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The United Steelworkers Union (United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International), which now includes Karen Silkwood’s Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW) [1] is present at the WIPP nuclear waste site and was forced to test the unionized workers itself, after the WIPP radiation leak, as described in the article below. The USW appears more focused on safety than some other unions.

The USW local 7-669 at the Honeywell site in Metropolis, Illinois, demonstrates the potential for unionized workers to act as collective whistleblowers at nuclear sites. They have been locked out by Honeywell, since August 2, 2014, apparently due to their whistleblowing efforts to protect Americans and the environment, at the dangerous Honeywell uranium hexafluoride facility in southern Illinois, along the Ohio River. They remain unsung heros. [2] Nonetheless, as made apparent in the New York Times article, linked to at the bottom of this post, fear of unemployment exists in tension with safety concerns, even within unions. [3]

We suspect that it was the USW’s presence at the WIPP site, along with multiple State and National entities, and multiple contractors, which kept the WIPP leak from being hidden. At the end of January 2014, radiation was so high at Sellafield, in Cumbria, England, that non-essential workers were kept away. Then, it was stated that the radiation at Sellafield, one of the most highly contaminated nuclear sites in the world, was “natural” [4]. It is noteworthy that at least two, maybe all, of the Sellafield Unions appear to be shamefully mindless nuclear industry lackeys.

Protecting the public by monitoring and storing existing nuclear waste, as at WIPP, is a noble calling. Asking for more nuclear reactors in the UK, when Sellafield has not been properly cleaned and still has cracked, leaching, open-air spent fuel pools, is criminal insanity. The same is also true in the US and elsewhere. There is no real solution for nuclear waste and no one really wants it near them, apparently with good reason.

From Daily Kos:
Radiation Leak: ASW to Independently Test WIPP Workers, by Joieau, Monday March 3, 2014, 1:05 PM PST

The United Steelworkers union is sending its own safety department scientists to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad, New Mexico after 13 workers tested positive last week for Americium-241 (and possible Plutonium) contamination following a leak that occurred on February 14th. All of the 13 workers requested the testing, but it is not being required of all employees who were present on the night of the leak or the following morning.

The Carlsbad chapter of the United Steelworkers is baffled as to why the Department of Energy and the Nuclear Waste Partnership, a private company contracted to manage WIPP operations, have not required the scans for employees and are calling for outside help.

USW represents workers in various DOE nuclear related facilities, including WIPP. According to the Current-Argus, president of USW’s District 12, Local 9477 Rick Fuentes contacted the union’s international safety department in Pittsburgh about the situation, and those scientists will travel to Carlsbad to collect radiation samples and analyze them independently from DOE and CEMRC (New Mexico State University affiliated).

While the DOE has maintained their usual ‘No [Immediate] Danger To The General Public’ PR stance since the leak occurred, Carlsbad Field Office Manager Joe Franko did admit on Thursday that the DOE is not 100% certain, but is ‘pretty sure’ the surrounding population centers are safe from the as-yet unknown level of release of transuranic waste from military nuclear weapons production stored deep underground at the facility in caverns cut out of a Permian salt bed. It was, of course, sold to the public as ‘leak-proof,’ though now after just 15 years (out of its intended 10,000 year isolation purpose) it’s turned out not to be so leak-proof after all.

It will be weeks – or longer – before engineers and monitors can enter the underground to discover what happened to cause the leak and how high the levels may be, but DOE guesses so far include either a ceiling collapse in one of the storage caverns or an errant forklift that punctured a waste-containing barrel or barrels. Though how a forklift could have done that when the underground has been completely evacuated and off limits since a truck fire on February 7th has not yet been explained. Maybe it’s ghosts?

DOE and the operating partnership have encouraged all employees to avail themselves of the body scanner. About 1200 WIPP employees have never been tested for contamination once since the facility began accepting high-level waste in 1999, so the results of general testing might turn out to be enlightening.

Common Dreams [5] reports that residents have long complained that WIPP, as well as nuclear waste transport across the state, puts local communities at risk. Including Native American reservations, school districts and all along the highways that the waste passes through on its way to the facility…

… Tewa Women United, an indigenous organization based in northern New Mexico, slams the “negative impacts that pollution and nuclear contamination have on our bodies, minds, spirits, lands, air and water” in a statement on their website.[6]

Former nuclear industry executive and engineer turned whistleblower Arnie Gundersen doubts DOE’s transparency on the subject of this failure at the supposedly leak-proof WIPP…
‘The DOE is giving us one tenth of a percent of the information they really know,’ he said. ‘In fact there is an awful lot more that should be known before we can assess the risk. The DOE has a long history of playing keep-away with the facts and promoting nuclear power.’

Heh. ‘Keep-away’ is a version of Dodgeball. Which, as iterated by Dodgeball legend Patches O’Houlihan, is a sport of violence, exclusion, and degradation. And now, perhaps a game of hitting hapless workers with very nasty plutonium and americium contamination, then not being honest about it…” © Kos Media, LLC, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2014/03/03/1281862/-Radiation-Leak-ASW-to-Independently-Test-WIPP-Workers (Emphasis added).

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Steelworkers
[2] https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/17-serious-safety-violations-at-honeywell-uranium-conversion-plant-found-subsequent-to-release-of-vapor-and-much-more/ https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/honeywell-illegally-stored-corrosive-radioactive-slurry-along-ohio-river-pled-guilty-paid-fine/ https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2014/08/28/honeywell-creates-potentially-dangerous-conditions-by-uranium-conversion-facility-worker-lock-out/ https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2014/10/30/honeywell-uranium-conversion-facility-haz-gas-escape-suspected-worker-lock-out-ongoing/ https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2014/11/08/locked-out-uranium-processing-workers-protest-honeywells-use-of-scab-workers-at-uranium-enrichment-plant-in-illinois/ https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/honeywell-metropolis-uranium-hex-plant-recently-required-to-address-structural-failings/ https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/alert-declaration-not-made-during-event-involving-uranium-hexafluoride-leak-plus-more-stinky-honeywell-business/
[3] “A Livelihood in Nuclear Waste, Under Threat“, by Dan Frosch, March 20, 2014 CARLSBAD, N.M. — For 15 years, workers from this dusty New Mexico town have made the 26-mile drive down a series of worn two-lane highways…http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/21/us/a-livelihood-in-nuclear-waste-under-threat.html?_r=0
It’s interesting that whereas the article claims that they were given money for infrastructure, the drive is “down a series of worn two-lane highways“, which suggests a dangerous lack of infrastructure upkeep, also found for Sellafield.
[4] “Sellafield partly closed after ‘above normal’ radiation“, 31 Jan. 2014 http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-cumbria-25975785
[5] http://www.commondreams.org/news/2014/02/25/remember-nuclear-dump-site-was-never-supposed-leak
[6] http://tewawomenunited.org/programs/environmental-justice-program

Explains that WIPP was designed to fail: https://miningawareness.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/roof-fall-in-wipp-problems-just-beginning-this-is-what-happens-when-you-put-waste-in-salt/

The USDOE reportedly intends to take state lawsuit money from the general cleanup fund in the 2016 budget: https://cumbriatrust.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/wipp-essentially-doe-dept-of-energy-is-threatening-to-punish-states-by-doing-less-cleanup-work/
Meanwhile, there is almost $1.9 billion set aside in the 2016 budget under the disguise of “non-proliferation” to bring nuclear waste from all over the world to dump on America. The current head of the US DOE, Moniz, appears to have easy access to multiple other nationalities due to Portuguese grandparents (EU), and his wife who is Japanese, born in Brazil. The UK and Ireland don’t allow right of return for the majority of the earlier arrivals in America, so those Americans will be simply stuck in the nuclear waste, which Obama and Moniz want dumped upon America. For Obama to run around the world, offering to accept their nuclear waste, even after the WIPP fiasco is dumbfounding. French government owned Areva is one of the major contractors at WIPP: “The NWP team includes major subcontractor AREVA Federal Services, LLC (AREVA) to provide best-in-industry TRU waste characterization expertise, services, equipment.http://www.nwp-wipp. com/partners.html AREVA has been under investigation for years in France due to what is now known as the Uramin Scandal. The investigations pre-dated Areva getting the 2012 contract at WIPP. EnergySolutions, owned and run by former Goldman Sachs investment bankers, was involved in the packaging of the exploded waste. Both Areva and EnergySolutions have been responsible for the mostly failed water purification process at Fukushima, so that the Pacific continues to be poisoned with dangerous, often long-lived, radionuclides. Contrary to lies which are told, tritium can actually be filtered, is valuable for nuclear weapons, and has a usable “precious commodity” by-product – helium. http://www.srs.gov/general/news/factsheets/tf.pdf