CIA endangers NUMEC toxic waste cleanup
by Grant Smith, October 20, 2011
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has just stopped its $170 million nuclear waste dump cleanup at a former Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) site in Pennsylvania. In the early 1960s, NUMEC established a plutonium facility in Parks Township — disposing of waste in a large field adjacent to the plant. NUMEC’s waste site was staggeringly inappropriate. According to Atomic Energy Commission surveys and more recent USACE studies, groundwater flows freely throughout the dump at levels where waste resides. Further below the surface, a warren of coal mine shafts from the early 20th century creates the possibility of toxic seepage and sinkholes.
According to what the USACE knows, a contractor failed to inspect the contents of a 55-gallon drum holding radioactive waste before moving it. What nearby residents, contractors, and USACE engineers don’t know could pose an even greater hazard — and the CIA may be in a position to provide a remedy.
According to newly declassified FBI files [.pdf], NUMEC’s venture capitalist David Lowenthal and founder Zalman Shapiro knowingly failed to comply with even the lax AEC standards in force in the 1960s for handling radioactive waste at NUMEC. An FBI wiretap placed on Lowenthal’s phone picked up shocking news of a major illicit radioactive spill on May 5, 1969. Lowenthal and Shapiro were both under investigation for diverting enough HEU to Israel to build more than a dozen atomic weapons. Shapiro and Lowenthal were in the midst of their “exit strategy” — selling NUMEC to Atlantic Richfield, which would (along with successor Babcock & Wilcox and then American taxpayers) be left holding the bag for massive future cleanup and health indemnity costs.
Shapiro and Lowenthal — in line for a $150 per share buyout of their substantial stock holdings — seemed surreally unperturbed as the avoidable disaster unfurled, quickly moving on to the topic of new corporate acquisition targets.
9:18 p.m.: CENSORED reported on a spillage at the plant. They have the area roped off and it will take some pick and shovel work to dig up the contaminated areas. CENSORED said they are getting 100,000 counts. CENSORED said, “Oh, God.” They are dampening it down to avoid dust and will cover it if it looks like it may rain. CENSORED asked if there is anything on AAI? …
More recently, Geiger counter–wielding inspectors in Japan used 6,000 counts per minute as a threshold standard for decontamination, only raising it to 100,000 after the Fukushima disaster.
A phone call placed just two minutes after the first about NUMEC confirmed that
it’s not only a bad spill but “actually they are operating outside compliance.” They had the drums all together. They have about 200 drums and estimate that about six a day will corrode through. The trouble lay with a fluoride which was put in to help the decay, and this was not checked. CENSORED said they are also about $230,000 over on their construction costs for the scrap plant. Z [Zalman Shapiro] said if they could get other people, there would be a lot of firing.