Archive for the ‘Employment’ Category

The cancer toll on nuclear workers: $15.5 billion in compensation and counting

December 4, 2018

Nuclear fallout: $15.5 billion in compensation and counting

They built our atomic bombs; now they’re dying of cancer

Nearly 33,500 former nuclear site workers died due to radiation exposure- report

Nuclear Fallout: This story produced in partnership with ProPublica and the Santa Fe New Mexican. (Richly illustrated with photographs, videos, charts, documents interactive map) 
Wave 3, By Jamie Grey and Lee Zurik | November 12, 2018  
LOS ALAMOS, NEW MEXICO (InvestigateTV) – Clear, plastic water bottles, with the caps all slightly twisted open, fill a small refrigerator under Gilbert Mondragon’s kitchen counter. The lids all loosened by his 4- and 6-year old daughters because, at just 38, Mondragon suffers from limited mobility and strength. He blames his conditions on years of exposure to chemicals and radiation at the facility that produced the world’s first atomic bomb: Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Gilbert Mondragon, 38, pulls the cap off a plastic water bottle that had been twisted open by his young daughters. He hasn’t the strength for those simple tasks anymore and blames his 20-year career at the Los Alamos National Lab. He quit this year because of his serious lung issues, which he suspects were caused by exposures at the nuclear facility. (InvestigateTV/Andy Miller)

Mondragon is hardly alone in his thinking; there are thousands more nuclear weapons workers who are sick or dead. The government too recognizes that workers have been harmed; the Department of Labor administers programs to compensate “the men and women who sacrificed so much for our country’s national security.”

But InvestigateTV found workers with medical issues struggling to get compensated from a program that has ballooned ten times original cost estimates. More than 6,000 workers from Los Alamos alone have filed to get money for their medical problems, with around 53 percent of claims approved.

The Los Alamos lab, the top-secret site for bomb design in 1943, has had numerous safety violations and evidence of improper monitoring, federal inspection reports show.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory employs about 11,000 people and is located in the desert about 25 miles northwest of Santa Fe. The facility gained notoriety because it designed, developed and tested the country’s first nuclear weapons. After World War II, it branched out into research in areas such as chemistry, nuclear physics and life sciences. The weapons program, however, still takes up nearly two-thirds of its $2.5 billion budget. (InvestigateTV/Jamie Grey)

“A million workers with our nuclear weapons won the Cold War for us by producing the nuclear weapons, maintaining them, watching them, but they were exposed,” said Bill Richardson, the former federal energy secretary, Congressman and governor of New Mexico.

Richardson helped create the federal compensation program 18 years ago for workers at government nuclear plants.

As of October 2018, the federal government had paid more than $15 billion to 61,360 workers or their surviving family members through the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICP).

InvestigateTV reviewed reports that predict the compensation program will dwindle in coming decades, with accepted claims disappearing mid-way through this century.

But Richardson and others familiar with the program said they believe this compensation program will continue to cost taxpayers because the work of creating the most dangerous weapons on the planet remains dangerous.

Monitoring radiation

Nuclear weapons facilities contain plenty of materials that at certain levels health professionals consider dangerous: radioactive agents such as plutonium, toxic elements such as beryllium, and even more standard industrial hazards such as cleaners, asbestos and diesel exhaust. Those substances are associated with a variety of cancers, thyroid disease, chronic obstruction pulmonary disease (COPD) and other health issues.

Because of the dangers, many workers in Department of Energy’s laboratories and technology centers around the country are monitored for exposure – or they are supposed to be.

Many workers at Los Alamos wear a badge like this, called a dosimeter. It measures radiation exposure and is just one part of monitoring employees. Workers also submit to other tests such as, urinalysis.

As a health physics technician at Los Alamos, Mondragon said part of his duties included radiation monitoring and looking for contamination. Despite the assignment of looking for dangers, he said he was sometimes told to tuck his badge monitoring the density of radiation into his coveralls.

“It makes sense to me now to always wear a badge, but then I was young, naïve, didn’t know better,” he said. “These people were older, been working there for years. And I trusted in them I guess and did what they said.”

Los Alamos disputes claims of employees of being told to remove their radiation monitoring badges.

A Los Alamos spokesman, Kevin Roark, would not agree to an on-camera interview with InvestigateTV but responded via email to questions about worker radiation badges, stating the “Radiation Protection Program would never allow, endorse or recommend removing dosimeters to avoid contamination.”

Federal law sets exposure limits for workers; “doses” of radiation are required to stay as low as reasonably achievable. Dosimeter or radiation badges such as the one Mondragon wore are required for a number of different employees based on the amount of exposure they are likely to encounter.

Former nuclear-plant worker Albert Mondragon, left, poses for a picture with his grandson Samuel and son Gilbert, right. The grandfather and father both share a family problem – each became sick after working at Los Alamos. The similarities, though, stop there. The elder Mondragon received federal compensation for lung fibrosis because of his work as a uranium miner. His son’s claims for lung disease have been denied.

Mondragon described going into known-contaminated areas, places workers refer to as “hot” – in a lab coat and booties. He said he would then see others there in respirators; he suspected those people were higher up in the lab’s chain of command.

After a time, he said he started to question safety measures and certain jobs at the lab, but said nothing for fear of getting in trouble or being assigned to dreaded jobs such as being put outside on cold winter days. He said he kept his head down and “rode the gravy train; it was easy.”

That “gravy train” – a well-paying job in a rugged state – is what brings many people to the expansive complex of buildings stretching into the New Mexico desert northwest of Santa Fe. Mondragon started at Los Alamos in 1999 when he was 19 years old. His father had worked there, and his job paid a starting wage of $10.25 an hour, more than double minimum wage in New Mexico at the time.

“Because where else around here are you going to make good money? And that’s what it boiled down to,” Mondragon said.

In 2014, while still working at the lab, now as an electrician, Mondragon was diagnosed with kidney cancer. He beat the disease, but he was later diagnosed with occupational asthma, sleep apnea and lung nodules, leaving him almost always tethered to an oxygen tank.

Gilbert Mondragon spends his days tethered to oxygen tank in his home. He used to enjoy hunting cow elks such as those hanging on his walls and coaching his kids’ sports team but hasn’t the stamina for those activities anymore. Now he worries about mounting medical bills and suspects that he will be paying them for the rest of his life. (InvestigateTV/Andy Miller)

With medical bills mounting, Mondragon applied for federal compensation – but he was denied.

His radiation monitoring reports showed two years of scant exposure and 14 years of zero exposure, which Mondragon said he believes is wrong because he was not always wearing a badge.

But compensation case examiners determined there wasn’t enough evidence to prove his medical problems were caused by his work environment.

Gilbert Mondragon’s radiation-exposure documents show his records from Los Alamos. Over a 16-year period, those reports, routinely given to workers, indicate that he registered no exposure for 14 of those years. What the report doesn’t show, however, is that Mondragon said he was oftentimes told to tuck away his monitoring badge. (Santa Fe New Mexican/Rebecca Moss).

Mondragon said the examiners determined his job as an electrician didn’t expose him to enough hazardous materials to cause cancer. But, he added, “they don’t realize … I did maintenance, and I worked in every single building.”

A history of noncompliance

While federal laboratories are allowed to operate with a great deal of secrecy, the government has stepped in at times to investigate facilities and punish weapons sites for unsafe operations.

The most significant evidence of that occurred after 1989, when the Department of Energy ordered extensive assessments of nuclear facilities by groups of inspectors known as Tiger Teams. Around the same time, Congress gave the department enforcement power, though that did not go into effect until 1996.

In the last three decades, those enforcement actions and reports paint a picture of ongoing issues at Los Alamos. For example, the department’s most recent report card in January 2018 on preventing nuclear and radiation accidents showed the lab in the “red” zone. It was the only lab out of 18 evaluated to receive a “does not meet expectations” designation.

Use the timeline below [on original] to explore examples of Los Alamos’ safety reports and violation notices.

The Government Accountability Office has mentioned Los Alamos in some of its reports, including a 1999 report stating the Energy Department’s “Nuclear Safety Enforcement Program Should Be Strengthened.” The GAO noted a significant violation at Los Alamos for “inadequate monitoring of radiological contamination. Repeated problems and inadequate corrective actions.”

As for the report card that noted issues with prevention measures, Roark, the lab’s spokesman, stated the lab routinely self-reports those infractions and said that they do not indicate an actual accident but “a condition, activity, or event that might create a potential danger for employees.”

Issues with compensation

Dr. Akshay Sood talkes about the worker compensation program. “It is a generous program but it is really heavily bureaucratized,” he said. Sood is a pulmonologist at the University of New Mexico Occupational Lung Clinic who has treated – and fought for benefits for – many workers from the Los Alamos nuclear facility. (InvestigateTV/Andy Miller).

In 2006, Dr. Akshay Sood decided to move to New Mexico to treat patients with occupational lung disease. In recent years, he’s begun treating more and more patients who worked at Los Alamos. He’s helped many of them wade through the claims process for compensation – a proceeding he often characterizes as a fight.

“It’s frustrating because even though the law is meant to favor the patient, in the real world, what happens is the opposite,” Sood said. “The worker really gets screwed in the whole process.”

Workers have complained to the compensation program ombudsman, saying they don’t believe their claims are being processed with accurate information about exposure or job responsibilities related to exposure.

“Usually the most likely case is there was a particular radioactive material that people were exposed to that they were not appropriately monitored for,” said Stuart Hinnefeld, director of the division of the Department of Health and Human Services that determines which workers get to file for compensation through the easier cohort process.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Division of Compensation and Analysis Support is housed at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention office in Cincinnati. The division is in charge of determining the radiation dose workers could have received at work and maintaining a “risk model” that determines how likely it is that cancer was caused by radiation at work. (InvestigateTV/Jamie Grey).

Workers outside the cohort go through a process where the government office looks at available records from that individual worker and also other workers with similar characteristics – such as job title and the buildings they worked in.

At Los Alamos, all workers who started their jobs from the time the lab opened through 1995 are part of a special cohort group. Those who started after 1995, such as Chad Walde, are the ones who have to prove their cases to examiners.

Their cases may be sent to Hinnefeld’s office, which helps tie different exposure information, including the employees’ individual records and existing databases, together. His office looks at the data to determine if a person’s condition was “more likely than not” caused by work exposure.

The paperwork that Gilbert Mondragon received explains why he was denied compensation benefits. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports “causation” numbers. In Mondragon’s case, the agency said that there was a 21.55 percent probability that his health issues were job related. Workers need at least a 50 percent probability to receive benefits. (InvestigateTV photo illustration).

Despite questions over how well employees have been monitored in the last two decades and questions about the lab’s safety records, Hinnefeld said his office is only charged with looking at whether they have enough records and information to determine worker exposure for compensation.

“We make no judgments about the site’s operations, whether they’re doing things right, correctly, whether they should be doing them differently,” Hinnefeld said. “We just want to know: Are they generating enough evidence that we can go and find enough evidence?”

One year too late

Gilbert Ulibarri went to work at Los Alamos in 1996 after a career as a master plumber with a shop in Santa Fe. His wife, Charlene Maes, described her husband’s frustration with lab tasks he was given that he felt were unsafe.

He kept spiral-bound notebooks about incidents he saw, and Maes now feels like the lab is unsafe for workers “in the trenches,” based on the safety reports she’s seen at compensation program meetings.

Gilbert Ulibarri’s broad shoulders easily surround his wife Charlene Maes. “Guys wanted to be like him, and women wanted to know him,” Maes said. “He was genuine. He was salt of the earth. He was a tough, badass kind of guy.” (Ulibarri family photo)

“Because you don’t even have to read too much to find out how many instances of injuries and contamination and things like that that happen,” Maes said. “If it was so extremely safety-conscious, they would have zero on that side of the list, I would think.”

In 2015, her husband started getting stomach pains while remodeling their home. A rugged and tough rancher used to hard work, he knew something was wrong. Doctors found a tumor on his pancreas. Three years later and 120 pounds lighter due to cancer treatments, he died.

Gilbert Ulibarri shrunk from a burly, active man to a helpless patient. When he died from cancer just shy of his 22nd wedding anniversary, he was but a shell of his former shelf. “I watched him shrink from this guy that was like my hero to this small person,” his wife Charlene Maes said. (Family-provided photos).

During his treatment, Ulibarri and Maes attempted to get compensation through the federal program, but they were denied multiple times. Because he started working at Los Alamos just after 1995, he had to go through the rigorous documentation processes. Before he died, Maes said he had hoped his family would be left with some money to help cover expenses. Eventually, they gave up trying.

“It isn’t even about the money,” Maes said. “What I would really like is for someone in the government to understand that you can’t do this to a people. You can’t come to a state as beautiful as New Mexico and make everybody sick and then walk away and not take responsibility.”

Watch a life tribute video about Gilbert Ulibarri below, [on original]  courtesy of Leandra Romero.

Maes isn’t sure if her husband would have worked at Los Alamos given his later health issues, but she said she knows there is pride in working at these facilities.

“I understand the mission,” Maes said. “There’s safety and the world and protecting your country and the threat of terrorists. And I understand that. I understand why it’s needed. I just don’t understand why it’s a cavalier way of handling it.”

Los Alamos refutes allegations it is unsafe, even with the reports. The lab’s spokesman wrote in an email to InvestigateTV that the lab’s “nuclear operations are safe.” He also said the facility is continuing to make improvements to reach full compliance with Defense Nuclear Safety Board regulations.

The full email from Los Alamos is below. [on original]  Click “full screen” on the top left to view larger images…….

Not just New Mexico

Nuclear weapons facilities are scattered throughout the country – and workers from facilities in 43 states have filed for compensation. The majority of the claims are coming from the large labs memorialized in World War II history books. The others are coming from smaller labs or those that have been shut down over the years.

 

All told, 380 facilities may have workers eligible for compensation.

Use the map below [on original]  to learn about those facilities – clicking on individual dots will reveal information about each, from dates of operation to a description of the work. Note: Due to a lack of accurate historical addresses, some labs geolocate to the center of town. This map should be used for finding labs mapped down to a city point and not exact street address. All information is compiled from Department of Energy records.

In the panhandle of Texas, a plant called Pantex in Amarillo employs thousands of workers. Like Los Alamos, Pantex was part of the World War II construction projects. This facility was the last built during the war for bomb loading. Currently, it is the only facility responsible for dismantling old nukes and maintenance of the country’s weapons stockpile.

“The weapons plants were built in agricultural areas because they knew these were patriotic individuals and these were people who could be trusted to maintain security,” former Pantex employee Sarah Ray said.

Ray first came to work at the Amarillo plant in 1974 and completed training to work on weapons. She left for a number of years, returning to work as a training specialist. One of her main job assignments involved radiation alarm monitoring systems.

Today, at 72-years-old, she helps fellow Pantex employees file compensation claims. While she initially was working with older people who began working at the plant decades ago, she said she now sees younger, more recent workers.

“I have always said there would be another wave of workers,” Ray said. “Now I’m seeing people in their 50s and 60s. Now that wave is here.”

Like those who work on claims related to Los Alamos, Ray said the biggest problem is the burden put on workers, particularly those who aren’t approved for special cohorts.

“With workers, they are guilty unless they can prove themselves innocent,” she said. “They have to fight the battle. They have to remember everything.”

That’s a battle Gilbert Mondragon, the former health physics technical at Los Alamos, is still fighting; he is still trying to prove his case to the government to help his offset his mounting medical bills.

“Sometimes I feel worthless,” said Mondragon. “I’m this big guy that should be able to lift more than five pounds. And most days I can’t even open my own bottle of water.”http://www.wave3.com/2018/11/12/nuclear-fallout-billion-compensation-counting/

 

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The personal struggle – a rare brain cancer – nothing to do with his radiation exposure at Los Alamos National Laboratory?

November 3, 2018

Half Life Chad Walde believed in his work at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Then he got a rare brain cancer, and the government denied that it had any responsibility , Pro Publica, by Rebecca Moss, The Santa Fe New Mexican, 26 Oct 18,“………A Gap Between Records and Recollection

CHAD WAS CLEARED TO RETURN TO HIS JOB at the lab in late January 2015, four months after his diagnosis. He’d undergone radiation and two chemotherapy treatments, and Los Alamos’ occupational medicine staff said he was fit to continue working with classified material, his medical records show. At risk for seizures, he couldn’t drive or climb stairs or ladders. Chad carpooled and had Angela drive him to the laboratory several times a week. His supervisor offered him a desk job, a step down from his managerial role — but one that kept his health insurance running. He accepted. The only real alternative was termination.

Roark says the lab’s goal is to treat all employees with debilitating conditions with “utmost respect” and says when employees are unable to perform the functions of their jobs, Los Alamos “makes reasonable efforts to accommodate them,” which can result in job reassignment.

Separately, to process his claim for cancer benefits, the Department of Labor also told Chad it would need all of his medical and radiation exposure records from the lab. The Department of Labor sends these to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, another federal agency that uses a probability equation to determine if a worker had a high enough dose of radiation to cause cancer. If the computer found a 50 percent or higher correlation, Chad would get benefits.

When the records arrived from Los Alamos, containing a single CD and a brief letter, it was the first time Chad realized that his own experience differed from what the lab had noted in its records.

The lab had found “no records” of Chad having been exposed to anything or other environmental occupational hazards, the letter said. And his dosimetry report, a spreadsheet that showed his total dose of radiation annually, was scant.

The lab had not tracked Chad’s radiation exposure in 1999, his first year on the job, the report indicated, or in 2000, when the Cerro Grande fire burned. External monitoring began in 2001 but showed a clean zero for 11 out of the next 14 years. (Only in 2008, 2013 and 2014 were there any hits on the report.)

The report said his total dose was 0.254 rems over his career, well below safety limits and slightly less than an average person gets from background radiation from the sun and environment in a single year. A rem is a unit used to measure the absorbed dose of radiation, with 1 rem equivalent to a CT scan, according to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Chad marveled at the document. It didn’t track with his memory — or hold any record of the time he’d been called in for going over his limit and accused of taking his badge to the airport, or when he was sent home wearing disposable clothes.

“They aren’t on here,” Chad said when he looked at the document.

It also seemed impossible there were so many years that were completely blank.

Asked about the discrepancy between Walde’s memory and the reports, Los Alamos spokesman Roark said, in general, that the lab “maintains a comprehensive archive of worker radiation dosimetry data” and that it “provides any and all records in response to requests as quickly as possible.”

When NIOSH reviewed the records, it had a simple way to fill in the gaps. For the two years when Chad was not monitored, NIOSH assumed the maximum dose he could have been exposed to was the maximum background radiation at the lab (which was 0.4 rem), adding in the possibility of a couple missed readings.

NIOSH said Chad’s records showed he had been exposed to “various sources of radiation during his employment,” but the maximum dose he could have received at the lab, based on its calculations and assumptions, was a 3.744 rem dose to the brain. The agency modeled his probability for cancer based on how this amount of radiation would affect and mutate cells of the thyroid. It does not have a model for how external radiation might impact brain tissue.

On a phone call with a NIOSH claims representative in September 2015, Chad asked why the agency used general air monitoring data to fill in his missed readings. Chad, who made a recording of the call, said this would fail to account for the radiation present at the more dangerous nuclear areas he had been assigned to.

He told the representative how his badge often took hits. Like he’d told his father-in-law, and his friends, Chad said his boss kept asking him why his readings were “above the reporting levels.”

I “wonder if we are not missing something,” Chad said on the recording. “I also worry about the Los Alamos reporting,” relaying instances in which the lab certified an area free of radiation only to discover contamination later while he was working on a maintenance job. Chad began to talk about something he witnessed at the liquid radioactive waste plant but trailed off, saying, “I don’t know if I am allowed to say any of this stuff — never mind.”

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Chad Walde’s radiation shells hang in the garage of his family’s home. The shells help keep the head still while a patient receives radiotherapy. (Adria Malcolm, special to ProPublica)

Stu Hinnefeld, director of the divis  Stu Hinnefeld, director of the division of compensation analysis and support for NIOSH, said in an interview that those exposed to radiation have a “relatively low” likelihood of developing brain cancer compared with lung and thyroid cancers. He said the institute’s risk models, as a result, require a worker to have a much higher documented exposure to radiation than many of the other cancers in order to get compensation.

The Department of Labor concluded there was just a 2.67 percent chance his cancer was related to his radiation exposure history. His claim was denied on Jan. 14, 2016.

Chad’s dates of employment made him more likely to be rejected than if he had worked at the lab in a prior era. Overall, the Department of Labor has approved nearly 60 percent of claims filed by Los Alamos workers for cancer and beryllium disease. But for workers who started working at the lab after 1996, that figure falls to 45 percent, according to data requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

A spokesperson for the Department of Labor said, “While gaps in past records have existed at some sites, workers in the modern era have more extensive monitoring records. There are no unexplained gaps or readings in this employee’s radiation dose records.”

Still, Chad wanted to appeal. Over the next year, he would undergo another surgery and start experiencing frequent seizures, at one point spending two days in a coma in Texas, where the family had traveled for the twins’ volleyball tournament, when the spasms refused to subside. The family held “Gray Be Gone” fundraisers, referring to the color of the tumor tissue, to raise money to send Chad to MD Anderson for treatment. He also started clinical trials with a doctor in New Mexico.

During that time, Chad learned that he was not the only person at Los Alamos who thought missing records had led the Department of Labor to deny a claim.

For more than a decade, workers at Los Alamos have been telling federal officials that similar data and records problems have prevented them from getting compensation. In June 2005, at a NIOSH forum for the lab’s technical workers’ union, one worker said the lab “had lied and falsified documents right and left … the monitors were turned off, people weren’t qualified to be doing the monitoring, the equipment was never calibrated,” according to meeting minutes.

Another man, an X-ray technician, said his personal radiation badge always showed up with zero contamination.

Falsified radiation data or medical records have been documented at other labs, including in 2003 at Savannah River Site in South Carolina and Hanford Site in Washington state. Radiation records also were falsified at an Ohio nuclear facility in 2013. The Department of Energy fined lab managers in South Carolina and Ohio more than $200,000 each for “willful falsification.”

Los Alamos has not been fined for willful falsification of health records, but it has been cited within the past year for serious safety violations and for failing to check laboratory rooms for toxic chemicals before allowing workers to enter. Internal incident reports from the early 2000s, obtained by NIOSH, described how records had been removed from radiation log books, “deliberate tampering” with nasal swipe samples (used to test if a worker inhaled radioactive particles) and problems with workers not wearing their radiation badges.

Soon after Chad’s diagnosis, another electrician on his crew, Cesario Lopez, told Chad he’d recently had part of his kidney taken out after being diagnosed with cancer. Both Lopez’s mother and uncle, who worked at the lab before him, had been diagnosed with cancer, too. Lopez applied for and was denied compensation by the Department of Labor but has appealed.

Then Chad learned about his friend Gilbert Mondragon. Mondragon started working as an electrician on the fire protection crew in August 1999, three months before Chad. Mondragon was just 19 and from the beginning saw Chad as a mentor. Chad, he said, taught him how to have a good attitude at work and find value in it. That became harder after Mondragon was diagnosed with kidney cancer in the spring of 2014 at the age of 34.

Like Chad, Mondragon’s radiation report showed 14 straight years of zeroes, and only two years, 2006 and 2007, in which his badge took any hits, totaling 67 millirems of radiation over 16 years.

“It’s not like people think it is,” Mondragon said about lab safety. He, like Chad, recalled several times he’d been decontaminated and given new work clothes or boots.

Mondragon believes some of the zeroes are also the result of being told, by his supervisors, to take his badge off when he was doing work in contaminated places. “Now I know better,” he said, “but it’s too late.”

Roark, the lab spokesman, denies workers were ever told to remove their badges, saying its “Radiation Protection Program would never allow, endorse or recommend removing dosimeters to avoid contamination.”

Ken Silver, who sits on a Department of Labor advisory board and is a professor of environmental health at East Tennessee State University, testified before Congressin 2007 that instructing workers to remove their radiation badges was a common practice for “cleanup crews” at Los Alamos in the past. Silver said this practice was based on the belief that if a badge was contaminated, workers would go on to spread radiation throughout the laboratory, which he called a “flimsy assumption.”

Los Alamos officials did not testify at the hearing. But the lab says its rate of injuries has dropped significantly since 2006 and is well below the industry average. The laboratory says it does not track the cause of death for its employees.

Hinnefeld said NIOSH has looked into allegations that workers were told to remove their badges and, “We hear that on occasion.” But he said, in the past, officials have concluded that this wouldn’t affect how the agency reconstructs a worker’s radiation exposure because a single missed reading is unlikely to hold much weight in the overall career of a worker.

Diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma, which his physician has linked to chemical exposure, Mondragon resigned from the lab this winter. The doctors’ visits have consumed his life. His cancer claim, like Chad’s, also was rejected by the Department of Labor, but he was told he would likely be accepted if he were to develop another cancer.

For the last six months, he has relied on the help of an oxygen tank to breathe, trailing a long, green plastic tube wherever he goes…..more https://features.propublica.org/los-alamos/chad-walde-nuclear-facility-radiation-cancer/

Chad Walde believed in his work at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Then he got a rare brain cancer

November 3, 2018
Half Life Chad Walde believed in his work at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Then he got a rare brain cancer, and the government denied that it had any responsibility. Pro Publica, by Rebecca Moss, The Santa Fe New Mexican, 26 Oct 18, “……..That unanswered question — what killed Chad Walde? — nagged at Angela.
There had been other funerals, even that month, for other people who had worked at Los Alamos, one of the nation’s most important nuclear weapons laboratories. Several, like Chad, had died of cancer. Others had thyroid diseases and breathing problems, and they suspected that some of the maladies might stem from contaminated work environments or from the large fire that burned through the vast lab property in 2000. Nobody knew for sure if the illnesses were connected to work at the lab, but they wondered.

For decades, Los Alamos had been criticized for sacrificing workers’ health and safety in the name of atomic progress. In 1999, Bill Richardson, the energy secretary, acknowledged that nuclear sites had concealed information and “sent many of our workers into harm’s way.” He said the government intended to “right the wrongs of the past.” Then, in 2000, Congress passed a compensation act, offering medical benefits and payouts for workers with radiation-related cancers and other occupational ailments. But the government, and Los Alamos in particular, has said that those lapses were in the past, and that they have put in place rules and practices to protect safety. The lab says radiation exposures have been “consistently recorded” over many decades.

Despite these pledges, Chad and his co-workers said safety problems continued. They witnessed accidents and heard the sudden, unexpected blare of radiation alarms. They watched crews come in to decontaminate buildings and run radiation detectors over their hands and feet. They had their limbs scrubbed and clothing replaced. Sometimes days would pass before anyone realized contamination had spread. Many workers say their memories of poor work conditions and high personal radiation readings don’t match the government’s scant records .
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Angela Walde poses for a portrait inside her home in Albuquerque, New Mexico. (Adria Malcolm, special to ProPublica)

In addition to Chad, at least four others on his maintenance crew had been diagnosed with cancer in the past five years.

Before his death, Chad filed a claim for federal benefits, joining more than 1,400 people who said they became sick from radiation exposure for work done within the last 20 years at the lab, according to data obtained by the Santa Fe New Mexican under the Freedom of Information Act. An additional 335 dead workers also had claims filed on their behalf.

Angela would later discover that Chad’s personnel file contained little mention of the radiation exposures and no record of the safety scares her husband had told her about over the years.

Now, in the church, she listened to the country music playing softly and to the minister in prayer. After his treatments, Chad would laugh and tell his friends, “I get more radiation sitting in my office at Los Alamos.” Even when he was suffering and in pain, he would smile and say he was living the dream.

Looking at his closed coffin, Angela wished she could go back 18 years and tell him to find a different job, far from laboratories and nuclear weapons.b

A New Career, and the Risk of Radiation

ON HIS FIRST DAY OF WORK AT LOS ALAMOS, Chad Walde got dressed in the dark. It was the fall of 1999 and a week before his 27th birthday. The drive from Albuquerque to Los Alamos took nearly two hours, and as he got on the highway in a small, white Ford Escort, just after 5 a.m., the hulking peaks of the Sandia Mountains would have been cast in silhouette.

The town of Los Alamos was just beginning to stir around the time he arrived. Log cabins preserved from the government’s military takeover during World War II mingled with modern buildings. The roads had been named after famous scientists and atomic testing grounds. Trinity Drive. Bikini Atoll Road. Oppenheimer Drive. Gamma Ray. When he reached the white laboratory gates, lines of cars had already begun to form, each stopping at booths to present armed guards with ID.

Inside, Chad was issued a special Z number, unique to each employee at Los Alamos, which would become a proxy for his identity there. In the days to come, he underwent several medical exams and was asked to detail any prior exposure to 81 hazardous radionuclides, explosives, chemicals, gases or lab animals. He circled no to each. He wasn’t perfect: He smoked, drank intermittently and, for a man over 6 feet tall, was overweight. A doctor found no abnormalities on his head, eyes, heart, lungs, thyroid, limbs or spine. His bloodwork came back normal.

Chad was still adjusting to life as a civilian. He had left the Navy four months earlier and moved his family back to Albuquerque, where he’d been working odd jobs as an electrician. After four years on the USS Lake Champlain, sailing to ports in the Middle East and Asia, Chad still missed the sea, the way the sun turned red as it set in the middle of the ocean. Now, he’d be working at a hallowed place. And, making $22 per hour, he’d earn more than he ever had in his life.

Chad knew about the lab’s historic role in creating the first atomic bombs, but little else. He didn’t know that its nuclear mission had come with a human toll.

Employees of the complex had long complained of health problems, but quietly, often only to friends and families. Speaking ill of the lab was considered by some as anti-American, and some whistleblowers said they were often ostracized by colleagues and pushed out or fired for reporting problems. Most who’ve sought state workers’ compensation over the years for illnesses they attributed to their work at the lab have had their claims aggressively challenged in court.

Out of a fear of liability, the famed nuclear scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who served as the lab’s first director, mandated that health records be labeled top secret, according to a memo written by his colleague in 1946 and declassified in the 1990s………more https://features.propublica.org/los-alamos/chad-walde-nuclear-facility-radiation-cancer/

Deplorable conditions of Japan’s ‘informal’ nuclear workers: Fukushima, radiation and leukaemia

October 9, 2018

Sworn to secrecy, after a superficial safety education drill, they are sent into highly contaminated, hot and wet labyrinthine areas.

the state also raised nuclear workers’ limits from no more than 50 mSv per year (mSv/y) and 100 mSv/5 years to 250 mSv/y to deal with emergency conditions, and determined that there would be no follow-up health treatment for those exposed to doses below 50 mSv/y, while TEPCO decided to not record radiation levels below 2 mSv/y in the misplaced justification that the effects would be negligible.

poor monitoring and record-keeping has meant that many former nuclear workers who develop leukaemia and other illnesses have been denied government compensation

Informal Labour, Local Citizens and the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Crisis:   Chapter Author(s): Adam Broinowski Book Title: New Worlds from Below [many  footnotes and references on original] Sept 18

Nuclear workers are important as sentinels for a broader epidemic of radiation related diseases that may affect the general population. We live with contradictions everyday

Introduction The ongoing disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station (FDNPS), operated by Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), since 11 March 2011 can be recognised as part of a global phenomenon that has been in development over some time. This disaster occurred within a social and political shift that began in the mid-1970s and that became more acute in the early 1990s in Japan with the downturn of economic growth and greater deregulation and financialisation in the global economy. After 40 years of corporate fealty in return for lifetime contracts guaranteed by corporate unions, as tariff protections were lifted further and the workforce was increasingly casualised, those most acutely affected by a weakening welfare regime were irregular day labourers, or what we might call ‘informal labour’.

During this period, many day labourers evacuated rented rooms (doya どや) and left the various yoseba (urban day labour market よせば, or lit. ‘meeting place’) to take up communal tent living in parks and on riverbanks, where they were increasingly victimised. With independent unions having long been rendered powerless, growing numbers of unemployed, unskilled and precarious youths (freeters フリーター) alongside older, vulnerable and homeless day labourers (these groups together comprising roughly 38 per cent of the workforce in 2015)3 found themselves not only lacking insurance or industrial protection but also in many cases basic living needs. With increasing deindustrialisation and capital flight, regular public outbursts of frustration and anger from these groups have manifested since the Osaka riots of 1992.

In this chapter, first I outline the conditions of irregular workers at nuclear power plants and the excess burden they have borne with the rise of nuclear labour in Japan since the 1970s. I then turn to post-3.11 conditions experienced by residents in radiation-contaminated areas. Contextualising these conditions within the genealogy of radiodosimetry standards, I seek to show, through personal interviews and localised responses, how those who are regularly exposed to radiation from Fukushima Daiichi are now confronting problems similar to those faced by informal nuclear labour for decades in Japan. This analysis shows how, after 40 years or more of environmental movements as discussed in Chapter Four, the struggle continues to find viable solutions to the systemic production of the intertwined problems of environmental crises and labour exploitation, and suggests how potential alternative directions for affected populations may lie in their mutual combination.

Conditions for Informal Labour Employed in Nuclear Power Stations (more…)

Swiss artist Cornelia Hesse-Honegger shows how insects can tell the true story of the impacts of ionising radiation

October 9, 2018

The woman who paints insects https://beyondnuclearinternational.org/2018/04/29/woman-who-paints-chernobyls-insects/Swiss artist, Cornelia Hesse-Honegger, finds and draws bugs deformed by Chernobyl and other nuclear accidents and exposures, By Claus-Peter Lieckfeld

 

What It’s Like for Informal Labour Employed in Nuclear Power Stations in Japan

April 2, 2018

Informal Labour, Local Citizens and the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Crisis: Responses to Neoliberal Disaster Management, ANU, Adam Broinowski, 7 Nov 17,  

Sworn to secrecy,12 after a superficial safety education drill, they are sent into highly contaminated, hot and wet labyrinthine areas.

Irregular workers’ oral contracts with tehaishi are often illegal or dangerous, and are sometimes imposed on workers through threats or use of force.

Over the past 40 years, poor monitoring and record-keeping has meant that many former nuclear workers who develop leukaemia and other illnesses have been denied government compensation due to their lawyers’ inability to prove the etiological link between their disease and employment.

Informal Labour, Local Citizens and the Tokyo Electric Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Crisis: Responses to Neoliberal Disaster Management, ANU, Adam Broinowski, 7 Nov 17,  “…

Conditions for Informal Labour Employed in Nuclear Power Stations  The phenomenon of assembling and recruiting a relatively unskilled labour pool at the cheapest rate possible is typical in nearly all of Japan’s large-scale modern industrial projects in the 20th century. As early as the late 19th century, however, non-criminal homeless men were recruited for such projects, whether forced, coerced or voluntarily from the major day-labourer (hiyatoi rōdōsha 日雇い労働者) sites (yoseba) established in Sanya (Tokyo), Kotobuki (Yokohama), Kamagasaki (Osaka) and Sasashima (Nagoya). In pre–World War II and wartime Japan, yakuza tehaishi (手配師 labour recruiters) operated forced labour camps known as takobeya (たこ部屋 octopus rooms) for Korean and Chinese labourers who had been transported to work mainly in coal mines and on construction sites.6………

The rapid build of nuclear power stations was planned in the 1960s by a consortium of major investment banks, electric utilities and construction companies and/or industry manufacturers (Mitsubishi, Tōshiba, Hitachi, Sumitomo, etc.), and was carried out in the 1970s, with increased momentum in response to the oil crisis of 1974–76. Through an intensive ‘regional development’ program of rural industrialisation from the early 1970s, politically disempowered communities were targeted as potential cheap labour as their environs were designated as sites for nuclear projects by investment capital. In a combination of regulatory capture and economic dependency, utilities moved in to provide employment opportunities to communities while the same communities steadily lost control over their resources and subsistence economies. In the process, they lost political agency as their political representatives often received corporate and state inducements for these projects. As TEPCO owns the electricity distribution system in Fukushima Prefecture, which includes hydroelectric and thermal power stations as well as nuclear, and is a major employer and investor in Fukushima Prefecture,10 it has considerable sway in the political process as well as over electricity bills.

By the early 1980s, irregular workers came to comprise nearly 90 per cent of all nuclear workers.11 As nuclear reactors grow increasingly contaminated and corroded by radiation over time, informal labour became fodder for regular maintenance, cleaning, repairing and/or venting and refuelling of these nuclear reactors to reduce exposures to permanent company employees such as scientists and engineers. As the power station must be halted during the maintenance period, this period equates to a lack of production and profitability and is kept to a bare minimum by the operators, an approach that led to a litany of safety oversights and accidents.

Although provided less training, informal nuclear workers are paid higher over a shorter employment period than regular workers, whose insurance is taken out of their wage. Sworn to secrecy,12 after a superficial safety education drill, they are sent into highly contaminated, hot and wet labyrinthine areas. Their work includes scrubbing contaminated areas, installing shields to reduce exposure for skilled workers, decontaminating and repairing pipes and tanks, welding, transporting contaminated materials and waste, washing contaminated uniforms and tools, removing filters and clearing garbage, inspecting gauges in high-level areas, dispersing chemicals over nuclear waste piles, pouring high-level liquid waste into drums and mopping up waste water. Although radioprotection regulations have been tightened in the last decade, working conditions for irregular workers have not necessarily improved and, without sufficient information about radiation danger, they can still be exposed to over 1 millisievert (mSv) of external radiation within minutes in high concentration areas and accumulate large amounts of internal radiation.13

Since 3.11, invoking the International Commission on Radiological Protection’s (ICRPs) often-used ALARA (as low as reasonably allowable) principle to justify this regulatory contingency, the state also raised nuclear workers’ limits from no more than 50 mSv per year (mSv/y) and 100 mSv/5 years to 250 mSv/y to deal with emergency conditions, and determined that there would be no follow-up health treatment for those exposed to doses below 50 mSv/y, while TEPCO decided to not record radiation levels below 2 mSv/y in the misplaced justification that the effects would be negligible. In December 2011, ‘cold shutdown’ was (erroneously) declared and the workers’ limit was returned to 100 mSv/5 years. It will likely be raised again as the government expedites decommissioning to meet its estimated completion by 2030–2050.14 Although very few regular workers’ cumulative doses exceeded 20 mSv/y in any year prior to 3.11, by June 2015 the official number rose to 6,64215 with doses of irregular nuclear workers often un(der)counted.

In a fast-track 40-year plan to decommission Fukushima Daiichi (i.e. removing the cores and dismantling the plant), as of August 2015 roughly 45,000 irregular workers (‘front-line’ workers, or ‘nuclear gypsies’) had been assembled at the J-Village Iwaki-Naraha soccer stadium before entering the sites. As well as jobs at the power stations, they work on decontamination and construction sites throughout the prefecture, which include those designated for the 2020 Olympics, a new school in Futaba (the town nearest to FDNPS), a large centre for radiation monitoring, a large research and training institute for reactor decommissioning, and a giant sea wall for tsunami prevention (see also Chapter Five). Yakuza-linked labour brokers (tehaishi/ninpu-dashi), eager to profit from the post-3.11 decommissioning budget (conservatively estimated at $150 billion), use social media and oral contracts to recruit these workers from the most vulnerable populations for ‘clean up’ work.16 In this customary cascade of diluted responsibility, their original wage and conditions are skimmed or cut away (pinhane sareta ピンハネされた) by contractors (roughly 733 companies) so that some irregular workers receive as little as 6,000 yen per day and only a very small fraction of the 10,000 yen per day in danger money promised by the Ministry of the Environment (MoE) and TEPCO.17

Irregular workers’ oral contracts with tehaishi are often illegal or dangerous, and are sometimes imposed on workers through threats or use of force.18 In addition, the day labourer may become indebted to tehaishi for housing and/or loans for lifestyle dependencies (i.e. gambling, drugs, prostitution). As products of structural discrimination, itinerant and/or irregular workers who are already socially isolated may find it difficult to build support networks, whether through marriage, family or solid friendships. Obligated within a semi-legal economy and stripped of rights and protections, each worker is pitted against the other, young and old, stronger and weaker, individual and family man, for basic survival.

Over the past 40 years, poor monitoring and record-keeping has meant that many former nuclear workers who develop leukaemia and other illnesses have been denied government compensation due to their lawyers’ inability to prove the etiological link between their disease and employment. For example, the death of Yoshida Masao (58), the Fukushima Daiichi manager who was among the ‘Fukushima 50’ who remained at the plant to manage the nuclear meltdowns in their critical phase and who developed oesophagal cancer in 2013, was not recognised by TEPCO as related to radiation exposure from Fukushima Daiichi as the cancer was deemed to have developed too quickly after the initial accident.

Irregular nuclear workers have commonly relied on permanent employees to monitor, record and calibrate their doses. Denied sufficient information about radiation exposure risks, and preferring not to jeopardise their contracts and provoke physical intimidation if they complain about their conditions, many collude with company officers (who record their accumulated doses) to camouflage and underestimate their dose rates (particularly for internal doses). This allows them to extend their time and contracts at nuclear plants before they are deemed to have reached (or exceeded) the maximum annual dose limit (50 mSv/y).19 When a nuclear worker is diagnosed with abnormalities in a routine check-up, some subcontractors may falsify nuclear workers’ passbooks.20 Despite the long lives of internalised radionuclides, it has been customary either not to measure this properly and/or to simply reset the dose record at the end of each financial year.

While protective clothing and procedures have grown more stringent for nuclear workers, especially after some workers died and fell ill from heat-related causes, irregular workers remain far less protected.22 At Fukushima Daiichi, where crews are overworked and understaffed, irregular workers often commit errors leading to cases of serious injury and large leaks of radioactive materials into the environment. This is further compounded by the lack of understanding or recognition of chronic illnesses in either permanent or irregular nuclear workers. This has sometimes led to poorly explained deaths of nuclear workers.23

In October 2015, a welder in his late 30s and father of three from Kita-Kyushu became the first worker in four years to be awarded workers’ insurance payments (medical costs and loss of income for temporary disability) while three more cases remained undecided. He was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukaemia after having accumulated 19.8 mSv/y from exposure to a radiation leak and one year’s work at Fukushima Daiichi (Reactors 3 and 4) and the Genkai nuclear plant (Kyushu) (both of which use MOX fuel).24 While compensation was recognised under nuclear workers’ compensation insurance legislation (1976), the Health Ministry maintained that a causal link between illness and employment remains to be scientifically proven. After the delayed report by TEPCO of 1,973 workers exposed to over 100 mSv/y by mid-2013, by August 2015 21,000 of the 45,000 irregular workers had been exposed to over 5 mSv/y and 9,000 workers to over 20 mSv/y.25 TEPCO and the central government would certainly be worried about a spike in compensation claims.

Without a proper health regime, the permanent damage incurred by irregular nuclear workers far outweighs the value of their cheap labour power. With their use as filters as they move to each plant, as nuclear workers grow older and sicker they become less able to commodify their labour and are unlikely to receive proper treatment and/or compensation (due to insufficient data and high radiation safety limits among other things). Although the endless production of labour willing to take on this dangerous work and the devolution of responsibility and ambiguity around radiation health effects are used to justify the continuation of these practices, if workers are knowingly placed in harmful conditions the employer is in breach of a duty of care under the Labour Standards Law. As byproducts of a discriminatory industrial labour system, these irregular nuclear workers and their families, like many elsewhere, are deprived of basic rights to health and well-being. As one labourer stated in relation to Fukushima Daiichi: ‘TEPCO is God. The main contractors are kings, and we are slaves’.26 In short, Fukushima Daiichi clearly illustrates the social reproduction, exploitation and disposability of informal labour, in the state protection of capital, corporations and their assets….http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/n2335/html/ch06.xhtml?referer=2335&page=11

Risky work: dismantling a nuclear reactor

July 24, 2017

Here’s what dismantling a nuclear reactor involves: Robots, radiation, risk  IEA says about 200 nuclear reactors around the world will be shut down over the next quarter century http://www.business-standard.com/article/international/here-s-what-dismantling-a-nuclear-reactor-involves-robots-radiation-risk-117061200298_1.html   Reuters  |  Muelheim-Kaerlich, Germany June 12, 2017 As head of the nuclear reactor, Thomas Volmar spends his days plotting how to tear down his workplace. The best way to do that, he says, is to cut out humans.

About 200 nuclear reactors around the world will be shut down over the next quarter century, mostly in Europe, according to the Energy Agency. That means a lot of work for the half a dozen companies that specialise in the massively complex and dangerous job of dismantling plants.

Those firms — including Areva, Rosatom’s Engineering Services, and Toshiba’s — are increasingly turning away from humans to do this work and instead deploying robots and other new technologies.

That is transforming an industry that until now has mainly relied on electric saws, with the most rapid advances being made in the highly technical area of dismantling a reactor’s core — the super-radioactive heart of the plant where the nuclear reactions take place.

The transformation of the sector is an engineering one, but companies are also looking to the new technology to cut time and costs in a competitive sector with slim margins.

Dismantling a plant can take decades and cost up to 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion), depending on its size and age. The cost of taking apart the plant in will be about 800 million euros, according to sources familiar with the station’s economics.

Some inroads have already been made: a programmable robot arm developed by has reduced the time it takes to dismantle some of the most contaminated components of a plant by 20-30 per cent compared with conventional cutting techniques.

For and rival Westinghouse, reactor dismantling is unlikely to make an impact on the dire financial straits they are mired in at present as it represents just a small part of their businesses, which are dominated by plant-building.

But it nonetheless represents a rare area of revenue growth; the global market for decommissioning services is expected to nearly double to $8.6 billion by 2021, from $4.8 billion last year, according to research firm MarketsandMarkets. Such growth could prove important for the two companies should they weather their current difficulties.

“We’re not talking about the kind of margins is making on its iPhone,” said Thomas Eichhorn, head of Areva’s German dismantling activities. “But it’s a business with a long-term perspective.”

When reactors were built in the 1970s, they were designed to keep radiation contained inside at all costs, with little thought given to those who might be tearing them down more than 40 years later.

First, engineers need to remove the spent nuclear fuel rods stored in reactor buildings — but only after they’ve cooled off. At this took about two years in total. Then peripheral equipment such as turbines need to be removed, a stage has begun and which can take several years.

Finally, the reactor itself needs to be taken apart and the buildings demolished, which takes about a decade. Some of the most highly contaminated components are cocooned in concrete and placed in iron containers that will be buried deep underground at some point.

Robots under water

While the more mundane tasks, including bringing down the plants’ outer walls, are left to construction groups such as Hochtief, it’s the dismantling of the reactor’s core where more advanced skills matter — and where the use of technology has advanced most in recent years.

Enter companies such as Areva, Westinghouse, Nukem Technologies, as well as GNS, owned by Germany’s four operators. They have all begun using robots and software to navigate their way into the reactor core, or pressure vessel.

“The most difficult task is the dismantling of the reactor pressure vessel, where the remaining radioactivity is highest,” said Volmar, who took charge of the RWE-owned plant two years ago. “We leave this to a specialised expert firm.”

The vessel — which can be as high as 13 metres and weigh up to 700 tonnes — is hidden deep inside the containment building that is shaped like a sphere to ensure its 30-centimetre thick steel wall is evenly strained in case of an explosion.

The 2011 Fukushima disaster and the Chernobyl accident of 1986 are imprinted in the world’s consciousness as examples of the catastrophic consequences of the leakage of radioactive material.

France’s recently won the contract to dismantle the pressure vessel internals at Vattenfall’s 806 megawatts (Mw) Brunsbuettel in Germany, which includes an option for the Swedish utility’s 1,402 MW Kruemmel site.

There, the group will for the first time use its new programmable robot arm. It hopes this will help it outstrip rivals in what is the world’s largest dismantling market following Germany’s decision to close all its last nuclear plants by 2022, in response to the Fukushima disaster.

operates under water because the liquid absorbs radiation from the vessel components — reducing the risk of leakage and contamination of the surrounding area. The chamber is flooded before its work begins.

Areva’s German unit invests about 5 per cent of its annual sales, or about 40 million euros, in research and development, including in-house innovation such as  By comparison, the world’s 1,000 largest corporate R&D spenders, on average, spent 4.2 per cent last year, according to PwC.

The robot arm technology helped beat by winning tenders to dismantle pressure vessel internals at EnBW’s Philippsburg 2 and Gundremmingen 2 blocks, industry sources familiar with the matter said.

and both declined to comment. — whose US business filed for bankruptcy in March — did not respond to repeated requests for comment. Time and money

Britain’s OC Robotics has built the LaserSnake2, a flexible 4.5-metre snake arm, which can operate in difficult spaces and uses a laser to increase cutting speeds — thus reducing the risk of atmospheric contamination. It was tested at the Sellafield nuclear site in west Cumbria last year.

This followed France’s Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), whose laser-based dismantling technology generates fewer radioactive aerosols — a key problem during cutting — than other technologies.

The complexity of the dismantling process is also giving rise to modelling software that maps out the different levels of radiation on plant parts, making it easier to calculate the most efficient sequence of dismantling – the more contaminated parts are typically dealt with first – and gives clarity over what safety containers will be needed to store various components.

GNS, which is jointly owned by E.ON, RWE, and Vattenfall, is currently helping to dismantle the German Neckarwestheim 1 and Philippsburg 1 reactors, using its software to plan the demolition.

The company also hopes to supply its software services for the dismantling of PreussenElektra’s Isar 1 reactor, which is being tendered, and aims to expand to other European countries.

“Two things matter: time and money,” said Joerg Viermann, head of sales of waste management activities at 

“The less I have to cut, the sooner I will be done and the less I will spend.”

Increased cancer risk for Japanese workers exposed to plutonium

July 24, 2017

Increase in Cancer Risk for Japanese Workers Accidentally Exposed to Plutonium http://allthingsnuclear.org/elyman/cancer-risk-for-japanese-exposed-to-plutonium#.WTxxNdgMNK8.twitter, ED LYMAN, SENIOR SCIENTIST | JUNE 9, 2017, 

 According to news reports, five workers were accidentally exposed to high levels of radiation at the Oarai nuclear research and development center in Tokai-mura, Japan on June 6th. The Japan Atomic Energy Agency, the operator of the facility, reported that five workers inhaled plutonium and americium that was released from a storage container that the workers had opened. The radioactive materials were contained in two plastic bags, but they had apparently ripped.

We wish to express our sympathy for the victims of this accident.

This incident is a reminder of the extremely hazardous nature of these materials, especially when they are inhaled, and illustrates why they require such stringent procedures when they are stored and processed.

According to the earliest reports, it was estimated that one worker had inhaled 22,000 becquerels (Bq) of plutonium-239, and 220 Bq of americium-241. (One becquerel of a radioactive substance undergoes one radioactive decay per second.) The others inhaled between 2,200 and 14,000 Bq of plutonium-239 and quantities of americium-241 similar to that of the first worker.

More recent reports have stated that the amount of plutonium inhaled by the most highly exposed worker is now estimated to be 360,000 Bq, and that the 22,000 Bq measurement in the lungs was made 10 hours after the event occurred. Apparently, the plutonium that remains in the body decreases rapidly during the first hours after exposure, as a fraction of the quantity initially inhaled is expelled through respiration. But there are large uncertainties.

The mass equivalent of 360,000 Bq of Pu-239 is about 150 micrograms. It is commonly heard that plutonium is so radiotoxic that inhaling only one microgram will cause cancer with essentially one hundred percent certainty. This is not far off the mark for certain isotopes of plutonium, like Pu-238, but Pu-239 decays more slowly, so it is less toxic per gram.  The actual level of harm also depends on a number of other factors. Estimating the health impacts of these exposures in the absence of more information is tricky, because those impacts depend on the exact composition of the radioactive materials, their chemical forms, and the sizes of the particles that were inhaled. Smaller particles become more deeply lodged in the lungs and are harder to clear by coughing. And more soluble compounds will dissolve more readily in the bloodstream and be transported from the lungs to other organs, resulting in exposure of more of the body to radiation. However, it is possible to make a rough estimate.

Using Department of Energy data, the inhalation of 360,000 Bq of Pu-239 would result in a whole-body radiation dose to an average adult over a 50-year period between 580 rem and nearly 4300 rem, depending on the solubility of the compounds inhaled. The material was most likely an oxide, which is relatively insoluble, corresponding to the lower bound of the estimate. But without further information on the material form, the best estimate would be around 1800 rem.

What is the health impact of such a dose? For isotopes such as plutonium-239 or americium-241, which emit relatively large, heavy charged particles known as alpha particles, there is a high likelihood that a dose of around 1000 rem will cause a fatal cancer. This is well below the radiation dose that the most highly exposed worker will receive over a 50-year period. This shows how costly a mistake can be when working with plutonium.

The workers are receiving chelation therapy to try to remove some plutonium from their bloodstream. However, the effectiveness of this therapy is limited at best, especially for insoluble forms, like oxides, that tend to be retained in the lungs.

The workers were exposed when they opened up an old storage can that held materials related to production of fuel from fast reactors. The plutonium facilities at Tokai-mura have been used to produce plutonium-uranium mixed-oxide (MOX) fuel for experimental test reactors, including the Joyo fast reactor, as well as the now-shutdown Monju fast reactor. Americium-241 was present as the result of the decay of the isotope plutonium-241.

I had the opportunity to tour some of these facilities about twenty years ago. MOX fuel fabrication at these facilities was primarily done in gloveboxes through manual means, and we were able to stand next to gloveboxes containing MOX pellets. The gloveboxes represented the only barrier between us and the plutonium they contained. In light of the incident this week, that is a sobering memory.

For centuries the dangers of uranium mining have been known

May 18, 2017

Native American uranium miners and the Trump budget, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  Robert Alvarez, 30 Mar 17, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  “…….The hazards of uranium mining have been known for centuries. As early as 1556, dust in the Ore Mountain (Erzgebirge) mines bordering Germany and what is now the Czech Republic was reported to have “corrosive qualities… it eats away the lungs and implants consumption in the body…” By 1879, researchers found that 75 percent of the miners in the Ore Mountains had died from lung cancer. By 1932, the Ore Mountain miners were receiving compensation for their cancers from the German government. Uranium mining was convincingly linked to lung cancer by dozens of epidemiological and animal studies by the late 1930s.

In 1942, Wilhelm C. Hueper, the founding director of the environmental cancer section of the National Cancer Institute, brought the European studies to light in the United States—concluding that radon gas was responsible for half of the deaths of European miners after 10 to 20 years of exposure. By this time, uranium had become a key element for the making of the first atomic weapons. Hueper’s superiors blocked him from further publication and discussion in this area; they told him that dissemination of such information was “not in the public interest.”

In fact, withholding information about workplace hazards was deeply embedded in the bureaucratic culture of the early nuclear weapons program. In 1994, the Energy Department made a previously secret document, written in the late 1940s, public. It crystallized the long-held rationale for keeping nuclear workers in the dark: “We can see the possibility of a shattering effect on the morale of the employees if they become aware that there was substantial reason to question the standards of safety under which they are working. In the hands of labor unions, the results of this study would add substance to demands for extra-hazardous pay.”

Kee Begay worked in the mines for 29 years and was dying of lung cancer when I first met him. “The mines were poor and not fit for human beings,” he told me. Begay also lost a son to cancer. “He was one of many children that used to play on the uranium piles during those years. We had a lot of uranium piles near our homes—just about 50 or 100 feet away or so. Can you imagine? Kids go out and play on those piles.”

In 1957, the US Public Health Service reported that the average radiation lung dose to Indian miners was 21 times higher than was allowed in the Atomic Energy Commission’s nuclear weapons plants. In 1962, the Public Health Service revealed that radon exposure in the mines was statistically linked to lung cancer among US miners—at a rate comparable to what Heuper had warned about 20 years earlier.

Lung disease associated with radon exposure was “totally avoidable,” former chief health scientist for the AEC Merrill Eisenbud said in 1979. “The Atomic Energy Commission … is uniquely responsible for the death of many men who developed lung cancer as a result of the failure of the mine operators, who must also bear the blame, because they too had the information, and the Government should not have had to club them into ventilating their mines………..”http://thebulletin.org/native-american-uranium-miners-and-trump-budget10657?platform=hootsuite

Confirmed – low dose radiation increases cancer risk- World Health Organisation

February 1, 2017

 http://fukushimawatch.com/2015-11-05-multiple-studies-confirm-exposure-to-low-levels-of-radiation-can-cause-cancer.html The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed what Fukushima Watch has been reporting for quite some time now — namely, that exposure to low doses of radiation overtime increases the risk of cancer.

The results of the study, published in the prestigious British Medical Journal (BMI), provide “direct evidence about cancer risks after protracted exposures to low-dose ionizing radiation,” said the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the cancer agency of the World Health Organization.

The findings demonstrate “a significant association between increasing radiation dose and risk of all solid cancers,” the study’s co-author, Dr. Ausrele Kesminiene, told sources.

“No matter whether people are exposed to protracted low doses or to high and acute doses, the observed association between dose and solid cancer risk is similar per unit of radiation dose,” he added.

Nuclear workers around globe at heightened cancer risk

The study evaluated approximately 300,000 nuclear workers in Britain, France and the United States between 1943 and 2005. The average dose to the colon of workers was 21 mGy, a derived unit of ionizing radiation dose in the International System of Units.

Dose to the colon is often used in radiation studies. It allows the results to be compared to previous radiation studies, like atomic bomb survivors, from which most knowledge about the link between cancer and radiation is founded.

Results of the study showed the risk of death from solid cancer was modest and increased by nearly five percent per 100 mGy. Among all the participants, approximately 1 out of 100 died from cancer which originated from radiation exposure in the workplace. Among participants who were exposed to 5 mGy of radiation dose in the workplace, an estimated 2.4 out of 100 people died from radiation exposure.

The findings of the study add further evidence to the causal connection between solid cancer and exposure to low radiation levels. The average lifespan of the participants in the study was 58 years, an age at which the incidence of many diseases is on the rise.

Since the level of doses received by nuclear workers is comparable to those received by patients repeatedly exposed to CT scans or other radiology procedures, IARC researcher Dr. Isabelle Thierry-Chef said the findings are important not only for the protection of workers in the nuclear industry, but for medical staff and the general population, as well.

“This stresses the importance of striking a balance between the risks and the benefits of such medical imaging procedures,” she added.

Results of study cross verified by meta-analysis   This isn’t the first time exposure to low levels of radiation was shown to have an adverse effect on health. Even the lowest levels of radiation are harmful to life, according to a 2012 meta-analysis published in the Philosophical Society’s journal, Biological Reviews.

The meta-analysis included 46 peer-reviewed studies published in the last 40 years. Both plants and animals were reviewed in the study, with the majority being humans. The researchers found that low levels of background radiation had a significant negative impact on DNA and several levels of health.

What is ironic is that this study was published about a year and a half after the Fukushima disaster. A tsunami bombarded the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, which released a plume of radiation into the environment. The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the company in charge of the site, claims radiation hasn’t had an adverse effect in nearby communities despite overwhelmingly massive evidence to the contrary.

To make matters worse, radiation from the Fukushima disaster is now beginning to bombard the West Coast. Although radiation has been diluted by the sea, it will remain in the environment for decades. And as the results of these studies have shown, continuous exposure to modest amounts of radiation would have a noxious accumulative effect overtime.

The lesson to be learned? Claims that “a little radiation never hurt anyone” should be taken with a grain of salt.

Sources:

IARC.Fr/En

OnlineLibrary.Wiley.com