Page 4


Jeff Danziger work kir 40 to 50 people, each of them earning from $12,000 to $18,000 a year. Then there is the enticing annual sum of $1.5 million he says SouthWest Nuclear would spend on local goods and services to maintain the burial site. The upswing in business activity, he goes on, would have a “real big ripple effect” on a town the size of Roxton. Boom times. As for safety, Beierle claims his northeast Texas dump would handle only “low-level” radioactive debris from reactors, radium and x-ray therapy clinics, and university research labs contaminated gloves, water filters, dust, floor sweepings, and the like. “It’s just not real dangerous,” says Beierle of his business, likening the maintenance of a nuclear waste trench to “a big gardening operation.” The typical waste site, he says, “really looks better” after entrenchment and resodding. \(That’s about what the stripminers say, but no His presentations in Delta County, to the group at the Roxton Bank, and to service club luncheongoers in nearby Hunt County have been skillful. Beierle is good before a crowd, and he has an eye for graphic effects and, as he calls them, “visual aids.” His spiel is lent an agreeable air with slides, self-effacing quips, and country banter. He makes a point of his experience in the dump business \(he supervised the start-up work on waste sites in Hanford, Wash., and He’s fairly dismissive of health and safety considerations. Problems So much for what he says and does. What about the things he leaves unsaid, and doesn’t do? He never quite gets around to mentioning, as he must surely know, that every one of the country’s low-level dumps has sprung serious leaks. Nor does he share the information that Paul Cash, SouthWest Nuclear’s chief financial backer, was on the board of directors of the company that built the Maxey Flats waste site, by far the worst of the lot. Of Cash, Beierle has only this to say: “He’s one of the few knowledgeable people in the whole nuclear field.” Cash is a certified public accountant in Dallas. Through either purposeful omis sion or selective ignorance, Beierle fails to explain that “low-level” doesn’t necessarily mean decreased danger upon exposure. Investigators looking at the links between radiation and cancer have begun to discover that repeated exposure to low levels of radia tion may very well pose greater car cinogenic dangers than do sudden, one time-only exposures to high doses of radiation. And new evidence suggests strongly that the actual danger threshold for low-lever waste exposure is far lower than the radiation count currently permissible at nuclear waste dumps. Beierle’s management of the Barnwell construction project may or may not have been responsible for the huge cost overrun the dump has experienced, but in any case he hasn’t told Texas audiences that the federal government may have to take over Barnwell because the project’s private backers can’t afford to run the site, one that The Wall Street Journal has called “a $400 million white elephant.” Insurance companies willing to write radioactive risk policies for dump workers are few and far, far between. How come? The common-carrier truck ship ment of nuclear wastes that Beierle engages in to earn a living lends itself to piracy and highway calamity. A North Carolina highway accident involv ing a truck bearing nuclear waste from Connecticut to Barnwell this past Oc tober created a potential health disaster. When the truck’s load shifted, the lid on a supposedly tightly sealed one-:ton crate of waste popped off, loosing radioactive materials. Later, crews from the state natural resources department had to come to the accident site with fork lifts and other heavy equipment to re-seal the crate and secure its lid. The same sort of mishap could happen in Roxton, the people there know it, and they say they’ll push Beierle clear to Mexico to prevent him from starting a dump in Lamar or any adjoining county. Beierle, understandably, chooses to say nothing about the reports of exiled Soviet biochemist Zhores Medvedev, who claims hundreds were killed and many more poisoned by wind-borne radiation when an atomic waste site blew up without warning in the Ural Mountains in 1958. Unless asked, Beierle volunteers nothing about the half-lives of the contaminating isotopes he’d handle at his Texas dump. Much of the material typically buried at low-level dumps remains dangerously radioactive for hundreds of centuries. Nuclear waste storage is a social and ethical problem, and not simply a matter of science or engineering. As for criticism from environmentalists, nuclear physicists and unruly laymen who won’t quietly go along with the Pollyanna programs of January 14, 1977 13