300 articles and commentaries that try to convince readers that the answer to this question must be yes. Dismantle all bombs and reactors before the centennial of the Trinity Nuclear Bomb Test on July 16, 1945. Sooner would be better, but since the human race loves centennials, this is one to put in your calendar.
650 Chemical and Rad-Waste Dumping Expeditions off the Northeast US Coast, 1946-1958
obscure find from the pages of Readers
Digest and the Saturday Evening Post
is a curiously open and honest report from 1958 on the dumping of radioactive waste
at sea in the US Northeast. It appeared at the emergence of widespread
environmental consciousness, and the dumping was not yet illegal or banned by international
treaties. In this article, the reporter writes nonchalantly on what would, in a
few years, be seen as an outrageous crime against nature. He seems to have
written it without fear of government officials or editors who would have
sensed the topic was too hot to handle. The contractor interviewed in the
report, the person responsible for hauling the nuclear waste, also seemed
unconcerned about any negative consequences that could come from the public
becoming aware of his activities. Today he would be very aware of the
non-disclosure clause in his contract.
there were some officials in the Atomic Energy Commission who kept a closer eye
on left wing radicals and didn’t suspect Readers
Digest would give the game away. There must have been some sensitivity about
letting such information get out to the public, but this story seems to have
got out before security was tightened and public vigilance was aroused. Thus
this unusual report from 1958 provides a rare glimpse into the candid thoughts
of people who earned their living in the nuclear industry. Soon after this time
they became aware of the need to say as little as possible.
report also offers some insight into just how well they understood the problem
even back then. For example, the journalist learned of the problems of latent
heat in radioactive waste, which could cause underground fires and leaks into
the environment, and the other problem of corrosion of containment vessels. These
problems have not been solved in the last seventy years, but contemporary media
reports on nuclear waste plans usually fail to mention them. The experts
interviewed on the topic don’t offer this information, and the journalists don’t
know enough about the issue to ask the right questions. It is ironic that one
has to go back to Readers Digest of
1958 to find the frank, unguarded comments of insiders who were still oblivious
to the risks of public disclosure.
Evening Post, January 25, 1958, Vol. 230 Issue 30, p. 36
the Saturday Evening Post
John Kobler Readers Digest, April 1958
Focuses on the
job of skipper George Perry to tow and dispose toxic wastes that were collected
from atomic research centers and industrial plants in the U.S. Use by his crew
of photographic film to measure the amount of radiation they may have been
exposed too; Efforts of Perry to administer the disposal of a batch of cans of
zirconium which have the tendency to explode; Disagreeable experience of Perry
with metallic sodium.
holds one of the world’s newest, riskiest jobs: getting rid of radioactive
waste that is almost too hot to handle.
dawn broke over Boston harbor one day last fall the tug boat Irene-Mae waddled
out into the Atlantic on a strange mission. Forward of her wheel house rose a
tall crane and at the end of her tow line rose a huge scow. Her destination lay
27 miles due northeast, marked on the coast and geodetic navigation charts
“foul area explosives.” Her owner and captain, George Perry, had delayed
departure two days until the weather bureau forecast clear skies and calm seas,
for her cargo demanded smooth passage. Aboard the scow were hundreds of tons of
reinforced concrete block, each encasing a steel drum full of radioactive
waste. Collected from atomic research centers and atomic energy using industry
plants all over the United States, this toxic rubbish included decaying
radioisotopes, contaminated tools and clothing, and partly depleted fissionable
the dowdy craft reached its destination, Perry, a bull-lung, 51 year old salt,
slowed the engines and Jim Nuss, his brother-in-law and foreman, drew the scow
closer. Joe Cronin, a twenty-one-year old hand, boarded her and using a
forklift truck, jettisoned the concrete blocks over the side.
depth at that spot, which US army engineers designated as a dumping ground,
averages 250 feet, and the mud on the bottom is so thick that concrete will not
shatter on landing. The mud also provides an additional sealer against
radiation. By noon the last block had been jettisoned and the tug boat headed
back to Boston.
was the Irene-Mae’s 650th such expedition since 1946, when Perry, then a marine
salvage operator, and John Santangelo, a young safety technician, founded Cross
Roads Marine disposal. Named after operation Cross Road, the Bikini test
explosion, this is the only private outfit on the east coast licensed by the US
Atomic Energy Commission to unload radioactive garbage at sea. There are three
west coast civilian agencies which occasionally sink some in the Pacific.
present Cross Roads has almost 70 steady customers. The firm grossed about a
hundred thousand dollars in 1957, and the prospects for 1958 look so bright
that Perry is seeking a second boat and more scows.
radioactive waste, the captain and his hearties fetch and carry a variety of
chemical leftovers, any of which could blast them into eternity. Perry still
winces at the memory of a barrel of overage metallic sodium that a Cambridge
Lab wanted to be rid of. The Lab was in a basement. While his truck waited, the
captain and Santangello rolled the barrel onto an elevator. As the elevator
started up, the compound emitted a hissing sound. “The ascent lasted less than
a minute,” Santangello relays, “but to me it was a century. I prayed in English
their teeth, they dragged the barrel to the roadway. The hissing grew louder.
Santangello yelled a warning and backed off. The captain hesitated, calculating
that the chances of getting the barrel to an open field. Santangello yelled
again and Perry skedaddled. His plight was not premature. The barrel burst with
a bang that shattered windows a block away.
curious enterprise owes its beginning to one of the most formidable problems of
the nuclear era. If atomic projects are to progress, storage will have to be found
for mountains of tainted litter. A recent report by the AEC says: “Disposal
will be a factor in determining the extent of the use of power reactors.” Of
the methods adapted so far, none offers more than a stop gap solution, and all
are expensive. At Oak Ridge, Tennessee, pits dug in the earth receive the less
dangerous waste. The hottest waste, much of it liquid, whose radioactivity may
last for eons, goes into underground, steel lined concrete tanks. “But we are
merely sweeping the problem under the carpet,” says an AEC engineer. “The
radioactivity is sure to outlive the tanks.”
under study is the feasibility of pumping liquid nuclear waste down abandoned
oil wells or mines thousands of feet below the water table. The sites must be
such that the liquids must not pollute natural resources. It must also be
ascertained whether by their heat they could boil up a radioactive geyser.
The ocean floor seems a comparatively secure suppository. Yet its use raises
posers to which the experts have no definitive answers.
steel and concrete, seepages of radiation may occur. If unlimited amounts are
dumped in the same spots, will they build up noxious rays, saturating marine
life and turning one of man’s cheap sources of food into poison. Can the containers
resist erosion until all radioactivity has declined? These are the questions
the AEC is continuously pondering. No imminent peril threatened, however, for
analysis of specimens of foul area water has thus far shown no significant
chance led Perry into his present business. One of 14 children of a Brookline,
Massachusetts, carpenter, he ended his formal education after 3 years at
Northeastern University because his father needed his help. In 1929, he set up
his own building contractor firm. While building a wharf he accidently dropped
his tool in 20 feet of water, and to recover them he rented a divers suit. What
he saw, sloughing around the river bed, so bemused him that he took up deep sea
diving for the sport. His skill at it proved valuable to the coast guard, which
he served as a Chief Boatswain during the war. Upon his discharge Perry
organized Atlantic Marine Salvage Inc. It still functions as a minor adjunct to
Crossroads. From the army he bought the Irene-Mae, a 65 foot former mine
morning in 1945 Perry was repainting his vessel when John Santangello, a tall
intense youth, turned up on the wharf. Though only 20, he held a responsible
position in a nuclear physics laboratory. The accumulation of radioactive
debris there was growing critical. Two or three local boatmen had made the run
to the foul area but were not eager to repeat it. The coastguard told
Santangello, “Ask Perry. He will tackle anything.”
divulging the nature of the unwanted material, Santangello asked the captain if
he cared to haul 5 tons. “It was nice weather for a boat ride,” Perry recalled,
“so I figured what the hell.” Santangello went along. Toiling side by side,
they became fast friends.
the story how Canada disposes of her atomic waste, see “Fighting the Wild Atoms
At Chalk River,” Readers Digest March 1955*
here non-commercially with intent of fair use for historical research, public
education and public right to know.