OPINION – We mourn the deaths of 2,395 Americans killed in the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 1941, but that was only the third worst attack on American soil.
We mourn the loss of 2,966 Americans killed in the attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and in a rural Pennsylvanian field on Sept. 11, 2001, but that was only the second worst attack on American soil.
What we don’t talk about much is what happened in this nation when nuclear testing was undertaken at the Nevada Test Site in July 1951.
We don’t even know the exact numbers, although the government has confirmed that more than 26,000 Americans have received more than $2 billion in restitution from the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act of 1990 for damages – death and disease – as a result of the 1,048 atomic tests triggered above and below the surface of the Earth.
There are many more still clinging to life among us.
We call them Downwinders.
These numbers, in reality, barely scratch the surface. Research shows that fallout from the Cold War nuclear tests fell on all 48 contiguous states, on Canada, on Mexico, and across the Atlantic Ocean on parts of Europe
The reason the government doesn’t acknowledge that fact with wider compensation?
“We (the U.S. government) couldn’t afford to pay everybody,” Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who authored the RECA legislation, once told me.
Unfortunately, we still haven’t learned from our experience with nuclear death as Utah is once again poised to play Russian Roulette with the devil, who always brings a loaded gun.
The state is considering licensing for Energy Solutions to bring in up to 700,000 metric tons of depleted uranium and store it in a shallow grave about 80 miles west of Salt Lake City and right on top of a Tooele County aquifer.
Now, depleted uranium isn’t quite as harmless as it sounds.
This material is currently classified as Class A nuclear waste – the lowest grade. However, DU, as it is called, is tricky. Over time, it heats up to radiation levels of Class B, then Class C, levels banned from Utah storage facilities.
It grows more radioactive over time because the material it produces as it decays is unstable. It will continue to do so for at least 2 million years.
But Energy Solutions has a plan, you see.
The company says it wants to build a final resting place for this poison in a clay-lined, 80-acre pit about 15 to 20 feet below ground and stack the DU drums four or five deep up to ground level. It would then cap it with other waste products, concrete, rocks, more clay, and dirt, creating a mound nearly 40 feet tall. The thought is that the dirt, concrete, and rocks will stay in place forever and be protected from the elements, vandals, earthquakes, and floods.
At the moment, we have 750,000 metric tons of this stuff sitting in repositories in Ohio, South Carolina, and Kentucky. In fact, in 2009 the South Carolina facility shipped 3,577 metric tons of the waste to Utah before officials here put a stop to it and demanded further study.
There’s a lot of propaganda going on right now about the reasons, mostly hapless, for moving the waste across country to the proposed Utah facility.
As usual, however, you can bet the prime motivation is political.
South Carolina, Kentucky, and Ohio carry a lot more clout with the federal government than Utah does, regardless of who sits in the White House or holds a majority in the House or Senate, and those states, understandably, are looking for a place to dump this stuff.
Utah, particularly the folks in the southern portion of the state, showed some backbone during the Bush Administration when the White House announced that it was going to conduct a program it called Divine Strake at the Nevada Test Site.
The plan was to detonate a test out in that fried wasteland to simulate the power of the so-called “bunker buster” bombs it wanted to use in Iraq and Afghanistan. The problem wasn’t that the detonation would be of an atomic device, rather that the power of the explosion would jettison the still-hot radioactive dust particles in the ground there in the desert and toss them up into the atmosphere, where they would later fall on land, similar to the fallout that spread during the Cold War testing.
When word got out, the people of Southern Utah spearheaded a campaign to oppose the project. They collected 10,000 names on a petition to squelch Divine Strake. The No. 1 spot on that petition was reserved for then-Gov. Jon Huntsman, who after signing the document hand-delivered it to Department of Energy officials in Washington, D.C.
The project was killed.
It’s time to kill this project as well.
Gov. Gary Herbert, who was Lt. Governor during the Huntsman administration, seems to be on board.
“If it is hotter than Class A waste, we don’t want to have it,” the governor said according to a recent Salt Lake Tribune article. “I have a hunch it’s hotter than Class A waste and should be reclassified as something else.
“I expect the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to follow up on that and make their decision. Until that happens, I’m not comfortable having depleted uranium in Utah.”
Neither am I.
And, neither should be the people of Utah, who have already suffered enough at the hands of nuclear death.
The people of Utah have had enough.
They don’t need more death, more disease, more heartbreak at the hands of nuclear poisons.
It’s time for us to let Energy Solutions know that we are not the nation’s dumping ground and that they should store this killer waste somewhere else where the sun doesn’t shine.
Ed Kociela is an opinion columnist. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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