- SEATTLE'S JUDITH JURJI says she thinks the atomic bomb made her
Specifically, Jurji says she thinks radioactive
emissions from Hanford's
plutonium-producing nuclear reactors fell onto Eastern Washington
consumed by dairy cows and then concentrated in milk.
Jurji's parents grew up on dairy farms before
her father went to work at
Hanford nuclear reservation as a construction supervisor. They
drank a lot of
milk. And six of 10 family members have had thyroid disease.
The thyroid tends to concentrate iodine-131 an
isotope that can cause many
problems, including, in Jurji's case, the inability to have
"I feel like my life has been very, very
damaged," said Jurji,
50, who directs the Hanford Downwinder's Coalition. "I feel
betrayed because my dad worked there and we were told it was so
Her belief that she was harmed by radioactive
fallout is one shared by
3,000 members of the Downwinder's Coalition, mostly Eastern
who lived downwind from Hanford's plutonium plants that emitted
into the atmosphere, primarily in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
live in states such as Utah and Nevada, downwind from atmospheric
Scientists initially minimized the health threat
of fallout and pollution.
While medical boards have steadily reduced recommended low-level
exposure levels, there is no consensus today on the consequences
of Cold War-era
The Committee of International Physicians for
the Prevention of Nuclear War
has estimated atmospheric fallout from weapons testing has caused
additional cancer deaths.
At the other extreme, bomb physicist Edward
Teller was asked how many
deaths can be attributed to fallout and replied,
"Nobody," arguing that
concentrations were not severe enough to affect health. Teller is
nuclear waste is a serious health threat. A third of the
Department of Energy's
budget goes to cleanup and, "probably the number (of lives)
saved thereby is
Trying to straddle these extremes are
policymakers. In the clearest
admission of responsibility to date, Congress has passed
people who lived downwind from the atmospheric testing in Nevada
from 1951 to 1963
to file for up to $50,000 compensation from the federal government
if they develop
The admission of responsibility may be more
important to claimants than the
money, which can be rapidly consumed by medical treatment.
"I just want everything out in the
open," Jurji said of her aims.
"We want the government to acknowledge what was done. We want
admit they don't know everything, and that they need to do
research on chronic
Cancer Research Center started a study in 1988 trying to
determine whether there was an increase in thyroid disease
downwind from Hanford,
and, if so, whether it can be linked to the pattern of emissions.
But tracing the
path of fallout primarily between 1945 and 1951 and comparing it
health problems is difficult. The study is not expected to be
Hanford downwinders are preparing a civil
lawsuit against site contractors
to seek compensation, which lawyers have tentatively suggested
could be in the
range of $500 million to $1 billion. The federal government has
from being sued but would likely cover payments if a judgment is
made against its
If the Fred Hutchinson study supports the fears,
victims will also likely
press Congress for health screening or other medical aid.
The downwinders' worries are part of the
bomb-shadowed legacy of nuclear
"If we had not used nuclear energy for
weapons," said Department
of Energy geologist John Peck, "it would be more widely used
purposes right now. But using it as a bomb first developed a
Military use applied a shroud of sometimes
unnecessary secrecy and created
a climate of public distrust that Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary
has been trying
to lift the past two years.
She is fighting a history in which the federal
experiments with radioactive isotopes on prisoners, the
mentally disabled or
others who were arguably not well-informed enough to give
Inmates at Walla Walla State Penitentiary, for example, were
radiation of their testicles by Seattle-based researchers.
The I-131 air emissions are only a tiny fraction
of what Hanford released
into the soil and Columbia River. The nuclear reservation dumped
an estimated half
billion curies of radiation into the air, water and earth and
spilled 440 billion
gallons of chemical and radioactive liquid waste into the desert
soil. Trenches at
Hanford are still receiving low-level radioactive waste and
from decommissioned submarines. The result is a cleanup problem
that could cost
more than $100 billion and last another 50 years.
Scientists warned of the dangers of
nuclear-defense-waste practices as
early as 1948 and wrote a waste plan for Hanford as early as 1958.
file for Hanford waste plans grew 4 feet thick, but the plans were
implemented. Production seemed more important.
"Always the budget would be promised, and
deferred," said Michele
Gerber, a Hanford historian. "The nation was pushing the
mission at us.
Hanford never once asked for more weapons work. In the grand
tradition of the
frontier, they sent the dirty jobs out West."
The haste of one generation has become the debt
of a future one.
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