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A s yw w W HAsr; vc.:RY SkAVAal. ,nrsziqn In their office in downtown Amarillo, Resource Center director Bill Harris and Carl Beard, the center’s resident scientist, disputed Moniak’s characterization. “What we do here is subject to peer review,” Beard said. “It’s not likely that I am going to work here forever, so I am not going to risk my professional reputation to advocate any position that is not based on valid scientific research.” Soft-spoken, convincing, and quietly handsome, Beard, a Texas A&M graduate, is a good face to put out in front of the plutonium program. At Los Alamos he worked on experimental programs related to the MOX program. Harris, a lawyer with the demeanor and self-assurance of a bank president, worked in Washington for the Nuclear Energy Institute, a nuclear industry trade association. While Beard talked science, Harris focused on the international politics that led to the focus on the MOX process. MOX is essential, he explained, because the Russians are determined to recover some of the money they invested in plutonium by using it to pro duce electricity, and they fear that if we store unmodified weapons grade plutonium in glass logs we might some day recover it and es tablish a strategic advantage. Harris also advanced an economic argument. Our surplus plutonium, he said, has huge energy poten tial: “Enough to provide electric power for ten years for a city the size of Austin.” A similar anti-vitrification argument is advanced by Bob Juba a the Amarillo Economic Development Corporation: “Vitrification as far as the Russians are concerned, still allows for the possibility of going in there and recovering weapons-grade plutonium. MOX is the only alternative whereby the U.S. could meet the former So viet Union’s definition of getting rid of plutonium.” Asked about a “gallium problem” that might require an “aqueous” chemical process, which could pose a threat to the Ogallala Aquifer, Juba ponders the question. “There might be some additional required chemical polishing,” he said “to take out trace elements of gallium.” [Gallium is metal added to weapons-grade plutonium and causes problems in reactors.] “Chemical polishing sounds like reprocessing,” Juba says. “But there is no heavy radioactive processes. The chemical process is a closed loop.” Looking out her dining room window and across the four strands of barbed wire that separate her farm from the Pantex plant, Jeri Osborne says she no longer believes anything that is promised by the Pantex promoters. If her 1991 encounter with Panhandle 2000 was her conversion, her confirmation occurred on October 4, 1995, when Pantex set off an conventional explosion to signal the start of an emergency-preparedness drill. The 110-pound blast damaged the foundation of Osborne’s house, cracked plumbing, flooded her basement, and sent dozens of cracks winding across her sheetrock walls and ceilings. Jeri and Jim Osborne sued, but Pantex had the suit dismissed. “They said we didn’t exhaust all our remedies with the D.O.E.,” Jim Osborne said in a Panhandle drawl so low and slow that it is corn forting to listen to “They sat right here at this table and said they would pay for it. We fixed it and they haven’t paid us.” “We don’t trust them,” Jeri Osborne said. “These new projects will run into the same type of problems the other projects run into. They’re grinding up, making powder out of a plutonium pit, cutting into that sucker and that sort of thing. You’re going to have some dust. They say they’ll be doing this in glove boxes. Well, the glove boxes up at Rocky Flats have been known to catch on fire and spread the stuff around.” Jim Osborne asks me if I think that tritium can cross a fence and Jeri Osborne points out her front window. Pantex workers have removed tritium canisters from weapons systems, but tritium is processed at Savannah River. “Now they’re talking about putting in a smokestack thing up above 115 feet, I believe it was,” Jeri Osborne says, “to get this tritium away from the [proposed] plant so it won’t contaminate the workers. They don’t care about us downwind.” Jeri Osborne is the chair of the Carson County Republican Party, and at the state convention last year she introduced and passed a resolution opposing the location of a pit disassembly plant in Amarillo. Representative Warren Chisum, almost always averse to environmental protection, voted for Osborne’s resolution. “Warren Chisum represents Pampa,” Osborne said. “Pampa’s downwind.” Doris Smith is an elegant gray-haired woman who has developed a local reputation for her paintings of Panhandle ranch life, and at times finds herself downwind from Pantex. Sitting on the porch of her house on the east side of the plant, she also raises the issue of tritium. The D.O.E. and Pantex officials have told her that the anticipated tenfold increase in tritium is still so minute that even Pantex’s immediate neighbors have nothing to fear. But Smith, who serves on the Pantex Plant Citizens’ Advisory t 10 THE TEXAS OBSERVER NOVEMBER 20, 1998