Nuclear Policy@UW

Summer 2015

  • JSIS 478 Energy Geopolitics in Asia and Russia
    • TTh 3:30 pm — 5:40 pm Instructor: Scott Montgomery

Fall 2015

  • JSIS B 429/529 International Nuclear Nonproliferation and Safeguards
    • ThF 1:30 pm — 3:20 pm Instructor: Halvor Undem
  • JSIS 478/578 Eurasian Nuclear Security Issues
    • W 3:30 pm — 6:20 pm Instructor: Chris Jones
  • JSIS 484/584 Hiroshima and Nagasaki
    • MW 2:30 pm — 4:20 pm Instructor: Kenneth Pyle
  • JSIS 488/588 Post-Conflict States and Societies in Europe
    • TTh 2:30 pm — 4:20 pm Instructor: Arista Cirtautas

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In our own backyard: Emotions run high at Magnuson Park radium cleanup meeting

by David Wishard, Policy Officer

I had the benefit of representing INMM@UW at a gathering of concerned citizens at the former-US Naval Station Puget Sound, or what we today call Magnuson Park. A political conflict has been brewing for 5 years between community representatives and our state and city governments over this popular public space.

In 2009, the Washington State Department of Health discovered higher-than-normal levels of radiation inside a dusty old warehouse next to the park. The source of the radioactivity is radioactive paint. Before the invention of phosphorescent paint, the Navy painted their airplanes’ dials with glowing, radon-infused paint. Over the years, paint flecks collected in the floor cracks and along the drainage basins outside the warehouse. The case of New Jersey’s “Radium Girls” demonstrated how workers’ prolonged exposure to radium paint led to anemia, bone fractures and necrosis of the jaw, a condition now known as radium jaw.

Now, I would like to say that “by all account the threat of this radiation is negligible to nonexistent.” At the public hearing, this is what the defensive, besieged DOH, DOE and US Navy reps were trying to get across the other night. Ching-Pi Wang, the DOE’s engineering department’s chief public affairs officer, insists that his sole mission over the last five years has been to eradicate every trace of radiological threat at Sand Point. He and his colleagues from the DOH insist that at maximum, “for every hour you stand on the contaminated site, you absorb the mrem equivalent of eating two bananas.” Well, if everything is so benign,” I thought, “then why is Komo 4 news, city council members, and representatives from the state legislature here?

The Sand Point community totally rejects Mr. Wang’s claims that the Navy has sufficiently cleaned the site.

UW’s own Gerry Pollet, a professor of Public Health, state congressman representing the 46th district, and head of a citizen watchdog group over the Hanford cleanup, proudly carries the torch for this opposition. Pollet gave a searing, charged speech the other night, in which he directly indicted the Mr. Wang, the Navy and the DOH for relying on utterly inadequate measurements of radiological risk. He leaped on details like the fact that the contaminated site remained was left unfenced for four years after the contamination was discovered, and the fact that the Navy’s clean-up standard was nearly twice as lenient than the one the EPA mandates for all Superfund cleanups.

This issue underscores the ongoing significance of nuclear materials management, not just in the Arctic or in Kazakhstan, but right up the road. It also underscores how fraught nuclear risk is as a political issue: it is characterized always by frustratingly specific and un-sexy quantifications mixed with dread-inducing, doomsday fallout scenarios.  As pubic affairs specialist, I think that the “doomsday clock” brilliantly encapsulates this fraught meeting of science and politics. In conclusion, I will just say that it is our INMM Student Chapter’s intention to become a hub of the burgeoning scientific and political talent that will soon comprise the nuclear-based industries. By supporting this talent we will further enable our country to safely enjoy the advantages of nuclear innovation and to manage the inevitable, and indeed healthy, political debates that it engenders.

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