Nuclear Idiocy Redux -From Cape Cod To Telluride
"A pioneer is a man who comes to virgin country, traps off all the fur, kills off all the wild meat, cuts down all the trees, grazes off all the grass, plows the roots up and strings millions of miles of wire. A pioneer destroys things and calls it civilization." -Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire, 1990
Back in 1960, when I was a sophomore at Lawrence High in Falmouth, the upper Cape dodged the nuclear bullet, big time, shooting down a scheme to use Camp Edwards as the site for an "Atomic Park." The pitch was to create jobs here on the Cape by having the Commonwealth lease land to industries that reprocessed the waste from nuclear power plants all along the eastern seaboard. I put up a more detailed post on this bit of Cape history, entitled "Welcome to Atomic Park Cape Cod!", back on 3/16/09, and I will just summarize here.
Proponents of the Atomic Park scheme, including the Buzzards Bay and Barnstable Chambers of Commerce, said it would be a huge boon for the Cape. In actuality, the idea was conceived as a huge boondoggle for the nuclear industry, a way to save billions in the proper handling and disposal of nuclear waste that would jeopardize the health and safety of all Cape Cod residents.
Fortunately, we had a cadre of real scientists centered in Woods Hole, people who were knowledgeable about both radiation and aquifers, and they knew even more knowledgeable nuclear scientists from major universities and research centers. Dr. Albert Szent-Gyorgi, Nobel prize winner in medicine, was one of the first and most outspoken opponents of the proposed "Atomic Park."
There was enough opposition to this crackpot scheme here in Falmouth, including the Falmouth Chamber of Commerce as well as the Falmouth Enterprize, that our sole Republican state rep, Allan Jones, along with state senator Edward Stone -both staunch Republicans from the old school, decided it would be prudent to hold public hearings here on the Cape before presenting a bill on Beacon Hill for leasing part of Camp Edwards to the nuclear industry.
As a result of the local hearings, no bill was presented to lease Camp Edwards to the glow-boys in the nucular waste biz, and the whole idea gradually fizzled out -but not before the Chamber types in Buzzards Bay and Barnstable got in their hackneyed licks about all us "Communists" here in Falmouth.
Now, however, the same kind of issue has arisen again out in Colorado, concerned not with nuclear waste disposal and reprocessing as with the aborted "Atomic Park," but with uranium mining and processing. Land speculators and the Canadian Energy Fuels corporation are seeking to cash in on the energy crisis by proposing that the Pinon Ridge mill in Montrose County be reactivated, promising jobs, prosperity and all the usual blah, blah, blah.
Significant opposition there is coming from the tourist industry based in Telluride and San Miguel County, as opposed to an established scientific community as in Woods Hole fifty years ago, but there is one overridingly important issue in common -the aquifer. Here, we have a sole source aquifer which, once contaminated by radioactive leakage, would shut down the Cape for good. In Colorado, though, they have an actual history of increased cancer rates from both air and water contamination dating back to when Pinon Ridge and other mining and milling facilities were operational through the early 1980s.
The developers and speculators, naturally, downplay those risks while overstating the economic benefits of their proposal. Even if no leak ever occurred, however, the presence of a large scale uranium industry in the area would kill the booming tourist industry -a real concern for the Cape fifty years ago as well.
After Pinon Ridge shut down in the 1980s, the tourist industry began to take off to the point where it has virtually supplanted the former mining-based economy. So the proposed new Pinon Ridge project would simply shift any new jobs back to mining and away from tourism, while returning to the mining economy would also mean a return to the environmental and health hazards that existed back through the '80s. Meanwhile, there are no elevated cancer rates associated or even conceivable with the existing tourist based economy.
As for the Pinon Ridge facility itself today, and other uranium mining sites that cratered some thirty years ago, most still remain contaminated because mining is a non-sustainable business by its very nature. The corporations squeeze every last bit of profit from the ground while devastating the environment, then just cut and run, as they in fact did in Montrose County 30 years ago -real latter-day "pioneers" just like Edward Abbey says.
Opponents of the new Pinon Ridge proposal have suggested that if any new mining jobs are to be created in Montrose County, they should begin with hiring people to clean up the many abandoned uranium mines, still badly contaminated from thirty years ago, before the state issues permits for any new operations. That, obviously, would have a large impact on the relative cost of the energy produced from Pinon Ridge, but such costs of clean-up would be a realistic, honest measure of the true cost of the uranium, as it is with fossil fuels as well, when comparing costs with clean, renewable energy technologies.
In a way, the folks in Telluride are being better served by their local environmental groups in terms of energy development, than we are today on Cape Cod. A major opponent of the Pinon Ridge scheme is the Sheep Mountain Alliance, focusing on the real, palpable health and economic hazards of uranium mining and milling. People really do get sick from breathing radiation contaminated air or drinking contaminated water, and tourists really will stay away from areas where they might be exposed to such real hazards.
Meanwhile, here on the Cape, one of our prominent "environmental" groups, the so-called Alliance to Protect Vineyard Sound, is fighting tooth and nail against a proposed wind energy project in shoal waters more than five miles out in the ocean -a project with absolutely zero impact on any real health concerns and with zero impact on the tourist industry as well. Yes, tourists will understandably shy away from areas that risk exposure to radioactive contaminants, but it's just ludicrous to claim, as our local Alliance does, that such a project five miles off shore and just barely visible from land will, somehow, keep tourists off in droves from our many public beaches and other tourist amenities.
Back to Colorado, the Pinon Ridge project is something to keep an eye on. As with the defeated Atomic Park boondoggle on Cape Cod fifty years ago, the opponents to Pinon Ridge are sure to be labeled "socialists" and anti-American subjected to all the other pernicious nonsense we've come to expect from the right wing reactionaries who increasingly shore up the Republican Party. At the same time, the land speculators and development corprations will be cast as American heros, a new embodiment of the pioneer spirit that "tamed the West."
The recent news that China has just perfected a new way to reprocess used nuclear materials economically is sure to fuel a new round of scare-mongering from both the industry and its supporters on the hard right. As usual, it's o.k. with those folks that we've in fact fallen way behind the Chinese and other nations in developing clean renewable energy technologies, thanks to eight years under government of Big Oil, for Big Oil and by Big Oil as with the Bush-Cheney regime, replete with still on-going oil wars in the mid-East. But it's a whole 'nuther story for them when it's something like mining and milling that those good ol' boys can make big bucks off by polluting the air and water while making sure the consumer remains dependent on non-sustainable energy technologies.
Oh, no -don't let the Chinese get ahead of us with dirty energy production, risking the health and safety of the people, while our energy corporations and wealthy investors, those brave American pioneers, are missing out on the fun and profits. Letting those Commies step way out ahead with clean wind energy technology is one thing. But dirty "nucular" energy? No way! That's socialistic! It's unpatriotic! Hey, it's downright un-American too! Circle the wagons -and where's my damned flag?