Wednesday, December 17, 2008

We need whistleblowers

It's disheartening to see factories that churn out the most hellacious waste in the world plop down into Idaho lava fields, set up high-paying jobs, and then become integrated into the area via churches, spirited Little League ball teams and 4-H clubs. When something dreadful occurs at a nuclear site, often our culture covers it up.

Whistleblowers are terrified of repercussions, being shunned by society and worse. Few want to be known as killing the goose with the golden eggs, even if they are speckled with plutonium. Three years ago, right before Christmas, there was a news splash at the Los Alamos, N.M., laboratory. Five workers were exposed to the highly carcinogenic PU-239. It took several days before this information came out to the public. Then it was through the Project on Government Oversight that co-workers coughed this up to, rather than their own trusted government and contractor.

Ironically, of all the of jobs I've labored on, the rules insisted that every accident, no matter how small, be reported—even if it's a cut from a piece of paper as tiny and insignificant as America's Constitution.

It's not right that our best men juggling the most dangerous element under the sun should be skittish about reporting disasters that hold far-reaching ramifications. After all, would not the open reporting of near catastrophes aid in preventing similar events? The same season as the 2005 Los Alamos incident, some Department of Energy spokespersons drove over to Sun Valley, claiming they care about the environment and their grandchildren. If this is true, then they should invite aspiring scientists to join a contest designing foolproof, double-blind whistleblower systems. A Rube Goldberg category could be included to generate interest among innovative high schoolers who (for the past eight years) have had more open dialogues than the highest levels of our own government.

Unlike the exposed workers whose health benefits will likely be terminated once they are let go, the winner could receive a lifetime POGO magazine subscription.

Jim Banholzer


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