Just weeks ago, the U.S. government announced that it would "right
the wrongs of the past" by unveiling plans to pay more than $400 million in
compensation to thousands of ailing workers who were exposed to radiation while building
the countrys nuclear arsenal.
For many reasons, this is good news. Righting past wrongs is good
practice, good karma, good juju, and good for the soul as well as the material world. It
is an official gesture that every responsible, thinking citizen should support, encourage,
..and carefully watch. For it is only good news if it is the first step in a
very long journey to governmental, industrial andsince governments and industries
are neither faceless nor mechanisticpersonal accountability for the horrors
they have unleashed upon the citizenry, the environment and the wildlife of the world.
For more than 50 years the United States government and the nuclear
industry (which works for which is a question that has not been publicly debated nearly
enough) irresponsibly and knowingly exposed tens (hundreds?) of thousands (millions?) of
American citizens to radiation, maybe many more.
These included other people than workers in the nuclear industry. Soldiers
were marched through ground zero minutes after above ground atomic bomb tests in Nevada in
the 1950s. Hospital patients were unknowingly injected with radiation to see what would
happen. Private citizens all over America, particularly the "downwinders" of
Utah and Idaho, were exposed to radiation fallout from those same bombs. And on and on and
For years the scientists who work for the U.S. government downplayed the
dangers of radiation by, among other strategies, terms like "acceptable levels of
radiation." It is a disingenuous term of nonsense. John Gofman, Professor of
Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California at Berkeley, co-discoverer of
uranium-232 and uranium-233, founder and former Director of the Lawrence Livermore
biomedical program, and an outspoken and knowledgeable critic of the Atomic Energy
Commission and the Department of Energy, says, "
ionizing radiation is not like
a poison out of a bottle where you can dilute it and dilute it. The lowest dose of
ionizing radiation is one nuclear track through one cell. You cant have a fraction
of a dose of that sort. Either a track goes through the nucleus and affects it, or it
"So I said, What evidence do we have concerning one, or two or
three or four or six or 10 tracks? And I came up with nine studies of cancer being
produced where were dealing with up to maybe eight or 10 tracks per cell. Four
involved breast cancer.
"With those studies, as far as Im concerned, its not a
question of We dont know. The DOE has never refuted this evidence. They
just ignore it, because its inconvenient. We can now say, there cannot be a safe
dose of radiation. There is no safe threshold. If the truth is known, then any permitted
radiation is a permit to commit murder."
If this initial gesture to "right the wrongs of the past" is not
a first step, but, rather, an attempt at closing a shameful chapter in this countrys
history, then the $400 million is only blood money, a salve for bad conscience, a bribe
for including evil at the table of human decency, a payoff to try covering over all the
malignant horrors the U.S. government and nuclear industry have inflicted upon the land
and its creatures since the beginning of the atomic era.
It must not be forgotten that only in January of this year, after decades
of denial, obfuscation, bogus science and outright lies, did the U.S. government confirm
that nuclear weapons workers exposed to radiation and chemicals experienced
higher-than-expected cancer rates. Many honest scientists, nuclear cancer victims,
thoughtful people with common sense, as well as dishonest scientists, nuclear industry
administrators and thoughtful people with an agenda in government, had known this for
decades. But only after years of lawsuits brought against the government by cancer
victims, years of nuclear workers medical records mysteriously vanishing, years of a
whistle-blower here and there, years of uncovering more and more evidence of the
correlation between radiation exposure and cancer, years of lobbying, years of death and
sickness and indescribable suffering and anguish did this crack of a gesture appear in the
governments wall of silence, stonewalling and denial.
Gofman has said of science in government work, "Its really a
rather common story. Theres just no room for scientific truth in government-funded
work when the truth in any way goes against a program that the governmentor any of
its special interestswants to carry through. And I believe its an outrage that
were taxed to support dishonest scientists
or to finance science thats
being paid to provide a facade.
"It is to be hoped that this first crack in the nuclear facade will
widen and bring the entire edifice down."
Vice President Al Gore said of this initial step to "right the wrongs
of the past" that compensation cannot undo the suffering of injured workers, but that
"today this administration begins the process of compensating workers for their
suffering and becoming an advocate for all contract workers no matter where they
It is to be hoped that Gore is correct and that "the process of
compensating workers" is only the first step.
If it is not the first step but only a salve and a bribe, the suffering at
the table of human decency has just begun and the permits to commit murder will continue
to be issued.