Superfund sites

Atomic Towns

Holy smokes, it is perhaps entirely fitting that I am thinking about atomic towns today [December 7th, 2011], the 70th anniversary (so I heard it mentioned on the radio) of the bombing of Pearl Harbour during World War II, & thus the entry of the U.S. of A. into the 2nd world war – a war which they (the U.S.A.) concluded (so the story goes) – had to conclude – with the bombing of the 2 Japanese cities of Hiroshima & Nagasaki on August 6th & 9th, 1945.

Of course I no longer buy into this story, having read the book Hiroshima in America – A Half Century of Denial (1), that the bombing of these cities was necessary to end the war; the war was going to end anyway, the Americans knew the Japanese emperor was going to surrender. So the bombings did not in any sense have to take place; not a pretty fact to have to live with, is it, hmmm?(2) One of those really big secrets, I guess, the kind that is bound to get out eventually…

& now 70 years have gone by, since the day the U.S. was humbled & humiliated by the Japanese,

& for me it’s only a day after my extensive tour of an atomic town in southern Ontario – a very very beautiful & charming small town, assuming one can lay aside the unpleasant fact that the town is one of Canada’s nuclear sacrifice zones & contains very considerable quantities of nuclear waste generated by former Crown Corporation (i.e., our federal government is in this up to its eyeballs) Eldorado & now Cameco Corporation & some of that waste (that now sits quietly, I guess ominously quietly, because there it is but it doesn’t declare itself exactly, it just sits there quietly emitting its radiation, quietly but very dangerously), just south of Highway 401, just west of town…

& it’s a town divided by the whole sick nasty evil issue of nuclear energy & nuclear waste – divided even though anyone with any appreciable history in the town knows far too many people, of both sexes & all ages, who suffer or have suffered (or died from) brain cancer or leukemias & various other illnesses & conditions(3), a town where farmhouses quietly disappear (before or after their long or even in some cases short-time residents) die of cancer due to their former close proximity to waste sites old (& upcoming) – waste sites located within spitting (& ball-kicking) distance of soccer-fields-to-be for children who may wind up being exposed to more than just a “healthy” team sports experience when they go out to get their fresh air & exercise so close to a very very dangerous dump site with “historic” wastes dating back to the Manhattan Project era (yes, this town supplied the uranium for the Manhattan Project)

(no wonder some folks don’t want to talk about this….)

but then the Geiger counters on our little tour spiked like crazy at all kinds of locations in the pretty little community of 14,000 – especially right down by the waterfront, where the sand on the beach is recycled nuclear waste, pretty much, & if you hang out for any length of time you will be exposed to a shocking amount of radiation in the area of a certain tree a bunch of us stood under, down near the radioactive beach area, watching the 2 Geiger counters inch inexorably upward & upward to counts of radiation that made us all think suddenly of Chernobyl & Fukushima

as we stood there, mesmerized by the rising Geiger counters (& yes, it all felt quite quite utterly unreal to be in this pretty little town & be surrounded by so much dangerousness) – & maybe we were all hoping the dogs & birds & squirrels & small children in this pretty little town somehow know, do they? & somehow know to stay away?? even though there is no sign & of course small children & birds & dogs & squirrels can’t read anyhow

but how can it be possible that such radiation-spewing (& not just radiation-spewing, btw) is permitted in such a pretty small town on the shores of Lake Ontario, source of drinking water for well over 3 million people?????

& today I think of other “atomic” towns where residents are very-very quiet or perhaps sometimes even literally unaware that their pretty little town is home to quite a lot of nasty secrets (& lies) & radioactive waste & current-day – yes right today & yesterday & tomorrow – yes! – nuclear-related spewing & spilling & leaching & groundwater-assaulting (sometimes Ottawa River-assaulting) tritium (& other) emissions.

& I know not everyone wants to know about this (although if you ask me we all NEED to know, & yes, I know you didn’t ask me but there you go, I’m telling you anyway) & most people apparently don’t want to think about it either, but I just want to say this teeny-tiny little thing, which is that you need to know that when your country’s federal government comes to your town & offers to spend $260 million (or is it billion?? Like so many of us the numbers just kind of begin to boggle my mind when they get that high, my chequebook doesn’t deal in thousands, even, let alone hundreds of thousands or millions or billions) to “remediate” or “clean up” “historic” or “legacy” wastes, this is a very big clue that some exceedingly nasty (or would evil perhaps not be too strong a word for it?) activities have been taking place & maybe – probably – still are taking place, & even if some place (as in down in the old U.S.A.) is declared a “Superfund site", you need to know that what we don’t know most assuredly CAN hurt us, & even kill us, & beyond that, IS hurting us (has been doing so for a very long time already) & it IS killing us, too, & sweeping it under the carpet is NOT going to make it just magically disappear, magically “go away.”

& if you are a person who makes her or his living helping create these horrid substances & wastes (& you probably make a very good living at it too, that’s part of the problem, isn’t it, golden handcuffs as they say, hmmm???), can’t or shouldn’t we be able to think of new & creative ways to feed our families?????

& I know our governments are probably not going to help us out too much with this, because our governments (at all levels) climbed into bed with these sick-making industries a very very very long time ago, & once you’ve climbed so deeply into bed with this kind of sickness, it is difficult or perhaps even impossible to climb your way back out again,

So I guess it is going to be up to us to do what has to be done, ourselves

I guess we have to grab the reins (& ourselves!) by the scruff of the neck & make change happen

because our governments, at all levels, municipal & provincial & federal, are in so very very deep with all this sick-making & cancer-making

but I think I’m out of breath now so I’m going to stop even though I never actually even named the 3 atomic towns – oops…4 – that are all kind of roiling around inside my head right now

but I will down below list some recommended books & Web sites & groups in case you have a desire to learn a little more about the nuclear nightmare that we have all been trying very-very hard not to wake up from, or … hmmm…. to. The problem with this nightmare is that it won’t go away when we wake up to daylight – I know ‘cos I’m awake – very-very-very wide awake & the nightmare isn’t a dream, it’s real – it’s real it’s real it’s real it’s real it’s real…


p.s. but you know what I kept thinking, & saying, over & over again on the day of our radioactive tour? A person can hardly believe this. You couldn’t make this up if you tried! (Truth truly IS stranger than fiction, it’s true!)

p.p.s. & somehow you have to be willing to know about all this but also somehow not allow it to make you crazy. So I don’t. But I also don’t just ignore it & hope it will magically “go away.” Because you know what? It won’t….

p.p.p.s. & I’m just re-reading Welcome to Shirley – a memoir of an atomic town, & it’s such a good book to read because the author makes the whole story very personal – it is not full of challenging, off-putting jargon, & it isn’t a polemic & it isn’t hysterical (not even remotely) – it’s just a lovely, calm dispassionate telling of the story of the town of Shirley on Long Island, outside New York City, where an awful lot of people have been exposed to radioactive wastes seeping & leaching & spilling out of Brookhaven National Labs, another Manhattan Project-era site, & now officially, since 1989, declared a Superfund site. And the crazy mounting rates of cancer in the area of the BNL, especially some very-very rare ones that became all too familiar to the families whose young children were affected. This story is very calmly told, but it is for sure a sick & tragic one & the parallels between the "atomic" town of Shirley & the town of Port Hope are very strong...  ** p.s. almost a year later: there is film based on this book that is called 'Atomic States of America.' You can find a trailer here on the Beyond Nuclear site

I'm thinking of at least 2 places in Ontario that should almost certainly be declared Superfund sites also, only we don’t do that here because, I’m not sure why, because, is it because we Canadians are too polite, or maybe we are too stupid?? I guess we think (somebody thinks, it isn’t me who thinks this) that if we just pat one another on the back & say Now now now, there, there, everything will just be okay, & the radioactive wastes will just, will just, will just… what? Go away?????

p.s. # 4: Article here from when world-renowned activist Dr. Helen Caldicott visited Port Hope

p.s. # 5: I did 6 blog postings after attending a 3-day nuclear waste conference in Toronto 3 months ago now. They start here

p.s. # 6 - a year later (Dec. 20/12): Recent article about Port Hope by a Japanese visitor here.

Quote of the day w. this post: “There’s been new research documenting cancer & other health maladies in people who live near nuclear plants. Nuclear plants need not undergo an accident to kill. They emit “routine releases” of radioactivepoisons including xenon, krypton & tritium because nuclear plants are not sealed. Once, nuclear scientists spoke of a “threshold dose” of radiation & maintained that below that there was no harm. Now it is acknowledged that any amount of radioactivity can lead to illness & death. The Radiation & Public Health Project has documented rates of cancer significantly higher for distances of up to 40 miles around nuclear plants.” – Karl Grossman, in the Preface to his book Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power (available free on-line)

Books (a very very partial list, admittedly!)

Groups/Web sites relevant to the Ontario “atomic towns” scene

  • FARE (Families Against Radiation Exposure)
  • PH HCC (Port Hope Community Health Concerns Committee)
  • LOW (Lake Ontario Waterkeeper)
  • TAP (Tritium Awareness Project)
  • Beyond Nuclear

Nuke Quotes / Films / Maps (on this blog)


(1) Mindblower of an article Hiroshima Day: America Has Been Asleep at the Wheel for 64 Years by Daniel Ellsberg; an absolute must-read!!

(2) “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead & you argue about what to do with it only after you have had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atom bomb.” – J. Robert Oppenheimer (”father of the atomic bomb”)

(3) Read more about health in Part 5 of Nuclear Genocide in Canada