A construction worker was showing a reporter around the site of a half-completed Washington Public Power reactor.
"This plant will do nothing to disrupt the environment," he argued. "Not only will there be no radation leakage outside the fence, there should be no exposure inside.
"You know, this is a safe industry," he continued, gesturing to make a point. "Not one person has ever been killed in the nuclear power business."
"Not even in construction?" asked the reporter.
The superintendent paused. "Well, in construction. we've lost three men right here. About one a year, but that's to be expected."
Somewhere in the computer banks of the Department or Energy are the names and social security numbers for practically every American who has ever stepped into an agency facility where there is potential radiation exposure. The data comes from a heat sensitive card called a dosimeter, which is clipped onto the left hand pocket. Each year, just like an accumlating pension fund, the department sends out "individual exposure records" of the amount of radiation that person has been exposed to both for that year and a lifetime total.
The interior's of the nuclear facilites at Hanford are marked by a series of signs indicating potential high level radiation zones. Protective smocks and rubber boots must be removed on special step-off pads. Hand and shoe counters are located by building entrances to measure radiation that could be tracked beyond the area.
Specially trained radiation monitors using a variety of instruments - the standard Gieger counter, the pistol-like CutiePie - monitor all employes. Regular laboratory unrinalysis is required of all workers, who under-go annual checkups at the DOE funded Hanford Environmental Health Foundation.
"For every workers we always have two people standing beside him to see what he's doing," said Tom Doyle, head of a health committee for the Atomic Workers Union local. "It becomes almost difficult to a simple job with eyeryone standing around. We're almost smothered by paperwork."
Long-term Hanford workers belong to a very exclusive club, the transuranium registry. They carry a plastic encased card title "Authority for Autopsy."
"It is urgent," reads the card, "in the event of critical illness, injury or death, that an immediate call be made to the U.S. Government, Richland, Washington." The Department of Energy picks up the tab.
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Thus, it is ironic that a great debate has broken out over the health of what can be considered the best monitored working population in the nation.
In 1964, Dr. Thomas Mancuso, a university of Pittsburgh epidemiologist was hired by the former Atomic Energy Commission to conduct a first study of the effects of low-level radiation of the health of nuclear workers.
UP to that time, the only data of human exposure came from studies of Japanese victims of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.Mancuso decided to study the death certificates of workers at Hanford and Oakland, where the plutonium for those bombs was produced.
Mancuso made his first public report in 1971 in which he said that early results showed the causes of death were no different for Hanford because occupational cancers,can take up to 30 years to devlop, his report could not be considered complete. But Mancuso also warned that workers than for the average population.
Three years later the nuclear industry was jolted by a report from Dr. Samuel Milham, of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Science. Milham reported an excess number of cancer deaths in the Hanford area.
Mancuso has since testified before the House Subcommittee on Health and Environment that the AEC "feared public knowledge of the Milham finding" and pressured him to refute the Washington State report.
Mancuso refused to release his report in final form, still declaring that the conclusions would be premature and could be misused. Milham, in turn, was convinced by AEC officials to withhold publication of his study until Mancuso finished the government-financed report.
Dr. Sidney Marks, a Richland raised pathologist, was Mancuso's contract officer at AEC. (That agency was reorganized into the Energy Research and Development Administration - ERDA - and transferred again into the new Department of Energy.) One year after the release of the Milham study, and Mancuso's subsequent refusual to refute the findings, Marks notified the Pittsburgh researcher that his contract would be terminated as of July 1977.
James Liverman, then a senior adminstrator at ERDA and now DOE's acting Assistant Secretary for Environment, let it be known that Mancuso's contract was being terminated due to his impending retirement." But Mancuso, who was then 62, was not contemplating leaving the field, and was welcome to continue atthe University of Pittsburgh until reaching 70.
With the clock running against him, Mancuso was moving to publish his first formal findings. He brought in two new associates, including Dr. Alice Stewart of the Queen Elizabeth Cancer Hospital in Birmingham, England. Stewart had gained an international reputation for linking inutero exposure to ionizing radiation and increased risk of childhood leukemia. Together with another colleague they completed the new study six months before the termination.
The paper showed an increased rate of cancer deaths among Hanford workers who were exposed to levels of radiation previously considered safe. The cancers, primarily of the bone marrow, lung and pancreas were elevated an average of five percent.
Meanwhile, DOE went ahead with plans to remove the study from Mancuso's hands. The study was split between a research consortium in Oak Ridge and Battelle at Hanford.
The Hanford project was to be under the direction of Sidney Marks, Mancuso's immediate superior at AEC-ERDA, who had come to Battelle in June, 1976. At Battelle, Marks joined Dr. Ethel Gilbert, a statistician who had previously written critical evaluations about the Milham and Mancuso studies.
Marks denies any conflict between his shift from DOE to Battelle. "Mancuso was simply not an effective investigator," he says.
"I am convinced that if there are risks, they are very low," says Marks. The Battelle researcher says that more definitive results may not be available for as many as 20 years.
Mancuso declares his contract was not continued because "the government was afraid of the results." He says that based on the initial findings, continuing years will reveal greater incidences of radiation-created cancer at Hanford. He hopes to continue his study with private funding.