Writings and observations

A December guest opinion from Tami Thatcher, a former nuclear safety analyst at the Idaho National Laboratory and a nuclear safety consultant.

The headline that “Radiation, chemicals likely killed 396 INL workers” by Rocky Barker at the Idaho Statesman last December understates the historical occupational health issues at the Idaho National Laboratory. As of last November, 5,397 INL workers had applied for radiation or chemical illness compensation under the Energy Employee compensation act. Only 636 radiation claims and 926 chemical claims have so far been approved.

There are now two petitions for radiation exposure cohorts being investigated by the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health: one for INL and one for ANL-W. So far, one cohort for the Chem Plant from 1963 to 1974 has been recommended largely because of inadequate plutonium contamination monitoring.

The INL including ANL-W has conducted a tremendous variety of nuclear operations over the years at various facilities. While radiation monitoring practices and nuclear operations have changed over the years, here’s one thing that hasn’t changed: the deliberate understatement and omitting of important facts by the Department of Energy concerning contamination and exposures at these facilities.

Congressional testimony when the Energy worker act was created documented how the DOE deliberately withheld information it considered might erode public confidence, increase its liability, or prompt workers to demand hazard pay.

As I review recent reports by the DOE which still deceptively minimize historical radiological releases to southeast Idaho, it is clear that not much has changed. A DOE report published in 2014 depicts public offsite radiation doses all being below 10 mrem/yr, yet its cited source shows annual doses three times that amount. And various releases have been found by NIOSH to have been underestimated. Add to these low-balled INL releases the Department of Energy weapons testing releases that continued from underground testing after the above-ground weapons test ban in 1963.

I stumbled across serious errors in annual reporting of radionuclide emissions for 2013 at the INL that no one at DOE, INL or IDEQ had noticed, it is clear that the illusion of environmental monitoring is far more important that the actual monitoring, evaluation of results or looking for ways to reduce emissions. Emissions are often estimated without verification and then downplayed. The State of Idaho should care about the accurate current and historical reporting of contamination of air and water.

While other federal agencies such as the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission post public comment as received whether or not the proposed action is pursued. The DOE has yet to post public comment regarding the Two Proposed Shipments to INL citing the reason that it has altered its original plan. DOE has long eluded having to post or respond to solicited public comment this way.

A recent large epidemiology study combining France, the UK and the US has provided more evidence that it is cumulative dose that matters and doses below radiation protection standards yield increased cancer risk. You can count of the Department of Energy to make only muffled responses and it is unlikely that radiation worker training will discuss these results. The DOE has yet to reconcile radiation health findings from 2006 that found children were 7 times more vulnerable to radiation exposure, and women twice as vulnerable as men or the INL worker epidemiology showing elevated risk of brain tumors and blood cancers for INL workers, whether or not the workers were radiation workers.

NIOSH conducts radiation dose reconstruction with available dose reports. And it has yet to come to grips with serious americium-241 shallow perched water contamination at the ATR complex. The secrecy caused an absence of record keeping of the quantities of americium and other long-lived radionuclides flushed down the drains to open-air pecolation ponds.

And the US Geological survey which wrote a report specifically about shallow and deep perched water failed to monitor either americium or gross alpha levels. Even tiny community wells must monitor gross alpha levels. The USGS gave as an excuse that they do not read CERCLA reports that reported the americium levels at 100 times the maximum contaminant levels. The DOE has for years avoided mentioning long-lived radionuclide contamination at INL because it knows that the truth could erode public confidence.

NIOSH has continually been misled by the DOE about the adequacy of radiation controls at INL. NIOSH interviews are conducted but current workers cannot discuss problems without risk of retribution. Former workers need to step up and assist NIOSH in understanding past and current issues at INL that may have led to inadequate monitoring of radiation exposure as NIOSH investigates the petitions.

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This past year may well go down in political history as one of the more wacky and weird ever. The emergence of Donald Trump as a genuine possible Republican nominee for president has clearly surprised the “chattering class” of journalists, commentators, the “inside the beltway” crowd, the self-styled political cognoscenti.

Trump has tapped into that vein of anger with the way things are, the shrinking middle class beset by too many obligations and too few resources, overwhelmed by a sense of unfairness, totally distrustful of a federal government that has earned the distrust through a series of lies to the American public, a government made up of folks who don’t realize the growing burden of oppressive rules and regulations.

Trump’s ability to dominate the race through seemingly outrageous and politically incorrect statements, his ability to generate television ratings, and to use the media he in part is campaigning against to deliver his messsage has been stunning.

So what will 2016 bring? Here are some even wackier predictions on both the national and state level that while admittedly unlikely might, never the less provoke thought on a reader’s part.

On a national level: Trump arrives at the Republican Convention with the most pledged delegates but not enough to win the nomination. Republican pooh-bahs still see disaster if he is the nominee and must deny him the nomination without having him leave and form a third party. What’s the solution?

RNC meets with House and Senate Republican caucuses and propose Speaker Paul Ryan resign to be replaced by Donald Trump. That’s correct, folks. The Constitution permits Congress to name anyone to the Speakership. Trump seizes the deal reognizing he still has a major platform, that after the Vice President he is next in line, and he does not run the risk of rejection at the polls or spending some of his billions.

What’s in it for Ryan, you ask? Paul Ryan becomes the Republican nominee for president.

On the Democratic side things become equally weird. Keep in mind the Obamas’ have never been close to the Clintons’ and that President Obama privately is not happy at the prospect of Hillary as his successor. Thus, when his Justice Department recommends he appoint a “Special Counsel” to oversee a review of the investigation of Hillary’s inexcusable use of an unsecured server for discussion of some critical official secrets, as well as other “unspecified” activities, Hillary reads the tea leaves corretly and with draws from the race in order to defend her good name.

The Democratic National Convention then by acclimation names Vice President Joe Biden as the party’s presidential nominee, in part because the the major unions pledge $1 billion to underwrite Biden’s campaign. Obama immediatedly endorses Biden, obviously more pleased with Joe as his successor. In November, Ryan wins.

On the state level, things get wackier also. First Disrrict congressman Raul Labrador, at the last possible moment, stuns Idahoans and senior U.S. Senator Mike Crapo by entering the Republican primary aganst Crapo. His declaration of candidacy nails Crapo as a faux conservtive, cites his 2012 drinking incident as inexcusable conduct, and charges Crapo with violating his Grover Norquist pledge never to support a tax increase.

Labrador, despite an ego growing like topsy ever since claiming to have forced Speaker John Boehner to leave office, and his alienation of many voters in eastern Idaho due to a perception of non-support for the Idaho National Lab, nonethe less defeats Crapo and coasts into the Senate.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter’s ranch, there has been a whole lot of scheming. Otter in November began quietly raising money for his personal PSC, ostensibly to support good Republican candidates for the Legislature.

The truth however is Butch has acquiesed to his wife Lori’s desire to be governor. Torn between his wife and loyalty to his long-time loyal lieutenant governor, Brad Little, Otter opts for his wife. Little immediately declares his canidacy for governor even though the election is 2 years away.

With Labrador going for the Senate rather than governor, as many had expected, former State Senator Russ Fulcher declares his candidacy and works to sew up the Tea Party vote. Crapo, still hearing the call for public service and angry with a right-wing he had tilted towards to no avail, seeks revewnge by also entering the 2018 governor’s race. Thus, the GOP primary in May, 2018, sees a free-for-all between Lori Otter, Brad Little, Russ Fulcher and Mike Crapo. Little wins.

In the 2016 race to succeed Labrador in the House, Coeur d’Alene Mayor Steve Widmeyer is a surprise winner for the GOP nomination, defeating State Senators Bob Nonini and Mary Souza, as well as Rep. Luke Malek. Widmeyer defeats Democratic State Rep. Paulette Jordan in the general election.

And the Democratic candidate for governor in 2018 is Boise Mayor Dave Bieter who turns back a surprisingly strong challenge in the primary from Moscow State Senator Dr. Dan Schmidt. Little still wins in November 2018.

Admittedly my crystal ball is cloudy. These are all far-fetched speculation, but when politics gets this wacky, anything is possible. This coming year should be interesting. Happy New Year!

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Carlson

Nauseating.

Take a look at the Washington Post article – this is just the latest of many this year – on how a local SWAT team terrorized a family, on “suspicion” that a marijuana grow might be happening there. Never mind that this was a well-established middle class family with children, both of whose adults were retired CIA employees. And that the sole reason for suspicion, all they had, was that the mother likes to the drink tea, and the father took one of the kids on a trip to a gardening store.

This is the kind of stuff that people worried about government really ought to be worried about, because it’s not fantasy – it really does happen all over the country. We have funded and supplied SWAT corps that, most of the time, have too little to do. So they find something to do: Terrorizing us.

Over at Facebook, I made the point that this is another example of why marijuana ought to be legalized, just because the “war” on it has become far more dangerous to all of us than the substance ever was to anyone. And the legal morass around criminalizing pot is the biggest single reason it should be legalized nationally. But these SWAT teams are another issue beyond that. They were created for a reason, and occasions happen – like the mass shootings, which themselves are getting too frequent – when it’s a good thing we have them available. But simply having them around, with pressure on (as it always will be) for regular demonstrated reports about how busy they are, means that these kinds of nightmares will go on and on, on whatever pretext. This militarization has to be reversed and scaled back.

Read this piece in the Post, put yourself in the place of this family, and try to come up with an argument for how this could be right . . . – rs

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Here’s an unlikely bright spot for Microsoft: Bing, the search engine that seemed not many years ago like almost an ego toy for the execs at Redmond, something to wave at Google while never really threatening it.

There’s a little more threat now.

The analyst company comScore says that while Google is still way out ahead with about 64% of the overall search market, Bing is growing, to 21% – enough that a substantial number of people are becoming familiar with it. (Over here, I lean toward Google but give Bing a try here and there, and find it delivers about as well.)

The increase, says the Puget Sound Business Journal, is “a significant step forward for Microsoft’s search engine, which back in 2011 bled more than $1 billion per quarter. Bing was such a pariah among investors that only a few years ago some were suggesting Microsoft sell off or kill the business.”

The most recent quarter was Bing’s first as a profit-making venture. It likely won’t be the last.

The generally favorable response, and movement generally into the marketplace of Windows 10, may be a significant part of the reason.

That may somewhat over-represent Bing’s place in the market, since some mobile and other devices still show it as maintaining only a very low level of activity.

But it does seem to be picking up. Google may be getting some competition, and that’s not a bad thing. –rs (image/Ivan Walsh)

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Who is it that’s responsible, in the end, for ensuring that people who cannot afford an attorney to defend them in court, get one?

The state says it’s the counties.

The counties say it’s the state.

The responsibility for someone in the government – that is to say, and have no doubt about it, it is our responsibility – is clear. The United States constitution says as much, according to uncontroverted rulings of the United States Supreme Court. Because most criminal cases are based in state rather than federal law, most public defenders operate in systems governed by the states.

Complicating that a bit, courts and clerks are funded mostly on the local level, county by county, and you can make a good argument that public defenders are too, or should be.

Speaking in the latest case – generated by the American Civil Liberties Union – before 4th District Judge Sam Hoagland, Deputy Attorney General Michael Gilmore said that public defender standards and operations are a local matter, not state. And, he seemed to suggest, even if “the state” were considered responsible, there’s no specific office in state government that has the power and budget item to handle public defense.

That really ought to make sense – it really should. The fact that in practice, if not in theory, it doesn’t, owes a lot to the way Idaho operates.

Idaho’s policymakers, meaning its legislators and statewide officials, often talk about how governmental control should be devolved down to the lowest practical level; but that mostly seems to mean federal-state relations rather than state-local. “Home rule” is not strong in Idaho, as the record of legislative session after session has demonstrated. This next session may see the scaleback or even elimination of city urban renewal authority, for one example. But cities have relatively broad freedom to act compared, in most cases, with counties. Practically everything a county does is circumscribed, down to the inch, by state law and regulation. And to a great extent that includes the amount of revenue it can raise, and how it can be spent.

Little wonder the counties, more or less hogtied by the state, are feeling some frustration here.

Dan Chadwick, the longtime executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties, pointed out that at least one county (Canyon) already faced an individual lawsuit over public defense before the ACLU action. Chadwick: “Quite frankly it’s a big frustration for us, and we’re talking about a state responsibility. The only reason it’s a county responsibility is that the state has chosen to delegate that to the counties … no matter what we do and how hard we try to fix it, we end up in court anyway.”

An interim legislative committee has been looking into the situation – it has been recognized by legislators as a serious problem – but seems unlikely to come up with any concrete solutions before the next session convenes.

No comprehensive answers, in any event, could come from expecting each of the 44 counties to individually come up with answers on public defense. That could happen only on the state level, and only if the state figures out some way to pay for it, whether through an ostensibly local tax or through direct state funding.

Either way, the place to look for answers will be the state. And specifically, the third floor of the Statehouse starting next month.

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Idaho Idaho column Stapilus

. . . and watch the roads if you’re traveling. Heavy snow around much of the interior Northwest today.

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