Reviews & Endorsements
Whoever dreams of a better earth should take this story to heart. A fascinating, scary, very important story. The book is a true act of hope in a cynical universe. –John Nichols, author, The Milagro Beanfield War and The Sterile Cuckoo (To read John Nichol's foreword for the book, click here)
author of The Milagro Beanfield War, The Sterile Cuckoo, and other literary works
The Ambushed Grand Jury is a fascinating, scary, very important story. In an age of increasing environmental collapse and “terrorist” danger, our government’s careless and illegal actions at the Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant outsideDenver should prompt all of us to become activists on behalf of our own future. This book is a chilling account of nuclear danger perpetrated by the United States against the United States.
As foreman of the Grand Jury that investigated nuclear crimes at Rocky Flats, Wes McKinley is a truly courageous American, and a fabulous character. The whistleblower, the FBI agent, and the lawyer who joined Wes in the drawn-out Citizens’ Investigation of Rocky Flats, at clear danger to their own lives and livelihoods, deserve the Medal of Honor for their refusal to back down.
When everyday common citizens have the guts to stand up against the monolith, at great risk to themselves, the rest of us need to listen. Their perseverance is remarkable. In lucid exciting prose, The Ambushed Grand Jury unweaves a tangled web, giving us extraordinary insight into the Chinese puzzle of nuclear weapons development, nuclear waste disposal, and our government’s complete disregard for the well-being of its citizens. More to the point, the book itself is a true act of hope in a cynical universe.
Whoever dreams of a better earth should take this story to heart. In such dangerous times, we all need to becomeactivists, and here is a blueprint to get us started. I predict that someday, The Ambushed Grand Jury might become a film to join the ranks of movies like The China Syndrome, Norma Rae, A Civil Action, Silkwood, and Erin Brockovich. It is that engaging and inspiring.
An eye witness, daring exposé of the Justice Department’s cover-up of dangerous nuclear crimes at Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant. Many of us suspected this cover-up. Now we have the proof. – Walter L. Gerash, trial lawyer
If we pay no heed to the message of this book, we will continue sliding down the steep slope into the nuclear abyss. – Arjun Makhijani, Ph.D., nuclear fusion
(To read Arjun Makhijani's afterword for the book, click here)
Back to the Bad Old Days**
During the long Cold War, the government of the United States, like that of the Soviet Union, deliberately sacrificed the health of its own people without informed consent in the name of national security. The production and testing of vast numbers of nuclear weapons contaminated neighborhoods and the environment surrounding the nuclear weapons plants with radioactive and hazardous elements that will remain dangerous for thousands of years.
As the Cold War came to an end, and people began to wake up to the radioactive contamination of their neighborhoods, there were official expressions of contrition. The United States government seemed willing to cease or cut back its nuclear weapons production. It appeared ready to address and remedy the legacy of cancers and contamination it had created among workers, armed forces personnel, and people downwind
from nuclear weapons plants by its rush to produce nuclear weapons. As people around the country organized against the contamination and damage, many nuclear weapons plants were shut, especially during the administration of Bush I, who also initiated a nuclear test moratorium in 1992, which Congress enacted in 1993. An historic step was taken in 1993 by then-Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary when she announced an unprecedented openness initiative. From the late 1980s to late 2000, laws compensating various categories of affected workers, atomic veterans, and downwinders were passed.
In 1989, as part of its effort to demonstrate a new face to the public, the FBI raided Rocky Flats, where most of the USplutonium bomb cores were made during the Cold War. Rocky Flats was part of the nuclear horror show. There was massive contamination of the site, even though most of the waste had been shipped to Idaho. There was evidence that laws had been broken.
Then-Deputy Secretary of Energy W. Henson Moore, on his visit to Rocky Flats in the aftermath of the FBI raid, explained the Cold War attitude of the government thus: Nuclear weapons production, he told the press, had been "a secret operation not subject to laws . . . no one was to know what was going on." He added that "the way the government and its contractors operated these plants was: This is our business, it’s national security, everybody else butt out."
The "everybody else" he was referring to was not a foreign power, but the people of the United States.
A three-year Grand Jury investigation of alleged government and contractor crimes at Rocky Flats ensued. It seemed that the US government might be serious about nuclear weapons reform. But the Justice Department’s later ambush of the Rocky Flats Grand Jury in 1992, and its cover-up of the Grand Jury proceedings, of which this book is a gripping account, was possibly the very first solid piece of evidence that the nuclear weapons establishment was not really serious in its contrition.
A decade later, in the new century, an "axis of evil" was proclaimed by the President of the United States. New nuclear weapons are being designed. The Nevada Test Site is being kept in readiness for resuming nuclear weapons testing. The nuclear boys seek to again ride the high horse they call national security. The bad old days are back.
Evidence is increasing that the nuclear establishment is now back to sacrificing people and the environment in favor of nuclear weapons production. Plans for building a "Modern Pit Facility," the replacement for Rocky Flats that would put the United States back in the business of building hundreds of new nuclear weapons every year, are marching ahead. Nuclear weapons designers are eager to resume design of new nuclear weapons. There is more and more serious talk of abrogating the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, whose ratification the US Senate rejected in 1999. Environmental and health considerations are once more being shoved into second place, if that. Secrecy is back, too.
There are also signs that the government is now more brazen than before in imposing health risks on workers and the public. According to the radiation dose estimates published by the Department of Energy itself, the Modern Pit Facility would violate its own guidelines regarding worker doses. More than one in four of the potential accidents analyzed for the proposed facility would violate the Department’s guideline for radiation exposure to the public, some by as much as 400%. In addition, the potential accidents analyzed by the government represent only a fraction of possible scenarios, masking the full truth about the overall risk posed to the public.
The Department of Energy argues that making new plutonium pits is necessary because the pits might get old and not explode destructively enough. However, according to data from the Department’s own plutonium geriatrics program, there is no scientific basis for a decision to build a new pit facility for the purpose of replacing aging plutonium pits in the current arsenal.
So if plutonium pit aging is not the main reason for building a new bomb plant, what is? The principal motivation appears to be to replace Rocky Flats, to re-create a capability to mass manufacture entirely new nuclear weapons that require pits of new designs. New nuclear weapons plants and plans will carry a very high price in terms of reduced security, increased proliferation risks, and greater health and environmental damage. Could it be that these programs mainly benefit a nuclear weapons technocracy trying to perpetuate itself despite the great cost to the public and to future generations, as it did back in the bad old days?
Take a look at some of the features of those bad old days as a reminder of the kind of world that we may re-visit:
• During the 1950s and early 1960s, the era of atmospheric nuclear testing, the US government was secretly informing photographic film producers of expected fallout patterns so they could protect their film supply. This practice started after Kodak threatened to sue for damages caused by exposure of their film products to radioactive fallout (via contaminated packaging material). The US government provided advance data on anticipated fallout patterns to Kodak and its fellow film manufacturers, but did nothing to inform downwinders so they could take precautions. Nor did the government inform milk producers so they could protect that vital component of the food supply. The government’s estimates now indicate that about 80,000 people in the United States have gotten or will get cancer due to exposure to testing fallout. Of these, 15,000 to 20,000 are estimated to be fatal cancers.
• From the 1940s into the 1970s, the United Statesgovernment subjected more than 23,000 people to radiation experiments, many without their informed consent. One experiment involved feeding oatmeal with radioactive trace elements to more than 100 boys at a Massachusetts school. There were also testicular irradiation experiments on prisoners. There were experiments on pregnant women. In 1993, upon learning of a particularly troubling experiment involving the injection of plutonium without informed consent into subjects, then-Secretary of the Department of Energy Hazel O'Leary remarked, "The only thing I could think of was Nazi Germany."
• In the 1950s and early 1960s, most workers at the Fernald nuclear weapons plant near Cincinnati were overexposed to uranium without their knowledge or consent. Because of the toxicity of uranium as a heavy metal, many workers probably also suffered kidney damage. Here, and at other nuclear weapons plants, workers were falsely reassured that they were not being harmed.
In one of the more alarming and telling signs of regression to the bad old days, in 2003 the Department of Energy asked Congress to allow it to reclassify wastes designated under current law as "high-level," and hence requiring deep geologic disposal, as "incidental waste" that could be disposed of in shallow burial sites. As of this writing, it has not succeeded. But if it is actually permitted to leave vast amounts of radioactivity, including high-level waste and waste highly contaminated with plutonium, in place in shallow dumps, capped or grouted, the Department of Energy would be putting some of the most precious water resources of the United States at risk, including:
• The Columbia River in Washington and Oregon, the largest river in the West.
• The Snake River Plain Aquifer in Idaho, a sole source aquifer for much of southern Idaho, where 75 percent of the country’s commercial rainbow trout are grown.
• The Savannah River in South Carolina and Georgia.
• The Rio Grande
As The Ambushed Grand Jury goes to press, the United States is leading the world headlong in the retrograde direction of greater reliance on nuclear weapons and force, against its own best traditions of the rule of law. "Do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do" is the nuclear tipped norm for the USgovernment.
This book, with its real cowboy protagonist—a cowboy who knows mathematics—and its courageous FBI agent and Rocky Flats whistleblower, is far more than a cautionary tale. It is a true story of public empowerment, based on solid research and told with style and vigor. If we pay no heed to its message, we risk sliding down a steep slope into the nuclear abyss. But should we be awake enough to attend to it, we will surely be moved to put people back in the saddle and nuclear weapons where they belong in the dust bin of history.
*Arjun Makhijani is president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Takoma Park, Maryland. He received his Ph.D. in nuclear fusion from the Department of Electrical Engineering, UC Berkeley.
**This Afterword is mainly drawn from Arjun Makhijani and Lisa Ledwidge, "Back to the Bad Old Days," Science for Democratic Action, September 2003, at www.ieer.org, the web site of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. References are to be found in that article or in other material posted on the IEER website.
An inspiring true story of citizen empowerment in the face of government deceit. We all need to pay attention. – Chris Eyre, Director, Smoke Signals, Skins, and Edge of America
What do you do when there’s no justice at the Justice Department? – Harlan Hackett, cowboy
Couldn’t stop reading it while making the copies. – employee at Paradise Copies