Lead 101: Nukes & Lead - 10 Things…

The funny thing about my working on these two issues is, I never actually set out to do so! I just sort of got pulled in, in the past year or so – all the while having meant to devote myself fully to the climate change issue.

Ah well. Life is what happens while you’re making other plans…hmmm?

As explained in ‘Lead 101: 20 things you need to know’, I knew nothing whatsoever about lead until last June. Having now attended 2 events devoted to lead & been in the presence of people who are very knowledgeable about it indeed (nurses, Health Dept. people, a boatload of Ph.Ds & a bunch of MDs), here I am, now, caring a lot about lead.

I couldn’t help but begin noticing, at the Centers for Disease Control "National Healthy Homes & Lead Poisoning Prevention training center” I attended in Chicago in Dec. 2010, that there are several things common to these two issues. Here goes!

Lead & Nukes: 10 common elements

  1. Both are really quite nasty & stubborn issues indeed – yet many, if not most people appear entirely oblivious to the very considerable risks of both nuclear energy & lead.
  2. Once you learn about these risks, you almost wish you hadn’t! These are tough, tough issues to work & wrestle with. Truthfully, they could drive a person just about cuckoo… Luckily, as I like to joke, I didn’t have far to go…
  3. There is no safe level of exposure, either to radionuclides or to lead. The nuclear & lead industries will claim otherwise, & often refer to “safe” levels of exposure. This is (sorry to be impolite; don’t listen, Mom!!) bullshit. There is no safe level of exposure to these toxic substances.
  4. The degree of complexity in both these issues can be very off-putting, to put it mildly. It’s hard for the average person to grasp a lot of the technical detail involved. People in both lead & nuclear industries know this. They don’t just know it; they play on it! They try to intimidate those who question them by reciting complex-sounding “facts” & figures (which are very often neither factual nor accurate) & they use staff with fancy titles & degrees (& salaries!) to carry out & communicate their dirty deeds. I call it deliberate obfuscation, & have seen it in operation on many occasions at Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission hearings. CNSC staff members have Ph.D.’s in Obfuscation. They are experts at it! But you know what? Bullshit is still bullshit!
  5. Our planet – & our bodies – have become unwitting receptacles for the products of these two industries (not just these two, of course, but let’s leave the chemical & pharmaceutical industries for another day, shall we?). If we were to put an immediate halt to both lead & nuclear sources of exposure, we’d still be surrounded by their extremely persistent toxic by-products for many thousands of years (with nuclear wastes, we are talking hundreds of thousands of years; with depleted uranium (DU), we are talking about a half-life of 4.5 billion years!!!). That’s why we have to put a stop to these activities now, & focus on prevention of any further harm. We cannot eliminate or disappear what has already been done, &, I am very sorry to report, it’s extremely substantial. While working on & knowing about all this is not pleasant, exactly, these are compelling reasons to put a stop to the depredations of both of these industries NOW. I mean, last week.
  6. Not content to pollute our bodies, our air, our children & our communities with the toxic by-products of their appallingly dirty industries, both are now in the business – hard as it may seem to believe – of marketing their toxins…in consumer goods! I’m not at all clear what route it is that lead takes to wind up in candy & jewelry & toys & some herbal supplements – but as for nuke wastes being “recycled” into consumer products, the U.S.-based Nuclear Information & Resource Service (NIRS) has known about this for years! Look for excellent fact sheets on their Web site – in particular, one called ‘Reprocessing is Not the “Solution” to the Nuclear Waste Problem’
  7. Sadly, both of these awful industries can always find willing workers to do their dirty work. Salaries are often very good (at least in the nuke biz). We humans – well, we’re kind of … buyable, aren’t we? And don’t get me wrong. I know people in the nuke business; quite a few of them, as a matter of fact. Most of them are very nice people. It’s true! But as I already said somewhere else in this essay, bullshit is still bullshit. Elephants are still elephants. When the emperor has no clothes, he still has no clothes! (btw, I guess I should also add that we can all be grateful that the (awful) nuclear facilities DO have many reliable, responsible, conscientious workers. I have met some of these folks. Kudos to them for doing their best to help prevent any more Chernobyls from happening!! But I wish the darn nuke facilities didn't exist in the first place... & I could go on here, & say much more...but I won't... Well. Except for this - added many days later... The essay here on innocence & evil may be of some relevance.)
  8. Both these industries have “friends in high places.” Oh yes. Lobbyists who pressure our government representatives. Make them “offers they can’t refuse.” Oh yes. They do indeed.(1) It doesn’t pay to be too naïve about our so-called “democracy,” people. Power corrupts, hmmm?
  9. How about this startling fact? The human race could get by just fine without these industries!!!!!! There are ALWAYS alternatives to toxic products. We humans are wildly creative, you know; we can always find non-toxic alternatives. And they almost invariably cost less & save money, along with being better for our health!! (I’m reminded here of Mary O’Brien’s very inspiring presentation on “sunsetting” chlorine.(2))
  10. If we decide as a society to put an end to these two very dangerous, polluting industries (along with others I could name), & go about it thoughtfully & carefully, we will immediately see the obvious need to provide alternate employment for those who are to be displaced. The labour movement has long talked about the concept of “Just Transition.” I first heard this idea mentioned about half an eon ago (at an International Joint Committee meeting, actually); it is not a “new” idea. Just one whose time, surely, has come…ya think??


P.S. Lots of pithy quotations about the nuclear issue here.

P.P.S. All my lead-related blog posts are listed here.

‘Quote of the day’ w. this post: “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” – Edmund Burke

Runner-up quotes: “The optimism of the action is better than the pessimism of the thought.” – Harold Zindler

“You can blame people who knock things over in the dark, or you can begin to light candles. You’re only at fault if you know about the problem and choose to do nothing.” – Paul Hawken, entrepreneur & author, The Sun (April 2002) – quoted in July/Aug. 2002 issue of Utne Reader

“How much harm does a company have to do before we question its right to exist?” – Paul Hawken

“The Earth is not dying – it is being killed. And the people who are killing it have names and addresses.” – U. Utah Phillips, quoted in Blessed Unrest – How the Largest Movement in the World Came into Being & Why No One Saw it Coming, by Paul Hawken <Pg. 115> Nice comments about this book, btw, here. Lotsa quotes from the book here

(1) Check this Resources document – near the bottom is a list of books. A couple of these detail the whole dirty story about industry/government collusion on lead. It ain’t pretty…

(2) Mary O’Brien is a U.S.-based scientist I once (maybe even twice) heard speak at an International Joint Commission (IJC) meeting on the Great Lakes. She gave a rousing presentation entitled “10 Great Things About Sunsetting Chlorine” (or words to that effect). Unfortunately, I am unable to lay my hands on that item – but you can check out her awesome “Campaign Tips” here!