Transcript of radio commentary that aired in July 2003 on KUNM public radio 89.9 fm in Albuquerque. Link to audio at end of page.

By Arjun Makhijani

So what will the proposed spanking new plutonium bomb plant do to worker health? Recently, I said that the radiation doses from that facility are estimated to result in nine cancer deaths over 40 years. The Energy Department has pooh-poohed this by saying that these fatality estimates are “a statistical contortion.” A worker would have to work in a bomb factory, called the Modern Pit Facility, for 4,900 years before he or she would get cancer, according to the government. It’s become a national controversy.

So who’s right?

Well, the government is tied up in knots over its own numbers. For one thing, I just cited the government’s own analysis. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the bomb plant claims that there is a 22 percent chance every year that one of about 1,100 workers would die of cancer as a result of working there. It’s straightforward arithmetic, not at all contorted, to deduce from that one cancer fatality would eventually result from the cumulative exposure every four-and-a-half years. That’s about nine deaths in 40 years.

So what’s the Energy Department’s problem? It claims that an individual worker would get only about half a rem dose per year, while it takes almost five thousand times that much to produce one cancer fatality.

Now the government’s comment would be truthful if there were only one worker at the plant. But there will be about 1,100 in the largest proposed size. Each one of them would get a radiation dose equal to about 50 chest X-rays every year. That means that the 1,100 workers would get doses equivalent to about fifty thousand chest X-rays every year. Over 40 years that’s equivalent to about 2 million chest X-rays — enough to create about nine cancer deaths in the worker population.

The government is simply trying to hide behind misleading statements. The estimate of nine cancer deaths is a simple application of the approach used to estimate public heath damage by the National Academy of Sciences, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Energy Department itself.

In the bad old Cold War days the government tried to convince workers and the public that the radiation doses from nuclear weapons production and testing would not hurt the people. After fifty years of denial the government fessed up that it had put half a million workers in harm’s way. Let’s bury the deception in the grave of the Cold War. The Energy Secretary should restrain the folks in public relations and let the government’s own numbers in the documents do the talking. That would help public health and be more respectful to all the workers who got cancer as a result of their Cold War work and who are still waiting for medical treatment and compensation and just plain justice.

For more information on radiation and health, go the website of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research, This is Arjun Makhijani.

Listen to

Listen to this commentary