4. Nuclear Secrecy and Ecology

Prof: We’re going to talk today about managing technological dangers And this case history on nuclear weapons is really a good one, because it provides insight into a whole array of technological hazards and dangers that we’ll pick up in different cases as we move through the term This one is quite distinctive, and it’ll give us a chance to explore a number of questions in this lecture, particularly about different strategies, like how you might decide to manage dangers in different ways One typical approach that was used in this history was the reliance on expertise So technical experts had the responsibility not just to design the new weapons, to think about the other kind of public interest applications, especially nuclear energy in the 1950s, but also to worry about what would happen to the bombs and material once it was exploded So the idea that you would concentrate expertise in an organization such as the Atomic Energy Commission at the same time that you would give them complete authority over the technology so that the statute that was passed in 1946 that created the AEC was really remarkable in that it concentrated authority, it concentrated knowledge, it gave the AEC the intellectual property rights so that no corporation was allowed to understand or work on the technology unless they had received specific security clearances So this overlap of unlimited resources, unlimited expertise, and complete authority is really remarkable I can’t imagine a concentration of more power in one organization Another critical approach to managing technological hazards is the control of experimentation So how would you try it out? And there are many products in the marketplace, many chemicals, many other kinds of technologies for burning fuels, coal, gasoline, that are released in the markets without adequate testing So here’s one that was released at grand scale and the public really had no understanding of what the government was doing because of the classified nature of the projects So they amassed expertise in the form of academic experts to try to figure out not only what the destructive power of the different weapons would be but also what happened to them Public education is another approach, and we’ll see in a film clip in a few moments, if our audio and video work correctly, we’ll see the Atomic Energy Commission’s public service announcements, designed to maintain and build public support So obviously, the public was well aware that these nuclear explosions were going on I mean, walking to the top of casinos and hotels in Las Vegas at night to watch them explode I mean, the public was well aware of this, but they understood well the destructive power but they didn’t really know what to make of what the danger might be, the danger to the environment, the danger to human health of the remnants of the explosions Another approach would be to limit the potency of a technology, so to try it on a really small scale And what’s curious about this was that the arms race that grew between the Soviets and the U.S caused the development, the rapid development, of bigger and bigger weapons, greater and greater explosive power So that rather than trying to move from a system which we’ll see in a couple weeks with pesticides, or pharmaceuticals is another good example, where the attempt on the part of corporations is to evermore design technologies or drugs or biocides that pose less and less risk but are still effective in getting the job done Minimize environmental release and exposure The increased potency moving from the first atom bombs to the hydrogen bombs in the mid-1950s was the opposite direction so that more and more materials were being released to the atmosphere as testing expanded Another notion that grew in this history was the idea of susceptibility, special vulnerability, that different people would be exposed to these chemicals in different ways because of their behavior or because of their specific physiology So that chemicals move differently in children or in fetuses than they do in you or in me

So that basic patterns of growth and development determined this And also compensating those that are harmed So that with vaccines, H1N1 vaccine is a good example of that Vaccines always affect some people adversely And if people are seriously damaged, if their health loss is substantial, we have laws that are in place to offer compensation if the adverse effect can be tied tightly to the exposure So that we’ll look in a few moments, or closer to the end of the lecture, at different compensation strategies, recognizing that there would be people that would be intensely exposed, particularly those that were involved in producing the technology or in other occupations that led them to experience greater risk So the Atomic Energy Act of 1946 really created this authority It’s a remarkable piece of legislation, and there are very few other pieces of law that I can point to that would give such power to an organization So it created a five-member Atomic Energy Commission that was assigned the responsibility to manage the technology And this gradually evolved into the Department of Energy, which we have today So I’m going to try to show a couple film clips here, hopefully this will pick up, on the effects of radiation and fallout Video Narrator 1: : Gamma radiation may do its damage in either of two major ways, or both One, it may physically and directly destroy tissue or eventually cause the development of some kind of cancer Those which concern us principally have life period ranging from several years to thousands of years They can do no harm unless they are taken into our bodies with food or drinking water or in the air we breathe Video Narrator 3: Let us consider the results of a powerful thermonuclear explosion at the Pacific Proving Grounds in the Marshall Islands, eleven degrees north of the equator The huge cloud soars up, punches through the tropopause, and finally spreads and stabilizes as high as 70 or 80,000 feet, entirely within the stratosphere layer Video Narrator 2: What was remarkable about his comments was he demonstrated by the late 1950s that the AEC had really strong knowledge of not just what the effects of the bombs might be but also what the health implications might be So they’d worked out the science They’d worked out the science actually in a more sophisticated way than we have for the majority of chemicals that we’ve classified as toxic or hazardous under the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Toxic Substance Control Act

today So it’s really pretty remarkable that this concentration of expertise and authority and resources produced a quality of knowledge that is really pretty unusual in twentieth century environmental history Now, the experts wondered where they should experiment Should they experiment in the United States? Should they experiment in other parts of the world? And they decided that they would concentrate most of their hydrogen bomb explosions in the Pacific, in the Marshall Islands And one of the atolls in the Pacific is Bikini Island, which is a very small area And I’m going to spend a few moments talking about this These atolls basically are volcanic, so that the rim of the volcano is sitting on the surface of the ocean And what you see here is really a rim of coral and sand And several hundred Bikinians were asked by the federal government back in 1945 if they would move from the island, if they would give up their homeland in order to provide a location or a territory for the explosions, recognizing that the Marshall Islands are thousands of square miles of open ocean with a very, very small population There are very few places on earth where you could find such an area where the population density was so low Again, they were worried about not really understanding what would happen to the materials and what the exposures might be So the idea was to move the islanders away from the center of the explosions to safer islands So eventually, the Bikinians decided that they would move from the homeland to surrounding islands And the government first placed them on an island known as Rongerik Rongerik was not as fertile You can’t see this very carefully, but if you go on Google Earth, you’ll see the amount of the land that is covered by vegetation is extremely small So that they tried to grow crops here and they found that the soils were very infertile Basically, they were just sand and beneath the sand was volcanic material So very nutrient-poor soils that really would not support them And they planted coconut trees, but the coconut trees were killed by fires They were then moved to Kwajalein within about six months And Kwajalein is another atoll, it’s basically a ring of coral reefs, but it’s also a military base and they were forced into a tent encampment for a period of about three or four months and they protested that they had no place to grow their own food, that they had no fishing boats and they couldn’t maintain the lifestyle that they had had before Gradually, they were moved Within actually about twelve months, they were moved to the island of Kili Kili — I could not find any photograph of Kili — but Kili is an island that is not an atoll Instead, it has no lagoon and it faces the open ocean on all sides, which meant that they had no lagoon to fish in, so that they had very poor land, again, land that would not support the development of crops And gradually, over a period of several years, the population began to starve The military eventually brought them fishing boats that were large enough so that they could continue their fishing activities But they lived a miserable life through the 1950s and early 1960s What was going on on Bikini in their absence was a series of experiments And one was quite curious, it was one of the first attempts to blow up weapons both above ground and below the ocean And they decided to test the resilience of the naval fleet to different intensities of different sizes of the weapons So they amassed this group of ships that you can see in the upper right And within the center of it, they detonated a bomb, wondering what would happen to the Navy if the Soviets dropped a bomb, say, at Pearl Harbor, or if they found a fleet of U.S ships at sea > Hello >

Prof: Remarkably, the Atomic Energy Commission also hired film crews and outfitted them in lead suits so that they would fly in the vicinity that those were films were taken by crews that were sitting inside aircraft that were flying around the mushroom cloud But they also flew directly into the mushroom cloud And before they had offered them the possibility of the lead suits to offer protection from the radiation, the pilots and the crews came back and they experienced such a high level of radiation that the experts became quite worried about their long-term health And so that gradually the shielding grew as they flew in and around So a single aircraft, for example, would be outfitted with up to seventy different cameras so they could figure out what the pattern of radiation emission was and what the effect would be as the cloud would dissipate in the direction of the prevailing winds Now, among the twenty-three different bombs that were dropped on this island, Bravo, in 1954, was perhaps one of the most remarkable The first hydrogen bomb that had been developed in the world that had an explosive force nearly 1,000 times the force of the bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima So that they really did not understand what the effect might be, what the distance of damage would be away from ground zero So this was called the Big One And by the way, these clips are coming from a film that I’ll put on reserve if you’d like to see the entire film, called The Atomic Bomb Movie

Video Narrator: : Significantly exceeding its expected yield by two and a half times, Castle Bravo, with an explosive power of fifteen megatons, stripped islands clean of vegetation and took the scientists by surprise The huge explosion released large quantities of radioactive debris into the atmosphere Prof: So it surprised the President, it surprised the experts, it created destruction over an area that was completely unexpected When they finally interpreted the radiation readings from ships and different monitoring facilities that they’d established, they produced this map This is a contour map in a way, and a contour map with the different ellipses would represent different elevations So think about this as representing different intensities of radiation that one would experience had they been in proximity to the site of the explosion First of all, the explosion itself created a crater in the atoll that was a mile and a half wide in one direction and a mile wide in another direction But this graph or chart was more disturbing, especially to those that had security clearances and were responsible for funding in the Senate and the House, because it demonstrated that the lethal zone is represented by the area that’s cross-hatched This area spans a distance of about 170 miles in length by about seventy miles in width So if this were a perfect circle and it landed on say, downtown in the mall in Washington, D.C., it would have wiped out all of the buildings within a twelve-mile radius Within a matter of several years, the Russians developed a bomb that they first found was too big in order to lift off the ground And eventually, they worried that the aircraft that would release it wouldn’t be able to get far enough away so that it wouldn’t be destroyed And gradually, they overcame those technical difficulties and Tsar Bomba was the largest bomb ever exploded up in northern Russia in the twentieth century And it had a destructive force that was lethal over a distance of some 500 miles, 1,500 square miles would be completely devastated So the Bikini explosion would have taken an area from New Jersey to the other side of Boston and leveled it, and an area that roughly would have gone from just south of Albany down to Long Island Sound It would have destroyed all the structures, it would have made the area uninhabitable It would have irradiated the soil so that no crops could grow Any other vegetation that might grow would have absorbed the radionuclides So the trees could not be used for building material, they couldn’t be used for firewood, because it would simply release the radioactivity back into the atmosphere or into the environment This understanding of the enormous destructive force of a single weapon really transformed the impression of the experts about the implications of what they were doing And they were extremely worried that the public would understand the scale of the damage that the single weapon could face By the way, how many nuclear weapons were in existence by the late 1980s and early 1990s? Roughly 70,000, that ranged from the bombs of this scale to those that would be deliverable via a suitcase or from an artillery shell So an enormous diversity of weapons, an enormous destructive capacity that was being amassed It was simply being built up in the stockpiles around the world So what was the result of this understanding? More classification of information More secrecy, more worry about how to tell a story to develop a narrative advantage, to be able to persuade the public that continued testing was important and that in order to prevent the Soviets from

believing that they could survive a first strike, that we would build more weapons and bigger weapons Now, what about the island itself? What about the environmental implications of twenty-three different tests on a South Pacific or a Pacific atoll such as this? Well, you saw what happened to the coconut trees All of the fronds were blown off it, all the coconuts were blown off it, all the bark, the exterior bark was burned off of it Well, the government decided that well, we’ll just go back and we’ll cut all those trees and we’ll plant new ones So they planted 50,000 new coconut trees on the island They then said, “Well, we know that the soils are still highly radioactive Well, we’ll go in and we’ll scrape all those soils off and we’ll bring in soil from other islands so that they will have the potential once again to grow new crops.” So they were thinking about well, in the film clip you saw a few minutes ago, you saw the Atomic Energy Commission official saying that they understood what the key routes of exposure might be, and those were via air, via food, and via drinking water, or by dermal uptake, through the skin Now, those are the four routes of exposure that we would think about today if we were wondering about the risk or the hazards of any technology What’s the route of exposure? Is it by air, is it by food, is it by inhalation, is it by dermal uptake? These are all ways that chemicals can get in your body So understanding their persistence in vegetation, their pattern of accumulation in different kinds of foods, did the compounds make their way into drinking water? And what would be their persistence? What would be their ecological pathways? How would they move through the environment? And what would the long-term threat be? So here’s an example After planting 50,000 coconut trees, they found no hint that there would be a problem with the coconuts, the vegetables, and the water This was as late as early 1978 So they faced this problem, how do we persuade the public that this dangerous technology was worth developing, that it made sense to continue the funding and continue the testing based on the argument that we have to understand how we might be able to survive a nuclear attack, but also that the Russians need to understand that they could not possibly initiate a nuclear attack without committing suicide So they developed a variety of different public service announcements, and I’m going to show you one of those now, that’s entitled Common Sense > Video Narrator: Common sense tells you this is dangerous and foolish You wouldn’t risk your neck in a trick like this Common sense tells us that being shot out of a cannon is dangerous business Common sense tells you not to be careless at an airfield with propellers and jet engines in action And with that in mind, this too looks dangerous, but it’s an– > –because they observed common sense safety requirements But sometimes we forget that security violations can be dangerous business too If classified information about this test mission fell into enemy hands, the consequences can be disastrous to all of us, individually and collectively as a nation Security is only common sense Don’t take chances, avoid loose talk, safeguard classified information, report security violations at once Prompt action may prevent a minor incident from developing into a serious one Avoid writing about classified material in letters home Be sure you’re secure! Don’t be careless! Marilyn Monroe (on video): I hate a careless man Prof: This is a U.S Air Force film, and this is Marilyn Monroe, who was, you probably know, a film star during that period of time So message there was the technology is manageable Use common sense Avoid exposure And what would this mean? What would this mean to hundreds of millions of people in the United States at the time, or to the government’s responsibility to educate them so that they would know what to do? Well, Tsar Bomba and the Bravo test basically told them that the cities were enormously vulnerable So what happened during the Eisenhower era? One of the first things that was done following this was the investment of tens of billions of dollars in the National Highway Program

So the argument was, well, we really need to be able to move troops around the city, but they were really concerned about developing the capacity to evacuate Is there the possibility that we could protect against dangerous exposures which are most of concern, they’re highest in closest proximity in space and time to the site of the blast So if we could warn people via sirens, via radio announcements If we could tell people what they need to do in the event that we detected an attack, that would help them So not only did they build hundreds of thousands of miles of highways in the United States in the hope that evacuations might work, but they also developed evacuation drills And I don’t have a shot of Duck and Cover, but ask your parents about Duck and Cover They probably remember being told that an emergency drill was going to be held in the school, all the children are now required to get down on their hands and knees and duck underneath their desks and cover their head In fact, there’s a cute little song that I almost developed the courage to sing to you called “Duck and Cover,” but I’m going to resist doing that The idea that ducking and covering beneath your school desk would offer you a sufficient protection against exposure and the damage of collapsing buildings is quite ridiculous But it was part of their approach, it was part of their persuasive strategy to convince the public that they could take precautions, they could get themselves into the subway, they could build the fallout shelters and store it with food and water and offer themselves protection until the bulk of the radiation had blown away Well, you know, we’ve quite a bit of experience with evacuation drills, and a couple that you may recall would include Hurricane Katrina Hurricane Katrina found people sitting on the highway stalled, trying to leave southern Louisiana and parts of Texas, and also other parts of the Gulf Coast So that moving people out of a city, even despite having an interstate highway system is much more difficult than anyone could possibly imagine And these are a bit out of order, but I wanted to come back and show you this notice Back in 2005, the Connecticut State Police ordered an evacuation of the state There was no stated purpose, but this aired on the radio and it was out on the internet that an evacuation of the cities was called for And it was an error, it was an electronic signal that had been tripped And what was the public’s response to the evacuation request and the warning? Nothing They didn’t even receive one phone call So that the public is quite actually resistant to rings of the alarm So although the Bikinians were promised that only one or two tests would be conducted on their island back in 1945, more nuclear energy was released on this one site than at any other site in history So that the cumulative force of bombs that exploded there was nearly four times the energy released over almost 1,000 tests conducted at the Nevada Test Site So this was labeled the most contaminated site in the world And at the same time, President Johnson was feeling great pressure to clean up the island and to basically remove the radioactive sands and soils, to restore the vegetation, to try to figure out whether or not fisheries might be viable so that the population could return to the island So one decade after the bombing ceased, President Johnson gave the okay for the Bikinians to return to their homeland Now, during the next decade, scientists continued to work, particularly at the Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, and reported back to the House and Senate And here’s an example that the House Appropriations Committee heard reports from these scientists in 1973 that the cesium-137 concentrations were ten times higher than the 1970 levels Cesium is measured in their urine It’s an easy radionuclide to detect And it was attributed to the foods that were grown on the island So during the period when they were restoring the soils and they were trying to figure out which crops they could grow, they were often importing food But as they grew more and more food on the island, they found that the plants that they had chosen were drawing the radionuclides from the soils and from the underground waters So they decided, oh, well perhaps our surveillance was not sufficient enough

Our sampling strategy didn’t pick up the fact that the underlying aquifers were contaminated or that the soil concentrations were higher than were originally estimated And they found that they had scraped the topsoil off but they had not gone deeply enough, and that some of the plants were drawing water up from a distance that included sands and organic matter that had absorbed significant concentrations So that by 1978, the body burden exceeded the maximum permissible level according to the National Institute of Health They took the islanders off the island again and they were returned to the island of Kili, the one that has no coral reef surrounding, that was open to pounding surf So they were allowed to stay there for a year There were conflicting interpretations of the evidence that was available And we’ll find this again and again through the twentieth century with respect to air quality, arguments over how much inhalation of an air pollutant is okay, or how much of a drinking water contaminant is okay, or how much of a pesticide residue in food is okay You find that often, the government or the purveyor of the dangerous technology will make an argument, “Well, you know what? Let’s average the risk.” So the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reduced its radiation dose estimate of the inhabitants by averaging the exposure to the population So Rosalie Bertell, from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, protested to this, arguing, “This is like telling one smoking member of a family his or her risk of lung cancer is lowered if the other non-smoking members of the family are included and an average risk is given It’s scientifically ridiculous as an approach to public health.” So this idea of averaging risk across people when you have some people that would be more exposed than others, some people would have a diet that might be high in coconut milk And during periods of drought throughout the Marshall Islands in the Pacific, it’s pretty well known that the islanders stayed hydrated by drinking more and more coconut milk Coconut milk happens to be loaded with saturated fats So the saturated fats were very effective in binding on to some of the radionuclides And that explained why the drought was correlated with an increase in the body concentration of some of the compounds So the idea of averaging that across the entire population, across space and time, made no sense By 1999, the Government Accounting Office, is what it used to be called By the way, that’s now the Government Accountability Office, if you ever are searching for it And it’s a great site to look at for critical evaluations of government activities, and particularly with respect to environmental and health problems associated with dangerous technologies, that’s Government Accountability Office They argued for restricted access and that if the return of the former residents occurred, that it would expose them to dangerous levels of radiation despite the fact that they spent $100 million trying to restore the site By 1980, the Department of Energy concluded that the Bikinians could return to Enyu Island, which is one location in the Bikini Atoll that received the least amount of radiation, but only if they ate no more than fifty percent of locally grown food and spent no more than ten percent of their time on Bikini Island So this idea that they could adjust their behavior in a way that would reduce their exposure is a very interesting one One of the islanders, Pero Joel in 1989, reflected on the second exodus from the island, saying: “Finally, the Americans and the scientists came back a few years later saying that we had to leave again They said we had ingested too much poison and that it wasn’t safe to live on Bikini anymore And we didn’t care at this point, because we had already started to get that hopeless feeling again though because we all wanted to stay on Bikini, we did explore all possibilities in an attempt to find a way out of this problem We kept thinking the Americans first told us it was safe to live here Then they changed their minds and some rules for us to follow Now they’re telling us to leave And should we go?” So they were constantly being manipulated by estimates of what was risky and what was safe And gradually, this became the site of extended epidemiological studies of the health very carefully correlated with measurements of nuclides in their body The quality of the science is really extraordinary Again, it’s exemplary in the twentieth century And they found that thyroid disease on the islands that experienced the greatest fallout was excessive More than a third of all the residents have thyroid disease

on Rongelap Rongelap was an island that, following the Bravo test, that thermonuclear explosion, the hydrogen bomb, they hadn’t expected that the ash would reach Rongelap But the ash fell out of the sky like it was snow, and the children were described as running along the beach picking up the snow and throwing it over their heads, eating it and rubbing it into their skin And it didn’t take long before they realized that something was terribly awry, and their skin started to burn They became nauseous and vomited because of their radiation poisoning Then they lost their hair So that the combination of exposure to strontium that lodges in the bone to the iodine-131 that lodges in the thyroid eventually led to this thyroid disease So what are the remedies? What are the remedies for a population such as this? Well, we’ll come back to this when we get back together on Thursday, but litigation is one Litigation is a really difficult approach, because of the amount of time it normally takes, but also the amount of funding that it would take And litigation that would be brought against the United States government would be fought intensively So that it’s not uncommon for litigation to span a period of time including a decade Financial compensation Financial compensation to those that can demonstrate that they had their property taken away, that they had their livelihoods taken away, or that they lost their health Financial support, so the building of schools or hospitals or roadways or job training, that’s another possible form of support or community development Medical monitoring and medical treatment, and also the landscape restoration costs, such as those that occurred when they removed the soils, when they brought in the trees that cost the government $100 million So I’ll close with a slide that a $20 million resettlement trust fund for the people of Bikini was authorized by Congress And it was later supplemented with an additional $90 million And these were used for the construction and resettlement of the Bikinians to live on Kili Island in another atoll nearby And a fiscal year budget now ranges between about 7 million and $10 million that’s going into this community that originally was only several hundred people in size So we’ll come back to this again on Thursday And once again, my apologies for being late today