Nuclear issues

February 6, 2015

Informational items on various aspects of the nuclear industry



Secret plutonium abuse of an Australian child, by Argonne National Laboratory

August 21, 2017

Paul Langley,, 14 Aug 17, 5 yr-old Simon Shaw and his mum. Simon was flown from Australia to the US on the pretext of medical treatment for his bone cancer. Instead, he was secretly injected with plutonium to see what would happen. His urine was measured, and he was flown back to Australia.

Though his bodily fluids remained radioactive, Australian medical staff were not informed. No benefit was imparted to Simon by this alleged “medical treatment” and he died of his disease after suffering a trip across the world and back at the behest of the USA despite his painful condition. The USA merely wanted a plutonium test subject. They called him CAL-2. And did their deed under the cover of phony medicine.

“Congress of the United States, House of Representatives, Washington, DC 20515-2107, Edward J. Markey, 7th District, Massachusetts Committees, [word deleted] and Commerce, Chairman Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance, Natural Resources, Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe] MEMORANDUM To: Congressman Edward J. Markey From: Staff Subject: The Plutonium Papers Date: 4/20/94

Staff Memo on Plutonium Papers

The medical file for Cal-2 also contains correspondence seeking follow-up from Argonne National Laboratory in the 1980s. Cal-2 was an Australian boy, not quite five years old, who was flown to the U.S. in 1946 for treatment of bone cancer. During his hospitalization in San Francisco, he was chosen as a subject for plutonium injection. He returned to Australia, where he died less than one year later.

Document 700474 is a letter from Dr. Stebbings to an official at the Institute of Public Health in Sydney, Australia, in an attempt to reach the family of Cal-2. This letter reports that the child was “injected with a long-lived alpha-emitting radionuclide.” Document 700471 is a letter from Dr. Stebbings to New South Wales, Australia (names and town deleted), inquiring about recollections of the boy’s hospitalization in 1946. The letter notes that, “those events have become rather important in some official circles here,” but provides few details to the family.

A hand-written note on the letter reports no response through October 8, 1987. Considering the history on the lack of informed consent with these experiments, it is surprising that the letters to Australia failed to mention the word “plutonium.”

The Australian news media has since identified Cal-2 as Simeon Shaw, the son of a wool buyer in New South Wales, and information on the injection created an international incident. The information in the medical file does indicate that at a time when Secretary Herrington told you that no follow-up would be conducted on living subjects, the Department of Energy was desperately interested in conducting follow-up on a deceased Australian patient.

In an effort to determine the full extent of follow-up by the Department after 1986, your staff has requested, through the Department’s office of congressional affairs, the opportunity to speak with Dr. Stebbings, Dr. Robertson, and any other officials who may have been involved in the follow-up. So far, that request has been unsuccessful. It remains an open question as to what was the full extent of follow-up performed in the 1980s, and whether the efforts then would facilitate any further follow-up on subjects now. It seems appropriate for the Interagency Working Group to address these questions as its efforts continue.”

Source: National Security Archives, George Washington University…/…/mstreet/commeet/meet1/brief1/br1n.txt

See also ACHRE Final Report.


Mr. President, you are wrong if you think you can do the same again re hormesis funding in Australia as the USA did with CAL-2. We have not forgotten and do not trust you or your paid agents in Australian universities such as Flinders.

Medical isotope production from linear accelerators – better, and safer, than from nuclear reactors

August 21, 2017

How Better Cancer Treatment Can Also Mean Better Nuclear Security 14, 2017 C. Norman Coleman, Silvia Formenti, Miles A. Pomperrecent report in The Washington Post that the self-proclaimed Islamic State almost stumbled upon radioactive material in Mosul—in the form of cobalt-60, a substance used in radiation therapy—raises a profound dilemma about cancer treatment in developing countries and the risk of terrorists obtaining a key ingredient for making “dirty bombs.”

Cobalt-60 radiation machines are one of the many tools doctors have used in the treatment of cancer for the past 50 years. In North America, nearly all of these units have been replaced with more advanced technology called linear accelerators, which do not contain radioactive material and provide medically superior treatment. In developing countries, the cobalt-60 radiation machines remain prevalent. They are cost-effective and appealing in states with limited or intermittent electricity supplies and other physical infrastructure as well as a shortage of medical and technical expertise.

Iraq still has two cobalt-60 machines, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency, having already transitioned to linear accelerators for its 10 other treatment machines. But as Mosul made clear, using even one or two of these radiation machines comes with security risks. If the wrong people, such as members of the Islamic State or another terrorist group, got hold of cobalt-60, they could potentially create a dirty bomb or a radiation exposure device. With more than 70 percent of all cancer deaths now occurring in developing countries, the problem of balancing cancer treatment with security risks will only get worse.

The surest way to prevent terrorists from acquiring these materials, while not limiting people’s access to necessary cancer treatment, is to phase out cobalt-60 radiation machines and replace them with linear accelerators. The U.S. National Nuclear Security Administration, which is in charge of efforts to secure potentially dangerous radioactive material, has been supporting this approach for several years. To do so, developing countries need better technology and treatment environments, not only to support this transition away from cobalt-60 machines but to improve cancer treatment overall. Continue reading this article in World Politics Review

The cancer effect from past nuclear explosions still continues

August 21, 2017

Nuclear explosions from the past are still causing cancer and health problems today, KEVIN LORIA AUG 18, 2017 

Potassium iodide – a limited remedy for exposure to ionising radiation

August 21, 2017

Verify: Will potassium iodide protect you from nuclear fallout? Barbara Harvey, KXTV 6:48 AM. PDT August 16, 2017 In 1999, the World Health Organization released guidelines on the use of potassium iodide, citing the exposure of children to radiation after the Chernobyl disaster.

Pyroprocessing the nuclear “wonder fuel” that created even more waste problems

August 21, 2017

Since the project began 17 years ago, 15% of the waste has been processed, an average of one-fourth of a metric ton per year. That’s 20 times slower than originally expected, a pace that would stretch the work into the next century — long past the 2035 deadline.

Lyman said he was determined to explore the Idaho program in light of increasing interest in the scientific and regulatory communities in advanced nuclear reactors — including breeder reactors — and what he believed was misleading information by advocates.

The Idaho National Lab created a ‘wonder fuel.’ Now, it’s radioactive waste that won’t go away,, Ralph VartabedianContact Reporter, 13 Aug 17  In the early days of atomic energy, the federal government powered up an experimental reactor in Idaho with an ambitious goal: create a “wonder fuel” for the nation.

The reactor was one of the nation’s first “breeder” reactors — designed to make its own new plutonium fuel while it generated electricity, solving what scientists at the time thought was a looming shortage of uranium for power plants and nuclear weapons.

It went into operation in 1964 and kept the lights burning at the sprawling national laboratory for three decades.

But enthusiasm eventually waned for the breeder reactor program owing to safety concerns, high costs and an adequate supply of uranium. Today, its only legacy is 26 metric tons of highly radioactive waste. What to do with that spent fuel is causing the federal government deepening political, technical, legal and financial headaches.

The reactor was shut down in 1994. Under a legal settlement with Idaho regulators the next year, the Department of Energy pledged to have the waste treated and ready to transport out of the state by 2035.

The chances of that happening now appear slim. A special treatment plant is having so many problems and delays that it could take many decades past the deadline to finish the job.

“The process doesn’t work,” said Edwin Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, who has documented the problems in a new report. “It turned out to be harder to execute and less reliable than they promised.”

Many of the cleanup efforts, like the one in Idaho, are years or even decades behind schedule, reflecting practices that were far too optimistic when it came to technology, costs and management know-how.

Jim Owendoff, the acting chief of the Energy Department’s environmental management program, recently ordered a 45-day review of the entire $6-billion-a-year radiation cleanup effort. “What I am looking at is how we can be more timely in our decision-making,” he said in a department newsletter.

The Idaho reactor, located at the 890-square-mile Idaho National Laboratory, was designed to produce electricity while it “breeds” new fuel by allowing fast-moving neutrons to convert non-fissionable uranium into fissionable plutonium.

But the complexity of breeder reactors led to safety problems.

Only one breeder reactor ever went into commercial operation in the U.S. — the Enrico Fermi I near Detroit, which suffered a partial core meltdown in 1966. Construction of a breeder reactor on the Clinch River in Tennessee was stopped in 1983.

A reactor using similar technology above the San Fernando Valley experienced fuel core damage in 1959 that is believed to have released radioactive iodine into the air.

Ultimately, the nation never faced a shortage of uranium fuel, and now the Energy Department is spending billions of dollars to manage its surplus plutonium. Unlike uranium, the “wonder fuel,” as the lab called it, was bonded to sodium to improve heat transfer inside the reactor.

The sodium has presented an unusual waste problem.

Sodium is a highly reactive element that can become explosive when it comes in contact with water and is potentially too unstable to put in any future underground dump — such as the one proposed at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

To remove the bonded sodium, the government used a complex process, known as pyroprocessing, which was developed to also separate plutonium from the spent fuel. The spent fuel parts from the reactor are placed in a chemical bath and subjected to an electrical current, which draws off the sodium onto another material. The process is similar to electroplating a kitchen faucet.

Back in 2000, the project managers estimated in an environmental report that they could treat 5 metric tons annually and complete the job in six years.

But privately, the department estimated that it would take more than twice that long, according to internal documents that Lyman obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Even that was unrealistic, because it assumed that the treatment plant could work around the clock every day of the year, without down time for maintenance or allowance for breakdowns. Lyman found that during one year — 2012 — no waste at all was processed.

Since the project began 17 years ago, 15% of the waste has been processed, an average of one-fourth of a metric ton per year. That’s 20 times slower than originally expected, a pace that would stretch the work into the next century — long past the 2035 deadline.

The problem with the breeder reactor waste is just one of many environmental issues at the lab, located on a high desert plateau near Idaho Falls. The federal government gifted the Idaho lab with additional radioactive waste for decades.

After the highly contaminated Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant near Denver was shut down in 1993, the waste was shipped to Idaho. The Navy has been sending in its spent fuel from nuclear-powered ships.

The lab is dealing with tons of waste containing artificial elements, so-called transuranic waste. The Energy Department promised to move an average of 2,000 cubic meters to a special dump in New Mexico, but it has missed that goal for several years, because of an underground explosion at the dump. The Energy Department declined to answer specific questions about the breeder waste cleanup, citing the sensitivity of nuclear technology. It blamed the slow pace of cleanup on inadequate funding but said it was still trying to meet the deadline.

“When the implementation plan for the treatment of the [spent fuel] was developed in 2000, there was very limited nuclear energy research and development being performed in the United States,” a department spokesperson said in a statement.

“The funding for this program has been limited in favor of other research and development activities. The Department remains strongly committed to the treatment of this fuel in time to meet its commitments to the State of Idaho.”

Susan Burke, who monitors the cleanup at the laboratory for the state’s Department of Environmental Quality, said the state will continue to demand that the waste be ready for shipment out of Idaho by 2035.

“The Energy Department is doing the best it can, but our expectation is that they will have to meet the settlement agreement,” she said.

Idaho watchdogs are skeptical.

“There is some bad faith here on the part of the Energy Department,” said Beatrice Brailsford, nuclear program director at the Snake River Alliance, a group that monitors the lab. “The department is misleading the public. Not much information has been given out, but enough to be skeptical that the technology works well enough to meet the settlement.”

Lab officials declined to comment.

Lyman said he was determined to explore the Idaho program in light of increasing interest in the scientific and regulatory communities in advanced nuclear reactors — including breeder reactors — and what he believed was misleading information by advocates.

He presented a technical paper about pyroprocessing at a conference held in July by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Lyman said he believes the Energy Department has little chance of success in the program.

“They are just blowing smoke,” he said. “It is a failure and they can’t admit it, because they don’t have a backup plan that would satisfy the state.”

A rare photographic record of 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki

August 21, 2017

If you’re against war, get this book: The photos will haunt you By SONOKO MIYAZAKI/ Staff Writer August 10, 2017 A boy standing at rigid attention with the dead body of his infant brother strapped to his back at a crematorium in Nagasaki is one of searing images of the city’s destruction after the U.S. atomic bombing in 1945.

In a book published Aug. 9, Kimiko Sakai, the widow of Joe O’Donnell, the photographer who snapped the image, tells the story of her husband’s life work through photographs he shot in Japan in the immediate aftermath of the war.

Aug. 9 marked the 72nd anniversary of the bombing as well as the 10th anniversary of O’Donnell’s death at the age of 85.

The 192-page book, titled “Kamisama no Finder: Moto-Beijugun Cameraman no Isan” (God’s finder: the legacy of a former war photographer), was published by the Tokyo-based Word of Life Press Ministries.

After Japan’s surrender, O’Donnell, who was attached to the U.S. Marine Corps, traveled to Hiroshima, Nagasaki and other Japanese cities to document the wartime devastation. He stayed in Japan from September 1945 to March 1946.

He took 300 or so photographs for his private use.

He believed it was wrong to drop the atomic bombs after witnessing the sufferings of the victims.

But O’Donnell didn’t exhibit these pictures for decades because of prevailing U.S. sentiment that the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki hastened the end of World War and saved many American lives.

O’Donnell later decided to exhibit the photographs in the hope they would help advance the anti-war movement.

The catalyst for this was when he gazed on a sculpture evoking Jesus on the cross and engulfed by flames at a church in Kentucky in 1989. The life-size work, titled “Once,” was created for the repose of the tens of thousands of people killed in that atomic bombings, with photos of victims pasted all over the body. O’Donnell was stunned.

After that, O’Donnell until his death held exhibitions of his photos in the United States and Japan to convey the horrors of nuclear war.

The image of the boy at the crematorium stayed with him. O’Donnell recalled that the boy stared motionless as bodies were being burned and he awaited his turn. He also noticed that the boy’s lips were caked with blood because he was biting them so hard, although no blood spilled.

Sakai agreed to a proposal to publish the book after she was contacted by the publisher two years or so ago. Sakai, who lives in Tennessee, said she accepted out of respect for her husband’s commitment to the anti-war cause.

“My husband photographed his subjects as fellow human beings, not as an occupier,” she said in a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun.

Asked if she had a message for those working to rid the world of nuclear arsenals, she said, “Just ‘not to forget,’ which is important.”

Behind the myths about U.S. President Harry Truman’s decision to nuclear bomb Japanese cities

August 21, 2017

The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a war crime worse than any that Japanese generals were executed for in Tokyo and Manila. If Harry Truman was not a war criminal, then no one ever was. 

Mises Institute 10 Aug 17  [Excerpted from “Harry S. Truman: Advancing the Revolution,” in Reassessing the Presidency: The Rise of the Executive State and the Decline of Freedom, John Denson, ed.]

The most spectacular episode of Harry Truman’s presidency will never be forgotten but will be forever linked to his name: the atomic bombings of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and of Nagasaki three days later. Probably around two hundred thousand persons were killed in the attacks and through radiation poisoning; the vast majority were civilians, including several thousand Korean workers. Twelve US Navy fliers incarcerated in a Hiroshima jail were also among the dead.1

Great controversy has always surrounded the bombings. …….

the rationale for the atomic bombings has come to rest on a single colossal fabrication, which has gained surprising currency — that they were necessary in order to save a half-million or more American lives. These, supposedly, are the lives that would have been lost in the planned invasion of Kyushu in December, then in the all-out invasion of Honshu the next year, if that had been needed. But the worst-case scenario for a full-scale invasion of the Japanese home islands was forty-six thousand American lives lost.7 The ridiculously inflated figure of a half-million for the potential death toll — nearly twice the total of US dead in all theaters in the Second World War — is now routinely repeated in high-school and college textbooks and bandied about by ignorant commentators. Unsurprisingly the prize for sheer fatuousness on this score goes to President George H.W. Bush, who claimed in 1991 that dropping the bomb “spared millions of American lives.”8

“The rationale for the atomic bombings has come to rest on a single colossal fabrication — that they were necessary in order to save a half-million or more American lives.”

Still, Truman’s multiple deceptions and self-deceptions are understandable, considering the horror he unleashed. It is equally understandable that the US occupation authorities censored reports from the shattered cities and did not permit films and photographs of the thousands of corpses and the frightfully mutilated survivors to reach the public.9 Otherwise, Americans — and the rest of the world — might have drawn disturbing comparisons to scenes then coming to light from the Nazi concentration camps.

The bombings were condemned as barbaric and unnecessary by high American military officers, including Eisenhower and MacArthur.10 The view of Admiral William D. Leahy, Truman’s own chief of staff, was typical:

the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. … My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages. I was not taught to make wars in that fashion, and wars cannot be won by destroying women and children.11

The political elite implicated in the atomic bombings feared a backlash that would aid and abet the rebirth of horrid prewar “isolationism.” Apologias were rushed into print, lest public disgust at the sickening war crime result in erosion of enthusiasm for the globalist project.12 No need to worry. A sea change had taken place in the attitudes of the American people. Then and ever after, all surveys have shown that the great majority supported Truman, believing that the bombs were required to end the war and save hundreds of thousands of American lives, or, more likely, not really caring one way or the other.

Those who may still be troubled by such a grisly exercise in cost-benefit analysis — innocent Japanese lives balanced against the lives of Allied servicemen — might reflect on the judgment of the Catholic philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe, who insisted on the supremacy of moral rules.13 When, in June 1956, Truman was awarded an honorary degree by her university, Oxford, Anscombe protested.14 Truman was a war criminal, she contended, for what is the difference between the US government massacring civilians from the air, as at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Nazis wiping out the inhabitants of some Czech or Polish village?……

While the mass media parroted the government line in praising the atomic incinerations, prominent conservatives denounced them as unspeakable war crimes. Felix Morley, constitutional scholar and one of the founders of Human Events, drew attention to the horror of Hiroshima, including the “thousands of children trapped in the thirty-three schools that were destroyed.” He called on his compatriots to atone for what had been done in their name, and proposed that groups of Americans be sent to Hiroshima, as Germans were sent to witness what had been done in the Nazi camps.

The Paulist priest, Father James Gillis, editor of The Catholic World and another stalwart of the Old Right, castigated the bombings as “the most powerful blow ever delivered against Christian civilization and the moral law.” David Lawrence, conservative owner of US News and World Report, continued to denounce them for years.21 The distinguished conservative philosopher Richard Weaver was revolted by

the spectacle of young boys fresh out of Kansas and Texas turning nonmilitary Dresden into a holocaust … pulverizing ancient shrines like Monte Cassino and Nuremberg, and bringing atomic annihilation to Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Weaver considered such atrocities as deeply “inimical to the foundations on which civilization is built.”22

Today, self-styled conservatives slander as “anti-American” anyone who is in the least troubled by Truman’s massacre of so many tens of thousands of Japanese innocents from the air. This shows as well as anything the difference between today’s “conservatives” and those who once deserved the name.

Leo Szilard was the world-renowned physicist who drafted the original letter to Roosevelt that Einstein signed, instigating the Manhattan Project. In 1960, shortly before his death, Szilard stated another obvious truth:

If the Germans had dropped atomic bombs on cities instead of us, we would have defined the dropping of atomic bombs on cities as a war crime, and we would have sentenced the Germans who were guilty of this crime to death at Nuremberg and hanged them.23

The destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a war crime worse than any that Japanese generals were executed for in Tokyo and Manila. If Harry Truman was not a war criminal, then no one ever was.

New evidence on the harm from inhaled radioactive dust – study of Hiroshima’s teenagers of 1945

August 21, 2017

Extent of A-bomb dust inhalation in 1945 underestimated: researchers 31, 2017 (Mainichi Japan)HIROSHIMA — The prevalence of acute symptoms among teenage soldiers exposed to dust particles as they helped out with relief operations in the aftermath of the 1945 U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima has been found to be at least 10 times higher than those who were unexposed, it has been learned.

The 12 American sites most polluted by weapons manufacturing

August 21, 2017

The Invisible War On American Soil, Topic, 29 July 17  Photographs by Nina Berman

War is a dirty, dirty business. Beyond the damage inflicted on the battlefields themselves, every part of a military operation marks the earth. From munitions factories to massive supply lines, collateral costs abound.GIVEN THE SIZE OF OUR DEFENSE BUDGETS, it should come as no surprise that the United States military is one of the planet’s most prolific and chronic polluters. Perhaps more surprising is that this impacts life within the U.S. as well as overseas. Vast stretches of the American landscape are contaminated by the business of war and armed aggression; it’s littered with unexploded ordnance, toxic chemicals, depleted uranium, radioactive particles, and more.

In this essay, we examine seven such sites of environmental damage wrought by the nation’s military and its weapons contractors. The places range from sites in New Mexico, where nuclear weapons have been produced, to the Passaic River in New Jersey, where dioxin from Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War has poisoned the riverbed. As the technology of warfare changes, so has its impact, with current contamination coming from the skies—such as on Whidbey Island, Washington, where Navy testing of EA-18G Growler planes might be making residents ill.


Acid Canyon; Los Alamos, New Mexico……

Trinity Site; White Sands Missile Range, New Mexico……

Haystack Mine; Haystack Mountain, New Mexico……

White Sands Missile Range Museum; New Mexico……

Luis Lopez Cemetery; New Mexico……

San Antonio, New Mexico…….

Fort Wingate, New Mexico …..

Whidbey Island, Washington…..

Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge; Madison, Indiana…..

Near the Starmet Superfund site; Concord, Massachusetts…..

Passaic River; Lyndhurst, New Jersey…..

Tularosa, New Mexico…..

America’s quiet national disaster – Hanford nuclear site

August 21, 2017

“Nobody in the world has waste like ours,” says one of my guides as we enter the site. No one has so much strontium 90, for instance, which behaves a lot like calcium and lodges inside the bones of any living creatures it penetrates, basically forever. Along with chromium and tritium and carbon tetrachloride and iodine 129 and the other waste products of a plutonium factory it is already present in Hanford’s groundwater. There are other nuclear-waste sites in the United States, but two-thirds of all the waste is here. Beneath Hanford a massive underground glacier of radioactive sludge is moving slowly, but relentlessly, toward the Columbia River.

The place is now an eerie deconstruction site, with ghost towns on top of ghost towns. Much of the old plutonium plant still stands: the husks of the original nine reactors, built in the 1940s, still line the Columbia River, like grain elevators. Their doors have been welded shut, and they have been left to decay—for another century.

 Only one stakeholder in the place wanted to know what was going on beneath its soil: the tribes. 

WHY THE SCARIEST NUCLEAR THREAT MAY BE COMING FROM INSIDE THE WHITE HOUSE, Vanity Fair, BY  MICHAEL LEWISSeptember 2017  “………By the early 1940s the United States government understood that for democracy to survive it needed to beat Hitler to the atom bomb, and that the race had two paths—one required enriched uranium, the other plutonium. In early 1943, the United States Army was evicting everyone from an area in Eastern Washington nearly half the size of Rhode Island and setting out to create plutonium in order to build a nuclear bomb. The site of Hanford was chosen for its proximity to the Columbia River, which could supply the cooling water while its dams provided the electricity needed to make plutonium. Hanford was also chosen for its remoteness: the army was worried about both enemy attacks and an accidental nuclear explosion. Hanford was, finally, chosen for its poverty. It was convenient that what would become the world’s largest public-works project arose in a place from which people had to be paid so little to leave.

From 1943 until 1987, as the Cold War was ending and Hanford closed its reactors, the place created two-thirds of the plutonium in the United States’ arsenal—a total of 70,000 nuclear weapons since 1945. You’d like to think that if anyone had known the environmental consequences of plutonium, or if anyone could have been certain that the uranium bomb would work, they’d never have done here what they did. “Plutonium is hard to produce,” said MacWilliams. “And hard to get rid of.” By the late 1980s the state of Washington had gained some clarity on just how hard and began to negotiate with the U.S. government. In the ensuing agreement the United States promised to return Hanford to a condition where, as MacWilliams put it, “kids can eat the dirt.” When I asked him to guess what it would cost to return Hanford to the standards now legally required, he said, “A century and a hundred billion dollars.” And that was a conservative estimate.

More or less overnight Hanford went from the business of making plutonium to the even more lucrative business of cleaning it up. In its last years of production the plutonium plant employed around 9,000 people. It still employs 9,000 people and pays them even more than it used to. “It’s a good thing that we live in a country that cares enough to take the time it will take, and spend the money it will spend, to clean up the legacy of the Cold War,” said MacWilliams. “In Russia they just drop concrete on the stuff and move on.”

The Department of Energy wires 10 percent of its annual budget, or $3 billion a year, into this tiny place and intends to do so until the radioactive mess is cleaned up. And even though what is now called the Tri-Cities area is well populated and amazingly prosperous—yachts on the river, $300 bottles of wine in the bistros—the absolute worst thing that could happen to it is probably not a nuclear accident. The worst thing that could happen is that the federal government loses interest in it and slashes the D.O.E.’s budget—as President Trump has proposed to do. And yet Trump won the county in which Hanford resides by 25 points.

The next morning, with a pair of local guides, I drive into the D.O.E. project most direly in need of management. In my lap is a book of instructions for visitors: “Report any spill or release,” it says, among other things. “Nobody in the world has waste like ours,” says one of my guides as we enter the site. No one has so much strontium 90, for instance, which behaves a lot like calcium and lodges inside the bones of any living creatures it penetrates, basically forever. Along with chromium and tritium and carbon tetrachloride and iodine 129 and the other waste products of a plutonium factory it is already present in Hanford’s groundwater. There are other nuclear-waste sites in the United States, but two-thirds of all the waste is here. Beneath Hanford a massive underground glacier of radioactive sludge is moving slowly, but relentlessly, toward the Columbia River.

The place is now an eerie deconstruction site, with ghost towns on top of ghost towns. Much of the old plutonium plant still stands: the husks of the original nine reactors, built in the 1940s, still line the Columbia River, like grain elevators. Their doors have been welded shut, and they have been left to decay—for another century. “Cold and dark is a term we like to use,” says one of my guides, though he adds that rattlesnakes and other living creatures often find their way into the reactors. Of the settlement that existed before the government seized the land, there remain the stumps of trees from what were once orchards and the small stone shell of the town bank.  There are older ghosts here, too. What looks like arid scrubland contains countless Indian burial grounds and other sites sacred to the tribes who lived here: the Nez Perce, the Umatilla, and the Yakama. For the 13,000 years or so prior to the white man’s arrival the place had been theirs. To them the American experiment is no more than the blink of an eye. “You have only been here 200 years, so you can only imagine 200 years into the future,” as a Nez Perce spokesman put it to me. “We have been here tens of thousands of years, and we will be here forever. One day we will again eat the roots.”

Three years ago the D.O.E. sent the local tribes a letter to say they shouldn’t eat the fish they caught in the river more than once a week. But for the longest time, the effects of radiation on the human body were either ignored or insincerely explored: no one associated with the business of creating it wanted the knowledge that might disrupt it. Downwind of Hanford, people experienced unusually high rates of certain kinds of cancer, miscarriages, and genetic disorders that went largely ignored. “It’s easy to have no observable health effects when you never look,” the medical director of the Lawrence Livermore lab said, back in the 1980s, after seeing how the private contractors who ran Hanford studied the matter. In her jaw-dropping 2015 book, Plutopia, University of Maryland historian Kate Brown compares and contrasts American plutonium production at Hanford and its Soviet twin, Ozersk. The American understanding of the risks people ran when they came into contact with radiation may have been weaker than the Soviets’. The Soviet government was at least secure in the knowledge that it could keep any unpleasant information to itself. Americans weren’t and so avoided the information—or worse. In 1962 a Hanford worker named Harold Aardal, exposed to a blast of neutron radiation, was whisked to a hospital, where he was told he was perfectly O.K. except that he was now sterile—and back then it didn’t even make the news. Instead, Hanford researchers in the late 1960s went to a local prison and paid the inmates to allow the irradiation of their testicles, to see just how much radiation a man can receive before the tails fall from his sperm.A young elk gallops across the road in front of our car. He owes his existence, perhaps, to the atom bomb: hunting hasn’t been allowed on the 586-square-mile tract since 1943, and so there’s game everywhere—geese, ducks, cougars, rabbits, elk, and deer. We drive past T plant, the long gray concrete building where they brought the irradiated material from the reactors, to cull the plutonium that went into the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki. Because it, too, is cold and dark, it is of less concern than the land surrounding it, for that is where the waste from the plant got dumped. The Nagasaki bomb contained about 14 pounds of plutonium, but the waste generated fills acres of manicured dirt, the texture of a baseball infield, just downhill from the plant. “The tank farm,” they call it.

On these farms lay buried 177 tanks, each roughly the size of a four-story apartment building and capable of holding a million gallons of “high-level waste.” Fifty-six million gallons now in the tanks are classified as “high-level waste.” What, you might ask, is high-level waste? “Incredibly dangerous stuff,” says Tom Carpenter, executive director of the Hanford Challenge, the organization which has monitored the site since the late 1980s. “If you’re exposed to it for even a few seconds you probably got a fatal dose.” And yet as you drive by, you would never know anything unusual was happening on the infield were it not for the men crawling over it, with scuba tanks on their backs and oxygen masks on their faces.

Hanford turns out to be a good example of an American impulse: to avoid knowledge that conflicts with whatever your narrow, short-term interests might be. What we know about Hanford we know mainly from whistle-blowers who worked inside the nuclear facility—and who have been ostracized by their community for threatening the industry in a one-industry town. (“Resistance to understanding a threat grows with proximity,” writes Brown.) One hundred and forty-nine of the tanks in the Hanford farms are made of a single shell of a steel ill-designed to contain highly acidic nuclear waste. Sixty-seven of them have failed in some way and allowed waste or vapors to seep out. Each tank contains its own particular stew of chemicals, so no two tanks can be managed in the same way. At the top of many tanks accumulates a hydrogen gas, which, if not vented, might cause the tank to explode. “There are Fukushima-level events that could happen at any moment,” says Carpenter. “You’d be releasing millions of curies of strontium 90 and cesium. And once it’s out there it doesn’t go away—not for hundreds and hundreds of years.”The people who created the plutonium for the first bombs, in the 1940s and early 1950s, were understandably in too much of a rush to worry about what might happen afterward. They simply dumped 120 million gallons of high-level waste, and another 444 billiongallons of contaminated liquid, into the ground. They piled uranium (half-life: 4.5 billion years) into unlined pits near the Columbia River. They dug 42 miles of trenches to dispose of solid radioactive waste—and left no good records of what’s in the trenches. In early May of this year a tunnel at Hanford, built in the 1950s to bury low-level waste, collapsed. In response, the workers dumped truckloads of dirt into the hole. That dirt is now classified as low-level radioactive waste and needs to be disposed of. “The reason the Hanford cleanup sucks—in a word—is shortcuts,” said Carpenter. “Too many goddamn shortcuts.”

There is another way to think of John MacWilliams’s fifth risk: the risk a society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions. Program management is not just program management. Program management is all the “less detectable, systemic risks.” Some of the things any incoming president should worry about are fast-moving: natural disasters, terrorist attacks. But most are not. Most are like bombs with very long fuses that, in the distant future, when the fuse reaches the bomb, might or might not explode. It is delaying repairs to a tunnel filled with lethal waste until, one day, it collapses. It is the aging workforce of the D.O.E.—which is no longer attracting young people as it once did—that one day loses track of a nuclear bomb. It is the ceding of technical and scientific leadership to China. It is the innovation that never occurs, and the knowledge that is never created, because you have ceased to lay the groundwork for it. It is what you never learned that might have saved you.Toward the end of his time as secretary of energy, Ernie Moniz suggested that the department, for the first time ever, conduct a serious study of the risks at Hanford. Once the risks were spelled out, perhaps everyone would agree that it was folly to try to turn it into, say, a playground. Maybe the U.S. government should just keep a giant fence around the place and call it a monument to mismanagement. Maybe the people at the labs could figure out how to keep the radioactivity from seeping into the Columbia River and leave it at that. Maybe it shouldn’t be the D.O.E.’s job to deal with the problem, as the problem had no good solution and the political costs of constant failure interfered with the D.O.E.’s ability to address problems it might actually solve.

It turned out no one wanted to make a serious study of the risks at Hanford. Not the contractors who stood to make lots of money from things chugging along as they have. Not the career people inside the D.O.E. who oversaw the project and who feared that an open acknowledgment of all the risks was an invitation to even more lawsuits. Not the citizens of Eastern Washington, who count on the $3 billion a year flowing into their region from the federal government. Only one stakeholder in the place wanted to know what was going on beneath its soil: the tribes. A radioactive ruin does not crumble without consequences, and yet, even now, no one can say what these are.

Here is where the Trump administration’s willful ignorance plays a role. If your ambition is to maximize short-term gains without regard to the long-term cost, you are better off not knowing those costs. If you want to preserve your personal immunity to the hard problems, it’s better never to really understand those problems. There is a downside to knowledge. It makes life messier. It makes it a bit more difficult for a person who wishes to shrink the world to a worldview.

There is a telling example of this Trumpian impulse—the desire not to know—in a small D.O.E. program that goes by its acronym, ARPA-E. ARPA-E was conceived during the George W. Bush administration as an energy equivalent of DARPA—the Defense Department’s research-grant program that had funded the creation of G.P.S. and the Internet, among other things. Even in the D.O.E. budget the program was trivial—$300 million a year. It made small grants to researchers who had scientifically plausible, wildly creative ideas that might change the world. If you thought you could make water from sunlight, or genetically engineer some bug so that it eats electrons and craps oil, or create a building material that becomes cooler on the inside as it grows hotter on the outside, ARPA-E was your place. More to the point: your only place. At any given time in America there are lots of seriously smart people with bold ideas that might change life as we know it—it may be the most delightful distinguishing feature of our society. The idea behind ARPA-E was to find the best of these ideas that the free market had declined to finance and make sure they were given a chance. Competition for the grants has been fierce: only two out of every hundred are approved. The people who do the approving come from the energy industry and academia. They do brief tours of duty in government, then return to Intel and Harvard.The man who ran the place when it opened was Arun Majumdar. He grew up in India, finished at the top of his engineering class, moved to the United States, and became a world-class materials scientist. He now teaches at Stanford University but could walk into any university in America and get a job. Invited to run ARPA-E, he took a leave from teaching, moved to Washington, D.C., and went to work for the D.O.E. “This country embraced me as one of her sons,” he said. “So when someone is calling me to serve, it is hard to say no.” His only demand was that he be allowed to set up the program in a small office down the street from the Department of Energy building. “The feng shui of D.O.E. is really bad,” he explained.

Right away he faced the hostility of right-wing think tanks. The Heritage Foundation even created its own budget plan back in 2011 that eliminated ARPA-E. American politics was alien to the Indian immigrant; he couldn’t fathom the tribal warfare. “Democrat, Republican—what is this?,” as he put it. “Also, why don’t people vote? In India people stand in line in 40 degrees Celsius to vote.” He phoned up the guys who had written the Heritage budget and invited them over to see what they’d be destroying. They invited him to lunch. “They were very gracious,” said Majumdar, “but they didn’t know anything. They were not scientists in any sense. They were ideologues. Their point was: the market should take care of everything. I said, ‘I can tell you that the market does not go into the lab and work on something that might or might not work.’ ”

Present at lunch was a woman who, Majumdar learned, helped to pay the bills at the Heritage Foundation. After he’d explained ARPA-E—and some of the life-changing ideas that the free market had failed to fund in their infancy—she perked up and said, “Are you guys like DARPA?” Yes, he said. “Well, I’m a big fan of DARPA,” she said. It turned out her son had fought in Iraq. His life was saved by a Kevlar vest. The early research to create the Kevlar vest was done by DARPA.

The guys at Heritage declined the invitation to actually visit the D.O.E. and see what ARPA-E was up to. But in their next faux budget they restored the funding for ARPA-E. (The Heritage Foundation did not respond to questions about its relationship with the D.O.E.)

As I drove out of Hanford the Trump administration unveiled its budget for the Department of Energy. ARPA-E had since won the praise of business leaders from Bill Gates to Lee Scott, the former C.E.O. of Walmart, to Fred Smith, the Republican founder of FedEx, who has said that “pound for pound, dollar for dollar, activity for activity, it’s hard to find a more effective thing government has done than ARPA-E.” Trump’s budget eliminates ARPA-E altogether. It also eliminates the spectacularly successful $70 billion loan program. It cuts funding to the national labs in a way that implies the laying off of 6,000 of their people. It eliminates all research on climate change. It halves the funding for work to secure the electrical grid from attack or natural disaster. “All the risks are science-based,” said John MacWilliams when he saw the budget. “You can’t gut the science. If you do, you are hurting the country. If you gut the core competency of the D.O.E., you gut the country.”But you can. Indeed, if you are seeking to preserve a certain worldview, it actually helps to gut science. Trump’s budget, like the social forces behind it, is powered by a perverse desire—to remain ignorant. Trump didn’t invent this desire. He is just its ultimate expression.