click to enlarge
Don't dismiss Wayne Knox as an "activist." Though he is the president of an advocacy group called Cold War Soldiers, whose chief objective is to obtain fair medical treatment and compensation for nuclear workers and their families, he comes with some hefty scientific credentials.
That's why we called him to help make sense of reports obtained about the radioactive substances at the Kansas City Plant in the Bannister Federal Complex.
click to enlarge
Knox lives in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1967, he entered the U.S. Air Force as a radiation physicist. He moved on to the Army Medical Corps as a Major in Nuclear Medicine Science. In 1974, he went to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation
, working for a Westinghouse factory where, as an operational health physicist, he wrote up the policies and procedures for handling radioactive materials and working with radiation-generating machines. He moved on to work at Batelle Northwest
as an internal radiation safety auditor, until the Three Mile Island
event occurred in Pennsylvania in 1979.
After Three Mile Island, he was hired to work for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
and developed industry rules and regulations for safety, emergency preparedness, post-accident sampling and core damage assessment -- the kind of stuff now being used to react to the current nuclear crisis
in Fukushima, Japan.
"We did a lot of things at facilities in the name of secrecy," Knox says, "and there were code words for materials. You may have plutonium designated as P-39 or P-38 ... based on the reports obtained, they [the Kansas City Plant] did have PuBe sources there."
PuBe sources, Knox says, are compounds of plutonium and beryllium that are used for generating neutrons
The 898 toxic substances in use, both in the past and present, at the Kansas City Plant are cataloged on the U.S. Department of Labor
's website. (That number has gone up by 113 since I wrote this story
in 2009, when the list contained 785 toxic substances.) Plutonium isn't on the list, though it's most definitely a toxic substance. But "Beryllium and compounds" are listed.
Based on the documents he has reviewed, Knox says he suspects that the Kansas City Plant's operators didn't have the appropriate tools to measure the doses of radiation that their workers may have been exposed to. He has made inquiries to see whether there were adequate shields in place, but he has yet to determine that answer.
"With those (PuBe) sources, steel walls mean nothing. Concrete walls mean
very little," he says.
Knox continues, "You have to understand, throughout the industry in general, the philosophy was, 'If you can't measure it and you can't see it, it's not there.' The unfortunate part about radiation is that it can be there. It can deal you a deathly blow, and you will not even know it. You might find out about it 10, 20 years later, but then, how can you attribute your death or your cancer to that radiation exposure, since no one measured it? How can you say it happened?
"The bottom line is, at the Kansas City Plant, they did not have the instrumentation to make these measurements," Knox says. "And they did not have health physicists there to understand how to make those measurements, even if they'd had the equipment."
Follow The Pitch on Facebook and on Twitter @pitchplog. Follow me at @nadianadia.