“From 1977 to 1981, Building 4028 was used to conduct research on the behavior of molten uranium, resulting in radiological impacts to the building,” the report continued. “Operations were terminated in 1984, and the building remained inactive until 1988 when cleanout and decontamination was conducted.”
The California Department of Health Services, now the Department of Public Health, said the site was cleared for unrestricted use in December 1995. DOE released the building without restrictions in April 1997 followed by the EPA confirming DOE’s results in December 2002. With the reactor building demolished and gone, the bare site got two more all-clear confirmations in November 2006 and February 2008.
Perfect for a park, right?
So would Building 4023, which used to be called the Liquid Metals Component Test Building and the Corrosion Test Loop. In 1976, nuclear engineers tested activated steel Experimental Boilers Reactor fuel cladding in a small test loop of sodium to see how fast it could make the sodium radioactive.
The building “served as a development and demonstration test facility in support of the Rocky Flats Plutonium Recovery Project in 1987″ according to a site report and “as a support facility for the Transuranic Management by Pyropartitioning – Separation operations.”
Building 4023 was demolished in 1999 but the hot stuff remains. The EPA report found nickel-59 at 69 times background. With a half life of 75,000 years, nickel-59 is “the isotope of most concern at [DOE] environmental management sites such as Hanford,” according to the Argonne National Laboratory. Nickel-59, a beta and gamma emitter, is thought to be carcinogenic if inhaled.
These are just two examples of deadly radionuclides at high levels at Area IV. Most of the radiation over background at the site will be left in place if the EPA and DTSC decision to unilaterally abandon the AOCs is allowed. It appears to be the culmination of a plan hatched with the misimpression that the majority of the residents and their advocates are going to sit back and watch a multi-national polluter and its allies cow the community into silence.
“So we’re now in a situation where $40 million was wasted in several years,” Hirsch said via telephone at the December 5 DTSC meeting. “They determined background, they found where it exceeds it. You’re throwing that all out saying we’ll wait several years saying we’ll come up with new look-up tables that are much higher, that are not the background values, violating the AOC and by your own admission will leave in place a fair amount of soil that EPA has determined is above background. DOE, you are now placed in a position that if you go along with this you’re going to have wasted all of that money and time.
“The money that has been appropriated has now been misused and [DOE] now can’t do an [Environmental Impact Statement], you can’t get cleanup that was supposed to have been handled by EPA, a look-up table and a list of things over [background] so you could start preparing for your cleanup. And now it’s all out the window and I just think that it is absolutely outrageous and, frankly, a violation of the stimulus grant. The people who have waited for three years for you to come up with the study, and have depended upon this AOC to cleanup have now been stabbed in the back. I think it is shameful. It will not be allowed to stand. I frankly think that anyone who has anything to do with it is conducting a grossly, as I said, an unethical act. We will resist it.”
Faced with a community incensed by EPA chucking out its own background standards, the EPA held its own meeting December 12 at the Grande Vista in Simi Valley. This time DTSC tagged along with the federal agency, toxic twins telling tall tales.
Television crews swarmed the hotel lobby looking for concerned folks to interview. They found no shortage of community members as well as a squad of active astroturfers doing Boeing’s bidding.
Amazingly, but not surprisingly because of the monies probably involved, Makeover Earth’s Gary Polakovic showed up even as his Boeing meltdown makeover plan had been exposed in the Daily News and EnviroReporter.com. It appears that Polakovic had read the exposé because his boast that he founded the Society of Environmental Journalists and had led SEJ has vanished from his LinkedIn page. His claim that he pioneered environmental journalism in California, though, remained intact.
Polakovic waited until Dan Hirsch and longtime community members concluded a pre-meeting press conference about the high radiation hits in the final EPA’s Area IV radiation report.
This reporter watched as Polakovic, mid-fifties with tufts of sandy hair, approached Hirsch. Startled, Hirsch faced the former Los Angeles Times reporter, who proclaimed that when he covered the Rocketdyne issue as a journalist, he was fair and reported both sides.
“Yes, I know,” Hirsch said. “That’s what makes what you are doing now so shameful.”
Polakovic then repeated himself, giving this reporter the impression that what he meant was that since he had been an even-handed journalist back in the day, he should be cut some slack for greenwashing the SSFL contamination now on Boeing’s nickel.
Polakovic’s meltdown makeover plan also made it clear that Boeing would need to make use of “third parties who endorse Boeing’s vision for open space” and “grow their stature” so that they could help “blunt allegations of greenwashing.” It was clear just whose stature he’d been trying to grow when local activist John Luker walked in the lobby and greeted Polakovic like a long lost friend.
After a few words between the pair, Luker was working the television crews and ended up caging CBS Channel 2 News into interviewing him. Later that night, Luker appeared in TV reporter Dave Bryan’s news story.
“This will be the most thorough cleanup in the industrial site ever [sic] anywhere on the face of the Earth,” Luker said to Bryan. “There is so much political pressure on this and I really wish we could clean it up to background levels but we’d all be living in tents.”
While the comment may seem supercilious, it aimed to create doubt and mock cleaning up to background. Polakovic may have thus earned his thirty pieces of silver from Boeing, this time pioneering in earnest the metamorphosis from professional journalist to paid propagandist for polluters.
After interviewing community members and activists, the cameras rolled into the big EPA event. The meeting mirrored the December 5 DTSC show, where supposed experts tried to convince the audience that while they could detect background levels of radiation and establish a baseline over which remediation is required, they couldn’t guarantee that DTSC could. Therefore, according to this twisted logic, it was necessary to toss the background numbers and come up with an incomprehensible formula that would result in vastly higher cleanup levels.
The only difference, however, was the EPA consumed $41.5 million to come up with none of the requirements they were charged with: determining background and mapping out where was the contaminated soil and groundwater.
“Why didn’t we provide look-up values?” said EPA’s Andrew Bain in response to Rocketdyne Cleanup Coalition member Marie Mason’s question. “We thought that would be irresponsible.”
“But that’s not what the AOCs say,” Mason responded. “I don’t get why you get to change it.”
“We provided recommendations to the state,” Bain said. “We share the benefit of all the research we did and provide them with the cookbook to be able to reproduce these samples when they get there. But we don’t have a crystal ball to say they are absolutely going to hit it. There are variables and things to consider and that’s the responsible thing to do.”
“I’m sorry but that’s like dropping the ball,” said Mason. “Now it’s up to somebody else to determine. The whole point of us fighting for years to have EPA come on board was because you’re the radiation people. So now you have just shuffled it along. I’m sorry but after 23 years, I’m not happy with your ‘it’s the labs’ fault.’”
This reporter asked Bain the same thing I asked Dempsey December 5 at the DTSC meeting. “When did you realize you weren’t going to fulfill the objective of your investigation?”
“Actually we did fulfill the objectives of our investigations,” Bain blithely said. “We characterized the site and what we’ve stated in our presentation is that we certainly have learned from this process and we’ve worked with the laboratories to push them as hard as we possibly could. This is really pushing the boundaries of science to be able to measure down to such low levels, moreover, then to take that measurement and try to reproduce that using a couple of labs. One of our recommendations very clearly to the State is use one lab. We had problems being able to get the results from the labs and be able to turn that around and be able to finish what we started but what we realized was we needed to account for the differences between the labs and, ultimately, that was addressed and we worked very closely with the State to rectify that issue and we feel good about it.”