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The Calamity Howler #96

"Sometimes an intended epithet can be turned to good advantage in the sole surviving issue of the Decatur, Texas Times one finds the way Populists not only accepted the label `calamity howler' but insisted that they had ample reason to howl and would continue to howl until their objectives had been attained." --- THE POPULIST MIND, edited by Norman Pollack

EDITOR\PUBLISHER: A.V Krebs E-MAIL: TO RECEIVE: Send name and address to




Bright morning sunlight filtered through the branches and leaves of a giant weeping willow tree outside a bedroom window in my uncle and aunt's modest country farm house creating a crazy quilt pattern of dark and light patterns on my bed as I first stirred from my night's sleep.

It was a picturesque country morning on this mid-summer August day and as I raised my self out from under the covers I saw that my aunt had left the morning's Los Angeles Times on my bed for me to scan through. Knowing I had been, since its outset, carefully tracking the progress of the war in both Europe and the Pacific from that memorable day of infamy back in December, 1941, my aunt knew I would want to read of the latest developments in that war.

An Allied victory in Europe had already been achieved and it was thought victory over Japan was only a few months, if not weeks away. As I picked up the paper I found myself first in wonder and then for a fleeting moment unsettled, the latter feeling that in the years to come would evolve from concern to trepidation to dismay to shame.

Spread out in dark bold print across the top of the front page was the headline "Atomic Bomb Hits Japan." It was August 7, 1945 and the previous day the U.S. had dropped a bomb on a Japanese city by the name of Hiroshima that killed some 70,000 individuals, mostly civilians, and injured an equal number, if not more, and even today 61 years later continues to take a deadly human toll.

And just to prove it was no mistake we repeated the same act two days later at Nagasaki, Japan thus establishing the fact that to this very day the United States of America is the only country in the history of civilization that has used such a weapon of mass destruction in anger.

Little did I realize that August morning as I read the details of this new weapon that our leaders were promising would end the war in a matter of days, if not hours, that the mixed feelings I had while reading about the bomb's development and destructive power would lead me years later to nuclear pacifism and an outspoken advocate of non-violence.

Years later in April, 1965 I wrote an article for St. Joseph's Magazine titled "America's Great Need: A Nuclear Conscience" and suggested "as a beginning, it might be well to admit that the U.S. made a horrible mistake in dropping the first bomb on Hiroshima." Nothing has convinced me, since writing that article, to change my mind on the issue.

Today as we witness the wars in the Middle East, the animosity between two nuclear capable nations India and Pakistan and the events in Iran and North Korea it is nothing short of hypocritical for us to be pointing fingers at others in their rush to be nuclear powers.

Rather than adopting policies and strategies that only exacerbate the nuclear threat we should be a world leader in seeking to establish treaties, negotiations and face-to-face talks that will lessen tensions and the fears of nations throughout the world that its lone super power reserves for itself the right to possess nuclear weapons and the technology to develop and produce even more powerful bombs than those that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Going back to what I wrote in 1965, we as a nation still seem to lack the will to develop a "nuclear conscience" much less even admit, that in the name of national pride, we changed the nature of warfare and course of humankind by what we did in two terrible acts in August, 1945.

As an example of our current obliviousness, a non-scientific survey of our nation's press yesterday revealed nary a mention that the day was the 61st "anniversary" of the Hiroshima bombing, although there were several stories which appeared that informed us that Hilton Hotel heir and uber-socialite Paris Hilton is planning to remain celibate for a year.

Ironically, my survey did reveal a rather extensive in-depth series of articles, photos and videos on Hiroshima, its aftermath and its long term consequences. It appeared on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (CBC) website:

Here at home, as the stories below illustrate, we should pay more attention to the still lingering human costs associated with the development of our nuclear arsenal and the environmental disasters waiting to happen as a result of our obsession with building bigger and better weapons of war.

Lest we should make the same mistakes, the whole question of nuclear power, now appearing to make a comeback, should be carefully examined for its long-term consequences and not simply be subsumed as a peripheral cost of weaning ourselves off oil.

In this regard readers of this newsletter will perhaps remember the words of the brilliant writer E.L. Doctorow, quoted here previously, in a essay titled "THE BOMB LIVES," Playboy, March, 1974:

" . . . We are extraordinarily sensitive now to the damage we do to the delicate web of life on earth simply by being ourselves. We used to fear the bomb, but now we fear everything. What can this be but the diffusion of our horror of this death-in-life weapon that we have given the world. For, of course, having buried our bombs, we are now seeing them stir and unwrap their mummy shrouds.

"Conceivably under the right circumstances, we may someday in our nuclear industry lose to the earth just the amount of radiant material necessary to effect a chain reaction. And then the failure of our vaunted adaptation will blaze upon us that what happened to the bomb was that it became the earth and the earth became the bomb. . . . "

NOTE: To those readers who take exception to my inference that dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki did not necessarily shorten the Pacific war --- since Japan was already on the brink of accepting our terms for an "unconditional surrender" --- save your e-mails and letters as I believe I have heard all the arguments against this theory and I remain unconvinced.

 LACK OF U.S. LEADERSHIP SLOWS NUCLEAR DISARMAMENT By Warren Hoge      New York Times June 2, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, June 1  Hans Blix, the former chief United Nations weapons inspector, said Thursday that American unwillingness to cooperate in international arms agreements was undermining efforts to curb nuclear weapons.

Mr. Blix said it was essential that Washington act to end what he called the stagnation of arms limitation. "If it takes the lead, the world is likely to follow," he said. "If it does not take the lead, there could be more nuclear tests and new nuclear arms races."

Mr. Blix, who left his arms inspection post in 2003 shortly after the invasion of Iraq, made his comments in the introduction to a 225-page report by an international commission financed by Sweden. The report was delivered Thursday to Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The panel, with Mr. Blix as chairman and members from more than a dozen countries, listed 60 recommendations for nuclear disarmament.

It concluded that treaty-based disarmament was being set back by "an increased U.S. skepticism regarding the effectiveness of international institutions and instruments, coupled with a drive for freedom of action to maintain an absolute global superiority in weaponry and means of their delivery."

Mr. Blix, 77, a Swedish constitutional lawyer and the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1981 to 1997, was disparaged by the Bush administration for failing to turn up unconventional weapons during the three years he was chief of the United Nations inspection team in Iraq.

The report drew a direct link between the rise of individual action and the decline of cooperation. "Over the past decade, there has been a serious and dangerous loss of momentum and direction in disarmament and nonproliferation efforts," it said. "Treaty-making and implementation have stalled, and, as a new wave of proliferation has threatened, unilateral enforcement action has been increasingly advocated."

The commission urged all countries to sign and ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and called on nuclear states to reduce their arsenals and stop producing plutonium and highly enriched uranium for more nuclear weapons.

The United States has not ratified the test ban treaty, and in 2002 it withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

"While the reaction of most states to the treaty violations was to strengthen and develop the existing treaties and institutions," Mr. Blix said, "the U.S., the sole superpower, has looked more to its own military power for remedies."

One result, he said, was that "the nuclear weapons states no longer seem to take their commitment to nuclear disarmament seriously."

The commission said there were 27,000 nuclear weapons in the world, with 12,000 of them deployed.

Mr. Blix said he feared that the number would rise because of efforts to develop more sophisticated new weapons and place them in space. He said he also feared that a missile shield proposed by the United States would lead to countermeasures by Russia and China.

The commission said nuclear weapons should be banned the way biological and chemical weapons have been. "Weapons of mass destruction cannot be uninvented," the report said. "But they can be outlawed, as biological and chemical weapons already have been, and their use made unthinkable."

It identified as "two loud wake-up calls" the breakdown of the United Nations conference a year ago on the future of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and the failure of a United Nations summit meeting of heads of state last fall to include mention of unconventional weapons, a lapse Mr. Annan described as a "disgrace."

It said weapons ought to be taken off high-alert status because of the risk of launching by error and called on countries to pledge no first use.

It also called for declaring regions that should be free of unconventional weapons --- "particularly and most urgently in the Middle East."

 PRIVATIZING THE APOCALYPSE By Frida Berrigan      Tomdispatch March 30, 2006

Started as the super-secret "Project Y" in 1943, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico has long been the keystone institution of the American nuclear-weapons producing complex. It was the birthplace of Fat Man and Little Boy, the two nuclear bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.

Last year, the University of California, which has managed the lab for the Department of Energy since its inception, decided to put Los Alamos on the auction block. In December 2005, construction giant Bechtel won a $553 million yearly management contract to run the sprawling complex, which employs more than 13,000 people and has an estimated $2.2 billion annual budget.

"Privatization" has been in the news ever since George W. Bush became president. His administration has radically reduced the size of government, turning over to private companies critical governmental functions involving prisons, schools, water, welfare, Medicare, and utilities as well as war-fighting, and is always pushing for more of the same.

Outside of Washington, the pitfalls of privatization are on permanent display in Iraq, where companies like Halliburton have reaped billions in contracts. Performing jobs once carried out by members of the military --- from base building and mail delivery to food service --- they have bilked the government while undermining the safety of American forces by providing substandard services and products.

Halliburton has been joined by a cottage industry of military-support companies responsible for everything from transportation to interrogation. On the war front, private companies are ubiquitous, increasingly indispensable, and largely unregulated --- a lethal combination.

Now, the long arm of privatization is reaching deep into an almost unimaginable place at the heart of the national security apparatus --- the laboratory where scientists learned to harness the power of the atom more than 60 years ago and created weapons of apocalyptic proportions.

Nuclear weapons are many things to many people --- the sword of Damocles or the guarantor of American global supremacy, the royal path to the apocalypse or atoms for peace. But in each notion, they are treated as idols --- jealously-guarded, shrouded in code, surrounded by sacred secrecy. That is changing.

Private companies have long played a role in the nuclear complex, but it's been a peripheral one. For example, Kaiser-Hill, a remediation company, is cleaning up radioactive waste at Rocky Flats, the Denver, Colorado complex that manufactured nuclear weapons. At Idaho Falls, another company, CH2M, is mopping up the mess left behind after the construction of 52 nuclear reactors. BWX and Honeywell formed a new company along with Bechtel to manage and operate the Pantex Plant in Texas which assembled nuclear weapons throughout the Cold War.

At least ten different subcontractors are involved in managing the Hanford nuclear complex. But the famed nuclear laboratories, Los Alamos, Lawrence Livermore, and Sandia --- where the high priests of nuclear physics are free to explore the outer realms of their craft --- have long been above prosaic bottom-line or board-room considerations. Until this year, that is.

At Los Alamos, the University of California has already been replaced by a "limited liability corporation," says Tyler Przybylek of the Department of Energy's Evaluation Board; and, more generally, the writing is on the containment wall. Nuclear laboratories are no longer to be intellectual institutions devoted to science but part of a corporate-business model where research, design, and ultimately the weapons themselves will become products to be marketed.

The new dress code will be suits and ties, not lab coats and safety glasses. Under Bechtel, new management will lead to a "tightly structured organization" that will "drive efficiency," predicts John Browne, who directed the lab at Los Alamos from 1997-2003. "If there is a product the government wants," he concludes, "they will necessarily be focused on that. A lot more money will be at stake."

Los Alamos was the first to go. Now, the management contract for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, is on the auction block as well.

Many say strong corporate oversight will correct a legacy of embarrassing missteps at Los Alamos. The keystone of the nuclear complex, it has been dogged by missing classified computer disks, cost overruns on its expensive new projects, and an outspoken cadre of scientists who found their voice on LANL: The Real Story, a blog where once deferential employees blew off steam and exposed lapses in lab management.

The idea is that, under private management, this legacy of money wasted and dreams deferred can do an abrupt u-turn. But the question is: Can Bechtel (or any other private military contractor) usher in a new era of nuclear responsibility? Pete Domenici, Republican Senator and Chairman of the powerful Energy and Water Committee, thinks so. In January, he claimed that "this great lab will thrive under the management team led by Bechtel."

But a look at Bechtel's record might not inspire others to Domenici's confidence. The California-based construction giant has a long history of big projects, big promises, bigger budgets and even bigger failures.

In Boston, Bechtel was put in charge of the "Big Dig," the reconstruction of Interstate 93 beneath the city. In 1985, the price tag for the project was estimated at about $2.5 billion. Now, it is a whopping $14.6 billion (or $1.8 billion a mile), making it the most expensive stretch of highway in the world. Near San Diego, citizens are still paying the bills for cost over-runs at a nuclear power plant where Bechtel installed one of the reactors backwards.

In 2003, Bechtel took this winning track record to Baghdad, where it blew billions in a string of unfinished projects and unfathomable errors. The company reaped tens of millions of dollars in contracts to repair Iraq's schools, for example, but an independent report found that many of the schools Bechtel claimed to have completely refitted, "haven't been touched," and a number of schools remained "in shambles." One "repaired" school was found by inspectors be overflowing with "unflushed sewage."

Bechtel also has a $1.03 billion contract to oversee important aspects of Iraq's infrastructure reconstruction, including water and sewage. Despite many promises, startling numbers of Iraqi families continue to lack access to clean water, according to information gathered by independent journalist Dahr Jamail. The company made providing potable water to southern Iraq one of its top priorities, promising delivery within the first 60 days of the program. One year later, rising epidemics of water-borne illnesses like cholera, kidney stones and diarrhea pointed to the failure of Bechtel's mission.

Outside of its ill-fated reconstruction contracts in Iraq, Bechtel is not known as a large military contractor, but the company has been quietly moving into the nuclear arena. It helped build a missile-defense site in the South Pacific, runs the Nevada Test Site where the United States once performed hundreds of above-and underground nuclear tests.

Bechtel is also the "environmental manager" at the Oak Ridge National Lab, which stores highly-enriched uranium, and is carrying out design work at the Yucca Mountain repository where the plan to store 77,000 tons of nuclear waste has environmentalists and community activists up in arms.

At Washington State's Hanford Waste Treatment Plant, Bechtel is working on technology to turn nuclear waste into glass. But the estimated costs of building the facility to do that have doubled in one year to about $10 billion while the completion date slipped from 2011 to 2017. Members of Congress have proposed that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission take over management of the project from Bechtel because of its cost overruns and delays.

Given this track record, it's hard to make the case that Bechtel assumes the helm at Los Alamos out of an altruistic, even patriotic, desire to impose clean, lean corporate management on a complacent institution long overfed at the public trough. The question remains: Why this urge to privatize the apocalypse?

To answer that question, you have to begin with the post-Cold War quest of the nuclear laboratories for a new identity and raison d'être. The dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the loss of the other superpower as a nuclear twin and target, and an international shift in favor of nuclear disarmament sent Los Alamos and the whole U.S. nuclear complex into existential crisis: Who are we? What is our role? What do we do now that nuclear weapons have no obvious role in a world of, at best, medium-sized military enemies?

Throughout the Clinton years, these questions multiplied while the nuclear arsenal remained relatively stable. More recently, with a lot of fancy footwork, a few friends in Congress, and the ear of a White House eager to be known for something other than the Long War on global terrorism, the labs finally came up with a winning solution that has Bechtel and other military contractors seeing dollar signs.

They found their salvation in a few lines of the Nuclear Posture Review, released in January 2002, where the Bush administration asserted: "The need is clear for a revitalized nuclear weapons complex that will be able, if directed, to design, develop, manufacture, and certify new warheads in response to new national requirements; and maintain readiness to resume underground testing if required."

There's gold in that there sentence. During the Cold War, spending on nuclear weapons averaged $4.2 billion a year (in current dollars). Almost two decades after the "nuclear animosity" between the two great superpowers ended, the United States is spending one-and-a-half times the Cold War average on nuclear weapons.

In 2001, the weapons-activities budget of the Department of Energy, which oversees the nuclear weapons complex through its "semi-autonomous" National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), totaled $5.19 billion; and a "revitalized nuclear weapons complex," ready to "design, develop, manufacture, and certify new warheads," means a more than billion-dollar jump in spending to $6.4 billion by fiscal year 2006.

And that's just the beginning. The NNSA's five-year "National Security Plan" calls for annual increases to reach $7.76 billion by 2009. David Hobson, Republican congressional representative from Ohio, calls this kind of budgeting "the ultimate white-collar welfare," saying that the weapons complex can be "viewed as a jobs program for PhDs."

He's right. That's a lot of money for a few labs and a few thousand scientists. And private military contractors large and small are all over it.

To justify this huge jump in spending, the nuclear laboratories have cooked up plans for an alphabet soup of projects as part of the SSMP, scientists are pushing --- to mention just a few of the acronyms on the table right now --- ASCC, MESA, the RRWP, the ICFHY campaign and the RNEP.

In the interest of not putting everyone to sleep, we can take a closer look at just a few of the Bush administration's proliferating nuclear projects. Under the umbrella of Stockpile Stewardship Management (SSMP), scientists are working to safeguard the stockpile of nuclear weapons and materials so it is not ravaged by time and neglect. The Reliable Replacement Warhead Program (RRWP) will exchange existing warheads for more "reliable" (read: more powerful) ones.

There are plans underway to develop the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP) and other "useable" new nuclear weapons supposedly to meet new threats by new enemies -- "rogue states" like Iran --- in future preemptive anti-proliferation wars. Under each of these programs are many other acronym-heavy, cash-rich programs that seem to lead nowhere --- except toward further nuclear proliferation.

The Inertial Confinement Fusion and High Yield Campaign is just one of the more outlandish and expensive of these projects. It proposes using lasers to replicate what happens inside an actual nuclear explosion in weapons labs.

Sounds simple enough, right? The Nuclear Ignition Facility -- where the lasers will do their work --- is the single largest project in the NNSA budget and, according to analyst Christopher Paine, "quite possibly the most expensive experimental facility ever built."

The Department of Energy projects $3.5 billion in costs for this alone, but the independent environmental group, the National Resources Defense Council, puts the figure higher yet -- at $5.32 billion -- and that money will be spent before anyone can even demonstrate that the system works.

Do nuclear weapons have a role in the "Age of Terror" -- other than as potential weapons for terrorist groups? In a new and ever-shifting environment of emerging regional powers and wars that transcend national boundaries, the Bush administration is taking a have-it-both-ways approach: It is pushing aggressive non-proliferation policies for chosen enemy nations and embracing a policy of accelerated nuclear proliferation for itself.

How much harder will it be in the future to dissuade other powers from building nuclear weapons when the American nuclear industry and its weapons labs have switched even more fully into private mode and the profit-motive is increasingly at stake in global nuclear planning? These and many other questions unfortunately remain unasked. Yet, a new era of nuclear weapons for profit threatens to turn Armageddon into a paying operation.

During the height of the Cold War, when competition between the nuclear laboratories seemed to rival the superpower stand-off, a Lawrence Livermore scientist posted a sign that read: "Remember, the Soviets are the Competition, Los Alamos is the Enemy."

In a new era of potential corporate antagonism over apocalyptic weaponry, will there be a sign at the Bechtel-run nuclear lab emblazoned with: "Remember, the Terrorists are the Competition, Lockheed Martin is the Enemy"?

Frida Berrigan is a Senior Research Associate at the World Policy Institute's Arms Trade Resource Center. Her primary research areas with the project include nuclear-weapons policy, war profiteering and corporate crimes, weapons sales to areas of conflict, and military-training programs. She is the author of a number of Institute reports, most recently Weapons at War 2005: Promoting Freedom or Fueling Conflict.

 ODD FINDING: WARHEADS TEND TO RIPEN WITH AGE By James Sterngold     San Francisco Chronicle March 21, 2006

Modern thermonuclear weapons contain a reported 6,000 or so parts, but the most critical, expensive and dangerous is the pit, a hollow sphere made of a plutonium alloy, encased in high explosives. That is the so-called primary part of the two-stage warhead.

The primary nuclear detonation is triggered when the blast of the high explosives crushes the pit at such force that the plutonium atoms, under enormous pressure and a bombardment of sub-atomic particles, split apart in a runaway chain reaction, called fission. That energy --- as great as the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima in 1945 --- then ignites the more powerful secondary stage, which is essentially turbocharged with a booster gas, a hydrogen isotope called tritium.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, production stopped, the United States instituted a self-imposed ban on nuclear testing and the weapons design laboratories refocused their expertise on monitoring and refurbishing the existing weapons, not building new ones. The last warheads were built in the 1980s.

According to Siegfried Hecker, former director of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, plutonium is an exceedingly complex material that is difficult to work with in part because it can be a deadly carcinogen, requiring expensive safeguards, and in part because its properties can change suddenly in response to temperature, pressure or chemical shifts in the atmosphere.

The biggest concern relates to the fact that the dense plutonium atoms spontaneously decay, or split, producing a uranium atom and a helium atom.

Over time --- meaning decades --- tiny bubbles of helium can collect. The concern is that the bubbles could expand and other changes could take place that would reduce the energy released during fission.

But one of the metal's most unusual characteristics, scientists have discovered, is that while the plutonium atoms are decaying, another process is under way, called self-annealing. This process repairs the atomic structure, making the plutonium more stable.

In an article written for Physics Today in 2000, Raymond Jeanloz, a physics professor at UC Berkeley, wrote, "Pu [the symbol for plutonium] samples not only retain long-range order but actually get closer to the ideal crystal structure with increasing age."

In an article written for a technical publication in 2003, two weapons lab scientists, Joseph Martz and Adam Schwartz, said their research showed the helium bubbles in plutonium "will not affect performance for pits in excess of 60 years of age."

 STUDY LINKS HANFORD, THYROID DISEASE By Associated Press July 26, 2006

RICHLAND, Washington --- Men who grew up near the Hanford nuclear reservation in south-central Washington during the 1940s and 1950s have a slightly higher risk of developing thyroid disease, according to a new federal study.

The results of the study may provide the strongest potential link to date between radioactive emissions from Hanford and disease in people who lived downwind of the plant.

About 2,000 people have filed suit against the federal government, claiming that radioactive releases from Hanford damaged their health.

The federal government created Hanford in the 1940s as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb. During the process, radioactive iodine was released to drift with the wind, contaminating produce and grass that milk cows ate.

Radioactive iodine concentrates in the thyroid and can result in disease decades later.

The larger, earlier Hanford Thyroid Disease Study failed to find increased thyroid disease in people who lived downwind of Hanford.

The latest study, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control's Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, found a statistically significant increase in thyroid disease in men who lived next to Hanford, said Greg Thomas of the agency's Seattle office.

The increase was in underactive thyroids, or Hashimoto's thyroiditis, a condition in which the thyroid produces too little thyroid hormone. Symptoms can include an enlarged thyroid, fatigue and weight gain.

However, the study did not link the increase to iodine 131, Thomas said. Women in the study also did not show a similar risk.

The study collected health information from people who were born in Washington between 1945 and 1951 and lived in Adams, Benton or Franklin counties for at least one year. Those years are believed to have had the largest radioactive iodine releases from Hanford.

The information then was compared with people who were born and lived in Mason, San Juan or Whatcom counties --- far from Hanford --- at the same time.

The study included 1,160 people from all six counties. They were among 4,190 people randomly selected from birth records who proved eligible and could be interviewed.

Of the 291 men living near Hanford, the study found that 10 men had underactive thyroids, compared with four of 385 men in the counties far from Hanford.

Among women, 10 cases of underactive thyroids were found in 185 women who lived near Hanford. Twenty-three cases were found among 275 women who lived in the other counties. Underactive thyroids are much more common in women than men nationwide.

Although study participants reported some health problems more often than the general population, other factors such as diet, lifestyle and work history make it difficult to determine if exposure to radiation caused the findings, according to a statement from the federal agency.

Thomas also pointed out it was a relatively small study of a small number of people.

The study was conducted to address concerns among people who grew up downwind of Hanford that radiation releases may have caused autoimmune or heart disease. Because of the earlier Hanford Thyroid Disease Study, it was not looking specifically for a link to thyroid disease.

But the only autoimmune disease that showed up at a statistically significant level was hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, in men. There was no increase in heart disease, or other autoimmune disease, among those living close to Hanford.

Among health conditions the study checked for were chronic fatigue syndrome, heart attacks, hypertension, multiple sclerosis, psoriasis and stroke.

Attorneys representing people who have sued the federal government have argued that the earlier $22 million Hanford Thyroid Disease Study was flawed. That study estimated a dose of radiation for people who lived downwind of Hanford and then considered whether they developed thyroid disease.

In the first cases to be tried, a jury awarded $550,000 combined to two people who developed thyroid cancer. Juries rejected four other claims.

The latest study is consistent with the scientific evidence presented during the initial downwinder trials that radiation doses of any amount can lead to thyroid disease, said Roy Haber, of Eugene, an attorney who represents some of the plaintiffs in the case.

The U.S. Department of Energy, meanwhile, is interested in learning more about how the new study was conducted, said spokeswoman Karen Lutz.

"There have been a number of Hanford health impact studies over the years finding no adverse links from Hanford to health effects," Lutz said.

 COURT SAYS PART OF ROCKY FLATS PROBE CAN BE RELEASED By Alicia Caldwell      Denver Post June 16, 2006  The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday that a federal trial judge must closely examine what parts of the Rocky Flats grand-jury investigation can be released to the public.

The decision was hailed as a victory for members of a federal grand jury who have long lobbied for the right to discuss what they say was prosecutorial misconduct in the investigation of environmental crimes at the now-defunct nuclear-trigger plant.

"It's a wonderful opinion," said Jonathan Turley, a Washington lawyer representing grand jurors. "We will now have an opportunity to explore what information can be released and in what form."

The government, represented by the Colorado U.S. attorney's office, had no comment, said Jeff Dorschner, a spokesman for the office.

Rocky Flats, a Cold War-era munitions factory, grabbed headlines in 1989 when the FBI raided the plant.

A grand jury was convened to investigate sloppy procedures and met for 2 1/2 years.

Jury members examined hundreds of boxes of evidence and heard from more than 100 witnesses.

At the end of their service, jurors submitted to the court a report and draft indictments that would have charged current and former employees of plant operator Rockwell International and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The jurors also submitted a statement detailing wrongdoing at the plant.

The U.S. attorney refused to sign the indictments and struck a plea agreement with Rockwell that enabled the company to plead guilty to five felonies and five misdemeanors and pay an $18.5 million fine.

The grand jury's report was sealed.

In 1996, grand jurors filed a petition in federal court requesting that they be relieved from secrecy obligations imposed on them.

They testified in a closed-door hearing about what had transpired during the investigation.

Turley, who questioned jurors in the secret proceeding, said he "was shocked by the testimony."

The grand jurors have acknowledged the need for secrecy where witnesses and crimes were concerned.

They have argued, however, for the past decade for the ability to speak about what they saw as misconduct, Turley said.

The opinion Thursday offered guideposts for Senior U.S. District Judge Richard Matsch to consider as he determines what can be released.

The passage of time reduces the need for secrecy, the appeals court said. And the redaction of names could alleviate concerns about violating grand-jury secrecy.

"Some relief may be proper under the court's inherent authority," the opinion said.


An observer has called last week's mishap in Sweden the worst incident to befall a nuclear power plant since the accident at Chernobyl. Nobody was injured, but for 22 minutes, workers had no idea what was happening in the reactor's core. Swedish officials have taken half the country's nuclear power plants offline until it can ensure their safe operation.

Sweden's nuclear energy authority, SKI, has largely completed its reconstruction of events in an accident last week that led to the closure of a nuclear power plant in the city of Forsmark and, ultimately, the shutdown of half the country's nuclear plants as a precautionary measure.

In the incident, two of the plant's four backup generators malfunctioned when the plant experienced a major power outage on July 25. According to officials, who described the event as "serious," a short-circuit triggered the accident, which caused a cut in power to the nuclear facility. Plant workers told Swedish media that it came close to a meltdown.

In fact, the only thing that appears to have stopped a catastrophe is the fact that two diesel backup generators kicked in, enabling the Forsmark facility to operate at least part of its emergency cooling system. Still, for 20 minutes, workers were unable to obtain information about the condition of the reactor and they were only able to respond after 21 minutes and 41 seconds, according to a report in Germany's Hamburger Abendblatt newspaper.

Swedish media are reporting that a previously unknown technical problem emerged during the emergency that could also be present in all other Swedish nuclear reactors.

In its first report, nuclear authority SKI claimed that operators of the nuclear plant had reacted correctly during the emergency. "In my opinion, the media is exaggerating the issue," said Jan Blomstrang, a member of SKI's committee for reactor security. The two generators that were still operating, he said, could have provided sufficient energy for the reactors if it had been necessary. The agency is expected to release a comprehensive report in the coming days.

On Thursday, Swedish officials shut down two further nuclear power plants as a safety precaution. Plant operators said the move was necessary because they could not guarantee the security of nuclear facilities in the city of Oskarshamm. A spokesman for the company that operates the Oskarshamm plant said he could not rule out the possibility of an incident happening like that at Forsmark.

After an emergency meeting of SKI officials, spokesman Anders Bredfall said that both nuclear power plants in Oskarshamm would be taken offline until investigators were able to deteremine whether the backup generators at that plant could fail in the same way as those in Forsmark.

Swedish nuclear energy expert Lars-Olov Högland, head of the construction department at Swedish utility company Vattenfall -- and onetime boss at the Forsmark reactor -- has described last week's problems as the "worst incident since Chernobyl and Harrisburg," a reference to the 1979 meltdown at Three-Mile Island in Pennsylvania.

He accused the plant's operators of trying to play down the seriousness of the event. For their part, officials at Swedish nuclear authority SKI have rejected Högland's assessment, describing it as "exaggerated."

Following the latest shutdowns, only five of Sweden's ten nuclear power plants are still operating. Nuclear power accounts for close to half of the electricity produced in Sweden and the shutdowns triggered record price increases. But the Swedish government's energy agency said the nation's electricity supply was not currently at great risk because it can rely more on hydropower during the summer months.

Sweden is in the process of abandoning nuclear energy --- a policy that has led to the shut down of two of the country's total of 12 plants since 1999. However, against a backdrop of concerns about climate change and energy dependency, recent public opinion polls indicate that an increasing number of Swedes would like to go on using nuclear power.