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Radioactive Daughter

Thoughts on EEOICPA and America's history of atomic weapons


Congress Proposes Putting DOE in Charge of Low-Dose Radiation Studies--What Could Go Wrong???

So Congress wants to fund Department of Energy (DOE) to conduct studies on low dose radiation?  How cute it that?

Actually, it is a terrible idea which was tried in the past with devastating results to the workers.

1.    What agency ran/runs the national laboratories where workers were/are exposed to radiation? 

o   Department of Energy

2.    What agency must meet budgetary constraints to run the national laboratories?

o   Department of Energy

3.    What agency did Congress find, "Since the inception of the nuclear weapons program and for several decades afterwards, a large number of nuclear weapons workers at sites of the Department of Energy and at sites of vendors who supplied the Cold War effort were put at risk without their knowledge and consent for reasons that, documents reveal, were driven by fears of adverse publicity, liability, and employee demands for hazardous duty pay".

o   Department of Energy

So now Congress thinks that putting the agency responsible for contaminating the workers should be in charge of deciding what the limits of safe radiation are?  Even today when politicians have problems recognizing conflicts of interest, as well as facts, this idea is patently ridiculous.  Plus it was already tried--and failed spectacularly.

In 1964 Dr. Thomas Mancuso was given a contract by the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC), an earlier itineration of the DOE, to study the health and mortality of workers from the US nuclear weapons plants.  At the time, Dr. Mancuso was well respected as one of the leading researchers in the US.  Dr. Alice M. Stewart and Dr. George W. Kneale worked with him. The study was known as the Health and Mortality Study and the results are still used today.  The data are available at DOE Comprehensive Epidemiologic Data Resource. 

The AEC motives for funding this study were not pure.  According to a November 8, 1967 letter from B. MacMahon to Leonard Sagan at the AEC, "much of the motivation for starting this study arose from the 'political' need for assurance that AEC employees are not suffering harmful effects."  In other words, AEC wanted to prove that radiation was not harming the workers and expected the study to show this.

In 1973 the AEC officer overseeing the Mancuso studies wrote "unless an immediate replacement (for Mancuso) is found, a public charge may be made that the AEC is stopping the program out of fear that positive findings will emerge".  When this person left the AEC, he took over the study for AEC contractor Battelle at Pacific Northwest Laboratories.  So the man who later took over the studies wanted Mancuso gone because it was looking like Mancuso was finding evidence that radiation from the labs was harming the workers. I wonder what his conclusions were?

In 1977 the AEC terminated the contract of Dr. Mancuso because he would not back the AEC position that the radiation was NOT harming the workers.  Instead Mancuso stood by the results of excess cancer deaths among Hanford workers that his studies and studies by Washington State Department of Social and Health Service had found.  AEC wanted to stop his study because he was finding the opposite results that they wanted him to find and he would not lie and agree with their desired conclusions.

Also in 1977 Mancuso, Stewart and Kneale published their study, Study of the lifetime health and mortality experience of employees of ERDA contractors.  (ERDA was the name of the agency between AEC and DOE.)  This study showed a definite relationship between low level ionizing radiation and the development of cancer.

The DOE was not amused.  They launched an all-out attack on the research because they did not like what the study had uncovered--that workers WERE being harmed by the work in the nuclear weapons industry.

In 1980 the Federal Interagency Task Force on Ionizing Radiation found that DOE had a "virtual monopoly on federal radiation health effects as well as a potential conflict of interest" since they were doing nuclear weapons work and supposed to be protecting the workers' health.  After this report, Joseph Califano, Secretary of Department of Health, Education and Welfare recommended that DOE not be allowed to do any further research into radiation health effects research.

This did not stop DOE from trying to combat the findings that working in the nuclear weapons industry was dangerous and discredit the work Mancuso, Stewart and Kneale had done.

DOE continued to misinterpret data about the harm being done to workers. 

In 1982 DOE misinterpreted a Rocky Flats study to hide an excessive death rate caused by brain tumors. 

In 1983 DOE tried to hide that Savannah River workers had a higher than normal rate of leukemia. 

In 1984, in contradiction to the evidence, Oak Ridge claimed that health studies showed it was safer to work at the plant than to stay home, although the studies showed the opposite was true.

My father was one of the many workers who died due to his work on the national nuclear weapons program so I take the threat of harming these workers personally.  I have long felt that when you give an agency the responsibility of producing something within a certain budget AND protecting the workers the workers will always be the ones to suffer. I am in horror of Congress allowing this history to repeat itself.  The foxes need to be kept far away from this particular henhouse.  Any studies done need to be done by independent agencies.

I used two main documents for the above facts. Both these are worth reading by anyone considering allowing DOE to do low-dose radiation research.

The Risks of Making Nuclear Weapons by Robert Alvarez, Senior Scholar, Institute for Policy Studies

Early Health Problems of The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Industry and Their Implications for Today



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