standing, who contend that government regulations, taxes and subsidies stifle individual initiative and hamper American competitiveness. In recent years, the Kochs have played an increasingly public role as financial angels for conservative causes, politicians and foundations 

What’s not so well-known is the activity of Koch Industries in the trenches in Washington, where a Center for Public Integrity examination of lobbying disclosure files and federal regulatory records reveals a lobbying steamroller for the company’s interests, at times in conflict with its public pose.

The money that Koch (pronounced “coke”) has spent on lobbying in Washington has soared in recent years, from $857,000 in 2004 to $20 million in 2008. The Kochs then spent another $20.5 million over the next two years to influence federal policy, as the company’s lobbyists and officials sought to mold, gut or kill more than 100 prospective bills or regulations.
  • Koch Industries has increased its lobbying from $857,000 in 2004 to $20 million in the last two years.
  • Koch has 165 manufacturing facilities and lobbies against increased regulation of toxic byproducts like dioxin, asbestos and formaldehyde.
  • Koch has purchased four ethanol plants with a combined capacity of 435 million gallons; ethanol subsidies cost the government $6 billion each year.
  • Koch lobbies to protect the Section 199 deduction to help U.S. manufacturers; the subsidy for energy firms cost the Treasury $14 billion over 10 years.
  • Koch had $100 billion revenues in 2009, second only to Cargill as a private U.S. company.

Koch’s lobbyists are known on Capitol Hill for maintaining a low profile. There are no former U.S. senators or House committee chairmen on the payroll. The firm had 30 registered lobbyists in 2010, many of whom are Washington insiders with previous experience as congressional staffers or federal agency employees. 

Gregory Zerzan is a good example. Zerzan was a senior counsel for the House Financial Services Committee before serving as an acting assistant secretary and deputy assistant secretary at the U.S. Treasury Department during the George W. Bush administration. Zerzan then worked as counsel and head of global public policy for the International Swaps and Derivative Association before joining Koch Industries as a lobbyist. 

Koch clout is augmented by campaign donations to parties and candidates for federal office — $11 million in the last two decades, according to the Center for Responsive Politics — and generous gifts from three family foundations to universities and conservative organizations and interest groups. 

According to IRS records, the Koch foundations are essential donors (having given $3.4 million from 2007 through 2009) to the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a nonprofit known for its support of the Tea Party movement. Among the organizations that have each received a million dollars or more over the last five years from Koch foundations are the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and two conservative think tanks at George Mason University in Virginia: the Institute for Humane Studies and the Mercatus Center. 

The Kochs primarily donate to conservative candidates and causes but have given more than $1 million in the last decade to the liberal Brookings Institution. And among politicians they supported last year was Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat elected governor of New York with $87,000 from the Koch family. 

The emergence of “the Koch web — political action, campaign giving, funding of groups engaged in political action and campaigns, conferences to expand political and policy influence — is a striking phenomenon,” said Norman Ornstein, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute. 

The Center asked Koch Industries and its lobbyists in Washington, in a dozen emails and telephone calls over more than two weeks, to comment on the firm’s lobbying efforts. Koch’s representatives declined the opportunity. 

But in a March 1 column in The Wall Street Journal , Charles Koch defended his and his company’s practices. “As a matter of principle our company has been outspoken in defense of economic freedom,” Koch wrote. “This country would be better off if every company would do the same. Instead, we see far too many businesses that paint their tails white and run with the antelope.”  

Who Are the Koch Brothers?

The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.

David Koch in 1996.  Courtesy of The New Yorker

by       New Yorker -- August 30, 2010 

...With his brother Charles, who is seventy-four, David Koch owns virtually all of Koch Industries, a conglomerate, headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, whose annual revenues are estimated to be a hundred billion dollars. The company has grown spectacularly since their father, Fred, died, in 1967, and the brothers took charge.  The Kochs operate oil refineries in Alaska, Texas, and Minnesota, and control some four thousand miles of pipeline. Koch Industries owns Brawny paper towels, Dixie cups, Georgia-Pacific lumber, Stainmaster carpet, and Lycra, among other products. Forbes ranks it as the second-largest private company in the country, after Cargill, and its consistent profitability has made David and Charles Koch—who, years ago, bought out two other brothers—among the richest men in America. Their combined fortune of thirty-five billion dollars is exceeded only by those of Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.

The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

In a statement, Koch Industries said that the Greenpeace report “distorts the environmental record of our companies.” And David Koch, in a recent, admiring article about him in New York, protested that the “radical press” had turned his family into “whipping boys,” and had exaggerated its influence on American politics. But Charles Lewis, the founder of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonpartisan watchdog group, said, “The Kochs are on a whole different level. There’s no one else who has spent this much money. The sheer dimension of it is what sets them apart. They have a pattern of lawbreaking, political manipulation, and obfuscation. I’ve been in Washington since Watergate, and I’ve never seen anything like it. They are the Standard Oil of our times.”

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

News Summary: What About the Rich?

With all the discussion about the debt ceiling, Americans had a chance to see that the equality of our nation is not as equal as we'd like it to be--or as we thought it was.

That opens the door to a discussion about the disparity between the rich one percent and everybody else.

In Washington's discussions about taxes and spending, "shared sacrifice" centered on downsizing "entitlement programs" like Social Security and Medicare while protecting the rich from paying taxes. 

The articles below discuss the "class war" that is brewing before our very eyes.  We need to know what we are losing and why.

Stop Coddling the Rich
by Warren Buffet
New York Times – August 14, 2011

OUR leaders have asked for “shared sacrifice.” But when they did the asking, they spared me. I checked with my mega-rich friends to learn what pain they were expecting. They, too, were left untouched.
While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks. Some of us are investment managers who earn billions from our daily labors but are allowed to classify our income as “carried interest,” thereby getting a bargain 15 percent tax rate. Others own stock index futures for 10 minutes and have 60 percent of their gain taxed at 15 percent, as if they’d been long-term investors.
These and other blessings are showered upon us by legislators in Washington who feel compelled to protect us, much as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species. It’s nice to have friends in high places.

GOP Presidential Primary: New Rules Of The Race Emerge
By Howard Fineman
August 13, 2011

...Based on what we heard here in the debate and on the straw poll stage, the GOP has committed itself to a New Ten Commandments for party members and their candidates.

Instead, the contenders are adhering to the following guidelines:
·       Thou Shalt Not Raise ANY Taxes
·       Thou Shalt Pass a Constitutional Amendment to Make Abortion Illegal
·       Thou Shalt Pass a Constitutional Amendment to Define Marriage as the Union of a Man and a Woman
·       Thou Shalt Repeal "ObamaCare," AKA the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
·       Thou Shalt Repeal The Dodd-Frank Banking Regulation Act
·       Thou Shalt Pass a Constitutional Amendment to Balance the Federal Budget
·       Thou Shalt Only Give Military Support to "Our Friends"
·       Thou Shalt Limit the Power of -- If Not Entirely Abolish -- the EPA
·       Thou Shalt Drill, Mine and Frak to the Widest Extent Possible
·       Thou Shalt Take the Name of President Obama in Vain

Film -- “The One Percent” (2006)
"The One Percent" refers to the tiny percentage of Americans who control nearly half the wealth of the U.S. This amount of wealth in the hands of so few people is a danger to our very way of life. Filmmaker and heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune, Jamie Johnson, captures his story through personal interviews with Robert Reich, Adnan Khashoggi, Bill Gates, and Steve Forbes. And heĆ¢€™s not afraid to butt heads with Milton Friedman, the economist who coined the term "the trickledown effect." He also shows how the other half lives, using real-world examples of the wealth gap: he takes a tour of a dilapidated housing project in Chicago, rides around with an enlightened taxi driver, and sees the human toll of the unfair economics of the Florida sugar industry.
Available through Netflix

Film -- “Why We Fight” (2006)
Filmed during the Iraq War, Eugene Jarecki's Sundance Grand Jury Award-winning documentary dissects America's military machine with a keen eye to answering a necessary question: Why do we engage in war? Through personal stories of soldiers, government officials, scholars, journalists and innocent victims, the film examines the political and economic interests and ideological factors, past and present, behind American militarism.
Available through Netflix

Monday, August 22, 2011

Sustainability News

Plants And Animals Moving As Climate Changes, Study Finds 

August 18, 2011  Huffington Post 

A new study suggests that plants and animals are moving as the climate changes.

Red Orbit reports on research published in the journal Science, showing that as temperatures rise, plants and animals are moving away from the equator and to higher elevations. As the Associated Press writes, they are "fleeing global warming."

2010 tied 2005 as the warmest year on record, according to government climate experts. According to the Associated Press, National Climatic Data Center's David Easterling noted that since 2000, we have experienced nine of the 10 warmest years on record.

In response to a changing climate, the study finds that species are moving away from the equator at an average rate of more than 15 feet per day, or about a mile per year.  READ MORE

To the End of the Bayou; a Gulf Memory for Our Kids 

Rocky Kistner

August 18, 2011  Huffington Post

For more than a year, I’ve watched Gulf Coast residents suffer through the worst oil spill in history, their lives turned upside down by the shock and emotional trauma of BP’s oily assault. But through these agonizing times I’ve also grown to love and appreciate the Gulf environment and its people. I’ve vowed to take my two young daughters to witness firsthand the beauty of the bayou threatened by the encroaching waves of the Gulf.

Last weekend we finally got our chance. It turned out to be the best trip I’ve taken in the bayou, and I’ve taken a few. But this one was pure pleasure, a boat ride to the tip of Big Muddy with my fishermen friends David and Kindra Arnesen and their two kids. It would be a beach picnic and some fishing, a Cajun good time.
It was a welcome change. I’ve watched the Arnesen family suffer greatly through the worst oil spill in history. Last year I saw their business come to a screeching halt as oil soaked waves washed into their fishing grounds 80 miles south of New Orleans.

Like many of his fisherman colleagues, David worked on the oil cleanup and developed a severe respiratory reaction that still bothers him.  Kindra and their two kids also developed respiratory problems and rashes. Their nine-year-old daughter still has serious breathing attacks, an ailment she never had before the BP well exploded and changed their lives. No one has covered their medical costs  to find out what’s wrong.

For the Arnesens and many here in the fishing community of south Plaquemines Parish, it’s been tough getting back on their feet. Not only has BP not compensated them adequately for their economic losses, they say, but fishing has not returned to normal. Shrimp and crab catches are down dramatically in their area, one of Louisiana’s most productive. David has instead taken to fishing for king mackerel and mango snapper 15 to 20 miles out at sea to make ends meet.

But last weekend the Arnesen family tried to put all of that behind them. We joined them in the Venice marina as they packed up their fishing rods and a picnic lunch and set out on their speedy 20 ft skiff for an hour’s boat ride through the bayou to the Gulf.  READ MORE

Monsanto's GMO Corn Linked To Organ Failure, Study Reveals

 March 18, 2010 Huffington Post 

In a study released by the International Journal of Biological Sciences, analyzing the effects of genetically modified foods on mammalian health, researchers found that agricultural giant Monsanto's GM corn is linked to organ damage in rats.

According to the study, which was summarized by Rady Ananda at Food Freedom, "Three varieties of Monsanto's GM corn - Mon 863, insecticide-producing Mon 810, and Roundup® herbicide-absorbing NK 603 - were approved for consumption by US, European and several other national food safety authorities."

Monsanto gathered its own crude statistical data after conducting a 90-day study, even though chronic problems can rarely be found after 90 days, and concluded that the corn was safe for consumption. The stamp of approval may have been premature, however. READ MORE

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Guest Report: The Latest Raw Milk Raid: An Attack on Food Freedom?

by Ari LeVaux who writes Flash in the Pan, a syndicated weekly food column that has appeared in more than 50 newspapers in 21 states. Learn more at

Atlantic Magazine
August 15, 2011

Federal agents organize a sting operation against a tiny raw milk buying club—and ignore more serious food-safety crimes

August 3 was a telling day for food freedom in America, but the events were framed in terms of food safety. In Venice, California, the Rawesome raw food club was raided by armed federal and county agents who arrested a club volunteer and seized computers, files, cash, and $70,000 worth of perishable produce. James Stewart, 64, was charged on 13 counts, 12 of them related to the processing and sale of unpasteurized milk to club members. The other count involved unwashed, room-temperature eggs—a storage method Rawesome members prefer. The agents dumped gallons of raw milk and filled a large flatbed with seized food, including coconuts, watermelons, and frozen buffalo meat.

That same morning, leaders at the multinational conglomerate Cargill were calculating how best to deal with a deadly outbreak of drug-resistant Salmonella that originated in a Cargill-owned turkey factory.

When word of the raw milk crackdown got out, a bevy of high-profile lawyers offered to represent the raw foodies pro bono, says Rawesome member Lela Buttery, 29. Christopher Darden, who helped prosecute O.J. Simpson, appeared at Stewart's arraignment just in time to lower his bail from the $121,000 that prosecutors had recommended to $30,000, and to strike a rarely used clause that would have prevented Stewart from employing a bail bondsman.

Buttery told me the mood in the courtroom was almost comical when Stewart's initial $121,000 bail was announced. "We'd been watching child molesters and wife-beaters get half that amount. James is accused of things like processing milk without pasteurization and gets such a high bail amount ... the felons in court burst out laughing."

Rawesome began 12 years ago as a small group of raw-milk drinkers who occasionally pooled their money and bought unpasteurized milk from local dairies. As more and more people joined, the club's distribution facilities grew from a cooler in a parking lot to a rented storage space to the current warehouse. The inventory diversified, but the presentation remained minimal: food in piles, haphazardly labeled, as agreed on by club members.

Rawesome members sign a form attesting that "as a member of this private members-only club, I demand access to food that is 1) produced without exposure to chemical contaminants such as industrialized pesticides, fertilizers, cleansers or their gases; 2) complete with its natural unadulterated enzymes intact; 3) may contain microbes, including but not limited to salmonella, E. coli, campylobacter, listeria, gangrene and parasites; 4) the cows are grass-fed and the goats are pastured on a regular basis; 5) fowl are regularly given the opportunity to range outdoors and not fed soy products; and 6) eggs are unwashed and may have bacteria and poultry feces on them."

The August 3 raid was not Rawesome's first. A June 2010 raid resulted in seizures of cash, computers, and other equipment that has yet to be returned, Buttery says. It also resulted in Rawesome's agreement not to distribute raw milk from Santa Paula-based Healthy Family Farms, which had been supplying it to Rawesome.

With the prohibition against selling to Rawesome, Healthy Family Farms owner Sharon Palmer, 51, disbanded her dairy herd. Palmer and her employee Victoria Bloch, 58, were also arrested August 3 on charges related to marketing chicken products, one count of which involved Rawesome's unwashed, room temperature eggs.

California is one of the few states that allow the sale of raw milk, but only from dairies permitted by the state. Until August 3 Rawesome had been obtaining raw milk from a variety of sources. Buttery says many club members object to the Holstein breed used by the one certified raw-milk label in California: Organic Pastures. They prefer milk from heirloom cattle varieties that contain different proteins. And many members prefer the milk of goats, sheep, or even camels. It's safe to say that uncertified raw milk was being spilt at Rawesome, which would indeed be illegal. But since the general public can't just walk in and buy raw camel milk, Rawesome members believe there's nothing wrong with a private club of consenting adults obtaining unpasteurized raw milk together.

Later that day, as Stewart, Palmer, and Bloch languished in jail, Cargill issued its voluntary recall, four months after people began getting sick, of 36 million pounds of ground turkey traceable to an Arkansas plant. Cargill has a history of deadly outbreaks, is a major supplier to the nation's public-school meal programs, and sells turkey under dozens of brand names, none of which include the word "Cargill."

The labels at Rawesome don't say much either, but records in the club's office sourced each batch of raw milk. This information, before it was seized, was available to members. If a contamination issue were to have flared up, members contend, it could have been much more quickly traced than, say, that Cargill turkey. Buttery says that in 12 years there hasn't been a reported problem.

Despite a lack of victims, Rawesome stands accused. And while Cargill has no shortage of victims, nobody at the company has been charged with a crime over the turkey recall. The government has fewer options against multinational corporations than it does against neighborhood food co-ops. USDA oversees the safety of meat products but can only encourage "voluntary recalls" of products that have been infected with antibiotic-resistant pathogens, reports Tom Philpott of Mother Jones. The final decision to recall was left to the company, which inevitably considered the bottom line as well as public safety when making its decision.

While Cargill self-polices, the Rawesome club has been under more intense scrutiny than members even realized. "Since the raid it's come out that we've been under investigation since June 30 of last year," Buttery says. "They've been monitoring us from unmarked vehicles; they have agents who have become members."

The L.A. County prosecutor's office has advised defense attorneys to expect a "voluminous discovery period" for the trial, in part because there were two sets of undercover investigators. And they have made motions to add new charges, including tax evasion, money laundering, and illegal resale of food.

The proceedings against the "Rawesome Three" have been compared to the trial of the Chicago Seven, as well as a street corner shell game. The new charges are unrelated to the initial raid on raw milk, and they threaten to distract from the heart of the issue: whether consumers can enter into private leasing arrangements, which are similar to arrangements commonly used on a daily basis by all kinds of businesses in the U.S., to obtain their food. The Rawesome situation seems barely different from, say, a group of co-workers going to a colleague's house for lunch, and they drop him some paper in return.

Despite massive financial problems in California and Washington, D.C., the government was able to find enough money for a multi-year, multi-agency undercover investigation to root out information that nobody was trying to hide. Details on the provenance of Rawesome's raw milk is available to all members, including the undercover government agents.

While the Cargills of the world get to help decide the rules, tax dollars are being used to do away with freedom of choice. This is the state of food freedom in America today: It's being sacrificed in the name of food safety.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hiroshima Commemoration: Going to Jail for Nuclear Disarmament

The Oak Ridge 13 who were arrested and imprisoned on July 5, 2010 for crossing into the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., “birthplace” of the atom bomb.

 Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.
John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Speech, 1961

Sixty-six years ago today, the United States dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and killed 90,000 to166,000 Japanese, most of them civilians.  Three days later it dropped another bomb on Nagasaki and killed 60,000 to 80,000 more.
As the Cold War progressed and people obsessed over the threat of nuclear destruction, John F. Kennedy, a new president from a new generation, took command of one of the two most powerful nations in the world and promised to secure our country no matter what it took to do it.  He began the Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM) program where 1,000 missiles were planted in silos right in the heart of the country:  the Dakotas, Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, Wyoming.  The power of each missile was 1,000 times more than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Each silo is covered by a 20-ton concrete lid that was designed to protect the missile below from being a target. If you are out on the plains and see these missile sites, it's difficult to recognize them for what they are.  If anything, they look like electric substations.  Two operators are assigned to ten missile silos. If given the order by the president, they would each simultaneously throw a switch to launch them.

In 1991, the United States “won” the Cold War and became the one and only “superpower” thanks to the dissolution of our great rival, the Soviet Union.  But what to do with all those weapons?  The United States alone had an arsenal of 14,747 warheads (down from a 1965 peak of 32,000) and the Soviet Union had 33,000 (down from a 1985 peak of 45,000).

The existence of these lethal weapons, some of which are on “hair-trigger alert” (they can be deployed within 15 minutes of the president’s order) present a potentially scary scenario of pre-emptive strike and retaliation that would surely end the world as we know it.

Another unfortunate consequence is that the “Nuclear Club” has been expanded to nine nations and made the world more vulnerable to nuclear attack, especially when “rogue nations” like North Korea acquired “the bomb” and Iraq and Iran are said to be working on it. 

Then there is the cost factor.

In all, the United States has spent about $5 trillion on nuclear weapons, said Ralph Hutchison, coordinator of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance (OREPA)

This figure was largely unknown until 2000 when Stephen I. Schwartz published a two-year research project titled Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 (Brookings Institution Press, 1998).  At the time he was a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and director of the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project.  His paper was one of the first of its kind to determine what the nation had spent on nuclear weapons, which at the time turned out to be $4 trillion.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, there was a tremendous sigh of relief that the threat of nuclear war was gone, said Hutchison, so Americans stopped thinking about it and the issue disappeared from the public’s imagination.  However, the danger of someone using a nuclear weapon is greater now than it was during the Cold War due to a lack of vigilance in making sure nuclear materials are kept secure.

“It won’t be an exchange between the United States and Russia,” said Hutchison. “Non-state actors have potential access to nuclear materials for crude or dirty bombs.  Proliferation has occurred because Pakistan has given information to other countries to pursue their capabilities.”

In other words, America’s stockpile of 1,950 active missiles (with 6,550 in reserve) won’t deter a suicide bomber who is willing to die.  And now, with the Norway massacre, national security officials fear the emergence of “lone wolf terrorists.”  
So it is no wonder that some peace activists have made the manufacturing, updating and stockpiling of nuclear weapons an issue for public attention.  They are even willing to go to jail for the cause of ridding the world of this dangerously lethal and expensive hardware—like the 200 activists who conducted a demonstration last year at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tenn., “birthplace” of the atom bomb.

Today, Y-12 manufactures and refurbishes new parts for old nuclear warheads and it was set to receive $7.5 billion in new funds for a new bomb plant, infrastructure and equipment and close to $1 billion for refurbishment.

Thirteen of the activists were arrested on federal trespassing charges after they crawled under a barbed wire fence to reach an area that was posted as off-limits.  Jean Gump, 84, of Kalamazoo, Mich., was among the seven women, four of whom were nuns, and six men, one of whom was a priest.

Another 23 activists faced state charges for brief obstruction of a road into the plant.  Joe Gump, 83, Jean’s spouse, was among them. 

The Gumps spoke about their experience at a recent gathering of peace activists held at the Friends Meeting House in Kalamazoo, Mich.

Y-12 Protest of July 5, 2010

The supporters block the entrance of the Y-12 complex and are arrested by state and county law enforcement officials
The peace activists used the July 4 weekend for a three-day “Celebration of Resistance to recognize the 30th anniversary of Nuclear Resisters and Nuke Watch, which have supported imprisoned anti-war/ anti-nuclear activists and informed the public about nuclear weapons, respectively.  Plowshares was also honored for its 30 years of nuclear disarmament advocacy that began on Sept. 9, 1980, when Daniel and Philip Berrigan and six others entered a General Electric missile facility at King of Prussia, Pa. and "damaged" a warhead nose cone and placed blood on documents at the plant.

Since then, members of Plowshares have been in more than 100 nuclear resistance actions, including the October 2002 break-in at the N-8 Minuteman Missile silo in Colorado by three nuns:  Ardeth Platt, Jackie Hudson, Carol Gilbert.  The nuns, whose civil disobedience was featured in the film, Conviction, were also present at the Y-12 protest and among the 13 who were arrested.

The Gumps have participated in a Plowshare disarmament action, Jean in 1986 and Joe in 1987, and they both served time in federal prison for it.

Plowshares’ actions are derived from the Old Testament Book of Isaiah 2:4
“God will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many people. And they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. And nations will not take up swords against nations, nor will they train for war anymore.”
Organizers wanted to hold the celebration near a nuclear weapons plant, so Oak Ridge was chosen and OREPA was also invited to host the event.  

The group attended OREPA’s Sunday evening vigil that has been held at Y-12 every week for the past 15 years.

After the activists conducted an hour-long service of prayer, singing, and speeches, they went to the Y-12 entrance where they were met by 60-70 officers of the Oak Ridge Police, Tennessee Highway Patrol, Anderson County Sheriff’s Department, Wackenhut private security officers and possibly some federal marshals. 

“We’ve never had any kind of incident or problem,” said Hutchison.  “We were a very well behaved crowd, which was acknowledge in testimony at the trial.  Three police officers could have completely taken care of any security needs.” 

Jean said that it is typical to see this many layers of law enforcement at anti-nuclear weapons demonstrations.

“The police were watching us all the time,” she said.  “They waved and were friendly—until the action.”

Then the police arrested the protesters and placed them in plastic handcuffs.  Each officer was assigned a protester and all were treated with real “Southern hospitality,” said Jean. 

“They’re doing a job and that’s what they have to do,” she said. 

The Trial

On May 9-11, 2011, the thirteen activists went to trial with Federal Magistrate Bruce Guyton presiding on a misdemeanor charge of trespassing, which had occurred on July 5, 2010.

Their motion to dismiss all charges against them having been denied, they  mounted a defense that challenged U.S. nuclear weapons policy and the government’s plans for a new bomb plant in Tennessee, according to an OREPA report.

Before trial, Jeff Theodore, federal prosecutor and Melissa Millican, assistant district attorney, had successfully filed an in limine motion that prevented the defendants from using 12 specific defenses.  These defenses included the defendants’ moral or religious basis for their action, violation of U.S. treaties regarding nuclear weapons and international law. 

In fact, they were unable to present any evidence to justify their action; the verdict was to be decided on whether or not they trespassed by crossing  into Y-12 federal territory.  A unanimous jury found them guilty after deliberating 45 minutes.

As Joe observed,  "Our legal system has truly become a criminal justice system.”

After being found guilty, the thirteen were released on personal recognizance, but some decided to begin their likely prison time and were put in jail.  All had been on probation for most of the past year having to report to and not being able to leave their states without permission from their probation officers.  Such probation is usually served after having been found guilty at trial and completing a prison sentence, not before being tried and found guilty. 

Jean was initially sent to jail in Marysville, Tenn. and then moved 400 miles to a federally financed private jail in Ocilla, Ga.  After one month, she decided to go out and serve whatever prison time she would receive after sentencing, which is scheduled for September 12, 2011.

“Who would ever dream that walking across the line would give us the kind of punishment we got,” said Jean.

Actually the activists had little doubt that the jury would find them guilty, given the narrow parameters of the trial.

“Besides, half of the people who live in the area work at Y-12, or have family who work there,” said Jean.  “If they closed down the plant, too many people would be out of work.” 

This economic issue has been and continues to be a conundrum for the community that was built as “the secret city” during World War II.  It also extends to their attitudes about the health of the community, which has been compromised.
One of the cancer victims of Y-12 who volunteers at the American Museum of Science and Energy in Oak Ridge

For example, the May 11, 1992 issue of Time featured a peculiar story about the area’s contamination that has resulted from the heavy metals used in nuclear weapons production.  Most workers contract some kind of cancer and residents are warned against eating fish and deer from the area because it is undoubtedly contaminated by the plant’s emissions.  Yet, residents willingly live under these conditions because they have good jobs.

Reflections on the Action

This September, Jean and the other protesters will return to the federal courthouse in Knoxville for sentencing.  Potentially, they could each receive a $100,000 fine and one year in prison for trespassing an off-limits federal area.  Joe believes, however, the magistrate will rule “time served” and Jean will be able to go home and carry on with her life. 

Over the past year, Jean is very reflective about her civil disobedience and the motives behind it.

Jean and Joe Gump
“Periodically, I put myself on the line for what I believe in,” said Jean.  “Killing people with weapons of mass destruction is inappropriate, so I feel I want to be on the front line of resistance.”

“I’m a person of faith,” she continued.  “Christianity is about love and serving Jesus and one another and so I must continue to fight against the injustice of nuclear weapons because if they were used, so many people could be obliterated by them.”

The Gumps have been devout Catholics throughout most of their lives, but they are also very political people.  After 9/11 they became so disgusted at seeing all the American flags displayed in churches, they stopped attending Mass and instead pray together daily.

It is difficult to get churches involved in peace activism, said Joe, who quoted Fr. Daniel Berrigan about pastors having to be “fence sitters” favoring government and being against it at the same time, otherwise they will alienate too many people in their parishes. 

“Fr. Berrigan (who died last year at 89) used to say that he could not not resist when he saw injustice or he’d be inconsistent with his religious beliefs,” said Joe.  “That’s how it is for me, too.  If we all behaved on that basis, we could all have a small piece of the action.”

However, both Joe and Jean are quick to point out that jail isn’t for everyone.  Instead, they say that each person must “be peaceful with him/herself” and “do what s/he can for the cause of justice.” 

The build up of nuclear weapons all started in 1946 with President Truman’s National Security State, said Joe, where he devoted our wealth and resources to protect us from our enemies, which over the years has included the Soviet Union (Russia), China, Vietnam communists, Grenada and most recently, the Axis of Evil:  Iraq, Iran and North Korea.

“We have no one to blame but ourselves,” he said; “Eisenhower legitimated dropping the bomb on Japan even though he was against it.  To compensate, he started the Atoms for Peace Program.

The Atoms for Peace Program (1955) was Eisenhower’s attempt to calm fears about the destructiveness of atomic energy as a result of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and instead to emphasize its peaceful purposes.  The United States gave “have-not” nations “limited amounts of raw and fissionable materials” as well as generous assistance for building power reactors. The first nuclear reactors in Iran and Pakistan were built under this program.  “These exports were intended to maintain U.S. global leadership, reduce Soviet influence, and assure continued access to foreign uranium and thorium supplies.”

The media has not focused on nuclear weapons for several reasons, said Hutchison.  For one, there are a lot of people who have made a living off nuclear weapons.  In the early days, everything surrounding the weapons was secret, which served these people very well because it kept the issue out of the public realm and warded off accountability of their activities. 

Secondly, Congress controls the purse strings regarding the funding of U.S. infrastructure and legislators are generally reluctant to address the weapons issue because they don’t want to look as though they are abetting the enemy or not adequately protecting the country.

Finally, part of the mythology of nuclear weapons is that only experts know about them.  Citizens then feel powerless to do anything about them.

Today, nuclear weapons are even further from public view since Americans are more concerned about things like the declining economy and unemployment.  They are also distracted by the Internet and social networking and simply not focused on the justice issues. 

“How do you reach someone who’s totally immersed in these machines,” asked Jean.

So what are the prospects for the future with our nuclear weapons?

“If someone else launches a bomb at the United States, we’ll use ours against them,” said Jean pessimistically, which is much out of character for her in general.

“All we’ll do is pay for them and never use them,” countered Joe.  “In the end we’ll go bankrupt and not be able to maintain what we have.”

Joe mentioned that there were once 150 missiles in Missouri but they were decommissioned as a result of the 1993 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START II) with Russia. 

START II was a bilateral treaty between the United States and Russia on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms.  President George H. W. Bush and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed the treaty on January 3, 1993 banning the use of multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

“I’d like to say that Missouri has no ICBMs,” said Joe, “but it was a pure economic decision to remove them.  That’s all it was.” 

So what did the July 5 protest, the arrest and imprisonment accomplish?

Jean and Joe answered very somberly. 

“The bottom line is that accomplishment is very seldom a consideration when we take these actions,” said Jean.  “If something good happens, we’re glad.  But our main objective is for the public to know about the dangers of nuclear weapons.  We get publicity sometimes but not always.  We are people of conscience who know that nuclear weapons are immoral.  So we make our statements and expect to be found guilty at our trials.”

“When you do these things, looking for results is a fool’s venture,” said Joe.  “You do them for your own sanity and peace of mind to do something about the weapons, but you don’t expect to accomplish anything.  Besides, there are too many forces at work to maintain the status quo.”

Ralph Hutchison (left) speaks before he and 30 other activists began a three-month peace walk on Saturday, February 13, 2010 from the Y-12 National Security Complex to the United Nations in New York City

Ralph Hutchison, a Presbyterian minister who has served as coordinator of OREPAC since 1985, has a different view, mostly from his standpoint as a supporter of activists like the Gumps.

“A citizen movement is by definition a long sustained endeavor to change a policy of government,” he said.  Such movements include Gandhi’s struggle to free India from British rule, women’s suffrage and civil rights.

“The action of last July was a citizen movement to abolish nuclear weapons,” he said.  “We are never able to gauge in advance the tipping point of change.  We never realize when or how these actions might make a difference.”

Hutchison cited an example.  During first Gulf War, he and his wife had planned to be supporters for a civil disobedience action at the office of Senator Al Gore, who was a key swing vote.  During the whole time of planning, one of Hutchison’s friends kept telling him that the protesters would go to jail and it wouldn’t change anything.  The protesters carried out an action, were arrested and Gore voted for the war.  Everything his friend had said was completely right, except for one thing.

“I’ve been through a lot of these actions as a supporter,” he said, “and every one of them changes me.  When I meet people like Jean, Joe and the others who take powerful witness, I find it very compelling.  It challenges me to raise my game in terms of being a responsible and fully mature spiritual person.

On the other hand, Hutchison pointed out that we may have reached a tipping point for change in our nuclear weapons policies and it comes from the most unexpected people.

A Ray of Hope:  Nuclear Security Project

In January 2007 and January 2008, former Secretary of State George P. Shultz, former Secretary of Defense William J. Perry, former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger and former Senator Sam Nunn published op-ed pieces in the Wall Street Journal to call for an end to nuclear weapons. 

They subsequently formed the Nuclear Security Project, which is a major effort to “galvanize global action to reduce urgent nuclear dangers and build support for reducing reliance on nuclear weapons, ultimately ending them as a threat to the world.”  The Project links the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons with urgent steps that can be taken immediately to reduce nuclear dangers.

A film, which is available on the website, expresses their deep concern about the dramatic change in global threats since the Cold War and shares their belief that “the world has a unique opportunity—and a short window of time — for coordinated actions to pull back from a nuclear precipice.”  General Colin Powell opens the film to talk about his own experiences as a soldier with nuclear weapons.

“It’s not just crazy anti-nuke people like the Gumps and me,” said Hutchison.  “Cold War hawks are saying it now.  The global reality is that nuclear weapons make us less secure than more secure.  The policy of nuclear deterrence is decreasingly effective and increasingly hazardous.”

Over the past week, the Tea Party and a few Republicans have put defense on the table for spending cuts.  It seems that we could save a lot of money--and a lot of lives--by ridding ourselves of these viciously dangerous, exorbitantly expensive and wildly unnecessary weapons soon! 

SIDEBAR:  The Gumps

Both Jean and Joe Gump have served time in federal prison for participating in Plowshares actions.  Jean served four years at the Correctional Institution for Women in Alderson, West Virginia, including 63 days in solitary confinement, for her action at the Minuteman II missile silo near Holden, Missouri, a first-strike weapon with a single 1.2 megaton warhead (or 2.4 billion pounds of TNT) that can decimate an area of 72 miles—and all living things in it.

Joe is a World War II veteran, who also served in occupied Korea, and a retired chemical engineer who worked for a company that supplied equipment for nuclear-related facilities, including Y-12.  On August 5, 1987, at 5 p.m., he and a priest went to the K-9 missile silo in Butler, Missouri (near Kansas City), and performed the Plowshares ritual.  Their act was timed to the 42nd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6 (Japan time).  Joe ended up in the Oxford Prison Camp in Wisconsin for two years.  During that time he refused to work on a beautification project for the staff quarters and was punished with 30 days of solitary confinement.  He was then moved to the Sandstone Security Prison in Minnesota where he stayed for 18 months. 

The Gumps are originally from Chicago and later retired to southwest Michigan.  The have been married for 61 years and have 12 children, 15 grandchildren and 1 great granddaughter.

Hiroshima Commemoration: Be Careful What You Ask For

Today is the 66th anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima, which resulted in the deaths of 200,000 people. Three days later a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki and killed another 70,000.

The bombings signify the first time one nation used an atom bomb against another. Apologists for “the Bomb” justify the action because the Japanese would have fought to the death—and brought along a lot of Americans with them.

Col. Paul Tibbits
Col. Paul Tibbits, pilot of the B-52 bomber Enola Gay that carried “Little Boy,” never expressed regret for the Hiroshima mission nor lost sleep over it. In 2002 the retired U.S. Air Force Brigadier General responded to Studs Terkel’s question about whether or not he had any second thoughts.

“Second thoughts? No. Studs, look. Number one, I got into the air corps to defend the United States to the best of my ability. That's what I believe in and that's what I work for.... So, no, I had no problem with it. I knew we did the right thing because when I knew we'd be doing that I thought, yes, we're going to kill a lot of people, but by God we're going to save a lot of lives. We won't have to invade (Japan).

Other people involved in the mission had different reactions, however.

Fr. George Zabelka
On Tinian Island, Father George Zabelka, a Catholic chaplain with the U.S. Air Force, blessed the crews before their flight and even blessed “the Bomb!” For the next 47 years of his life, he not only had a change of heart about the bombing but about war in general.

In 1985 on the 40th anniversary of Hiroshima, Father Zabelka gave a speech about the bombings, war and the Church’s misguided stance on just war theory. He also talked about how he sought forgiveness from his God and from the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The “father of the atom bomb,” J. Robert Oppenheimer, regretted building his new invention. As he watched the first successful demonstration of “the Bomb,” he reported that a line from the Bhagavad Gita immediately came to mind: “I have become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

J. Robert Oppenheimer
There is no argument that the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war, however, we need to reflect on the effects “the Bomb” has had on the world and on what we have become.

First of all, we must recognize that an American president (Franklin D. Roosevelt) commissioned the Manhattan Project to build “the Bomb” and another one (Harry S. Truman) ordered it to be dropped. Although we tried to beat Hitler in developing “the Bomb,” we must also admit that winning this race allowed us to kill massive numbers of people in the process. Any dictionary would define such action as genocide.

Secondly, the military industrial complex (MIC) has created a culture of fear and a stranglehold on this nation. The military’s needs are pitted against citizens’ needs in a competition for resources and by dangling defense industry jobs in front of people’s votes. The MIC also threatens our democracy by influencing congressional district boundary lines, making deals with private contractors and skewing budgeting priorities in its favor.

Thirdly, after winning World War II the U.S. government decided to build bigger and more lethal bombs. This choice inadvertently unleashed an arms race where other nations followed our lead in playing the same deadly game of “protecting national security.”

The world has become increasingly unsafe with nuclear weapons proliferation. Worse yet, Mohammed El Baradei, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, estimates that another 20 to 30 countries are now capable—and interested—in building their own Bombs!

The following list the world’s nuclear weapons stockpiles, according to data compiled by the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Nuclear Weapon Archive. It shows the number of warheads each country has as well as the year of their first successful weapons test:

United States – 1,950 active with 8,500 total (1945)
Russia – 2,430 active with 11,000 total  (1949)
United Kingdom - 160 active with 225 total (1952)
France - 290 active with 300 total (1960)
China - 180 active with 240 total (1964)
India - active unknown with 80-100 total (1974)
Pakistan – active unknown with 90-110 total (1998)
North Korea -- active unknown with <10 total
Israel -- active unknown with 80 total

In 1974 India began developing “the Bomb” but it wasn’t until 1998 that it successfully tested one. Six months later its archrival, Pakistan, tested its own Bomb in order to counteract India’s.

In 2006, North Korea let the world know it, too, had “the Bomb,” although recent negotiations presumably convinced them to dismantle it.

Many people suspect that Israel has a stash, however, leaders remain tight-lipped about reporting these weapons.

Although the members of the Nuclear Club have been dismantling many of their weapons, the world currently has about 8,000 active nuclear warheads out of a total 22,000.  This total is down from a peak of 65,000 in 1985, according to The Guardian.

The United States alone has a nuclear stockpile worth at least $5 trillion, according to Stephen I. Schwartz, editor of the 1998 book Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940.

Nevertheless, despite all its might, the U.S. military is still not satisfied. In 1997 it stepped up its strategic weapons capacity with Vision 2020. This plan aims to exploit and dominate outer space by linking all land, sea and air-based weapons systems. (It is important to note that Vision 2020 would violate the United Nations’ 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which banned the deployment of nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in space.)

“The Clinton administration opened the door to developing space weapons but that administration never did anything about it. The Bush policy now goes further [with a weapon-in-space plan designed in 2004]” said Michael Krepon of the Stimson Center, a Washington-based international peace and security non-profit institution.

Srs. Jackie Hudson, Carol Gilbert and Ardeth Platt (L-> R)
Fortunately, there is a growing worldwide movement to eliminate nuclear weapons arsenals because of the danger they pose to all life on earth, especially in the hands of would-be terrorists. However, most Americans are largely unaware of the vastness and lethality of U.S. nuclear weapons stockpiles, say Sisters Ardeth Platte, Carol Gilbert and Jackie Hudson. The three nuns did time in federal prison for breaking into a Colorado Minuteman III missile site in October 2002 as a protest to nuclear weapons. They also said that the end of the Cold War somehow gave people the impression that the weapons had disappeared.

On this anniversary of our country’s dropping two atom bombs on civilians—especially as we continue to wage an unjustified war in Iraq where one million people have lost their lives—let us face the question of why we need to continue this insane preparation for nuclear holocaust.

Let us admit our faults, ask the world’s forgiveness and show authentic leadership by dismantling ALL our nuclear weapons as an example to all nations.

The U.S. government’s desire to save the world from communism, terrorism or any other abstract or imagined enemy is misguided, misspent and extremely dangerous. We should instead be focused on the REAL threats to our lives such as environmental degradation, climate change, resource depletion, overpopulation, world hunger and global capitalism.

Hiroshima Commemoration: Living Happily Near a Nuclear Trash Heap

Guest Report by Dick Thompson of Time
May 11, 1992

DR. WILLIAM REID WAS NEW TO Oak Ridge, Tenn., and disturbed by what he was seeing. Soon after he joined the staff of Methodist Medical Center in early 1991, he was treating four patients with kidney cancers, an unusually large number for one small area, and a cluster of other people who appeared to have weakened ability to ward off infections. Reid suspected that something in the local environment was attacking the residents' immune systems.

It didn't take much imagination for Reid to figure out possible sources of contamination. For 49 years, federal installations at Oak Ridge have manufactured the innards of nuclear bombs. In the process, the plants have produced -- and carelessly disposed of -- mountains of radioactive material and hazardous wastes. Even the U.S. government admits the Oak Ridge labs have littered the surrounding countryside with everything from asbestos and mercury to enriched uranium. The story is much the same at all the country's now notorious nuclear weapons plants, scattered from Hanford, Wash., to Los Alamos, N. Mex., to the Savannah River plant. The Department of Energy has launched a major clean-up effort, but it might be too late to prevent a host of medical problems in people who have lived in the shadow of the toxic plants for decades.

Could a health disaster be hitting Oak Ridge? Reid was determined to find out.

...Still, Oak Ridge is no ordinary place. Earlier this year a visitor to one of the nuclear facilities accidentally turned off the main road. When he tried to leave, alarms rang, and the government bought his radioactive rental car on the spot. In the reservation surrounding the plants, creatures ranging from deer to frogs and water fleas have all excited Geiger counters. Contaminated trees, which take up nuclear liquids through their roots, have been chopped down and buried lest the autumn winds spread radioactive leaves. And the streams have carried toxic chemicals and nuclear products -- including strontium, tritium and plutonium -- for distances of 64 km (40 miles). Posted along the town's creek are NO FISHING signs and Department of Energy warnings: no water contact.

No one worried much about environmental contamination when Oak Ridge quietly sprang up as part of the Manhattan Project during World War II. By 1944, two years after construction started, Oak Ridge had become Tennessee's fifth largest city, and it was all behind a guarded fence. At peak production, the "secret city" used 20% more power than New York City.

After the products of the Manhattan Project exploded over Japan and ended the war, the mania for secrecy diminished. The fences surrounding the city came down, and Oak Ridge started appearing on maps. But its work was far from done. Once the arms race with the Soviets began, Oak Ridgers hunkered down to help produce an arsenal of American hydrogen bombs. A recently declassified report done for the Department of Energy found that the weapons factories "operated in an atmosphere of high urgency" that resulted in astounding environmental and health assaults.

Between 1951 and '84, the Oak Ridge plants pumped 10.2 million L (2.7 million gal.) of concentrated acids and nuclear wastes into open-air ponds, called the "witches' cauldron," from which the chemicals would evaporate or leach into a nearby stream. Barrels of strange brews and experimental gases, some so volatile that they would explode on contact with oxygen, were sealed and dropped into a quarry pool. A neatly stacked collection of 76,600 barrels and oil drums, filled with nuclear sludge and now rusting, is larger than the main building at Oak Ridge. Millions of cubic meters of toxic material, including pcbs and cobalt 60, were dumped in trenches and covered with soil. In 1983 the Department of Energy acknowledged that 1.1 million kg (2.4 million lbs.) of mercury had been lost. It went up the smokestacks, drained into the soil and flowed into the stream that runs through town. After that revelation, mercury was found at the city's two high schools and in the blood of workers at one of the atomic-research sites. An unknown amount of enriched uranium went out smokestacks.

....The culture of secrecy and concern about job security may have kept information from health investigators. Says Robert Keil, president of the Oak Ridge Atomic Trades and Labor Council: "One thing that kept people from coming forward is that they were afraid they might jeopardize their security clearance by talking about something that was classified."

The end of the cold war provides an opportunity to get at the truth. At Oak Ridge, as at other weapons labs, the threat of a nuclear conflict has been replaced by the threat of massive layoffs. The big job in town now seems to be cleaning up the nuclear trash heap. More than $1.5 billion has already been spent on detoxifying Oak Ridge, and the end isn't in sight. The government is beginning an exhaustive medical survey of the people who live around Oak Ridge, including the women. The Centers for Disease Control has been asked to look into Reid's allegations.

But confident of the outcome, the people of Oak Ridge still sleep soundly. They have lived with danger for decades and see no reason to start panicking now.

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