FLC Common Reading Experience Exposes Nuclear Waste Issues Close to Home

Rocky Flats nuclear plant

Remnants of the Rocky Flats nuclear plant outside of Denver, CO. Photo used by Fair Use.

Recently, I learned that the 2013-2014 Common Reading Experience book for FLC would be Kristen Iversen’s Full Body Burden, a nonfictional narrative that focuses on Rocky Flats, a once secret site near Denver that manufactured plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons during the Cold War. The author has a history with the plant, as she grew up in the area and her father worked at the plant. Rather than providing a dry, academic or scientific assessment of the issue, she includes both her own personal stories as well as the narratives of other workers and community members, exploring the plant’s impacts both on the environment and on families and individuals.

Rocky Flats is a topic of much interest for me for several reasons. First of all, it “hits close to home” for me, literally. I grew up about two miles southwest of the plant and I’ve always been curious about how well the area was cleaned up after its closure. Though the site was cleaned up and shut down in the early 2000’s, I’ve always wondered how thorough the clean-up process was and whether or not past production has health or environmental impacts today. The topic also relates to my fields of study, as I’m very interested in the intersectionality of social, environmental and political issues. The topic of nuclear weapons and production bring up numerous other issues that tie in to each of these fields: the political implications of nuclear proliferation, the power of the military-industrial complex, the environmental impact of nuclear waste and industrial manufacturing, the social impacts of weapons manufacturing and the health dangers caused by plutonium. Plutonium is a particularly dangerous radioactive material, deadly in even the most miniscule amounts. These are all issues that continue to be of major concern to the world today. Obviously, I’m interested in reading the book myself and I’m glad this book was chosen for FLC’s Common Reading Experience.

Although nuclear weapons manufacturing has been less of a concern in the US since the end of the Cold War, projects carried out in the past continue to impact us today.  The catastrophe at the Hanford nuclear facility in Washington is a powerful example.  Known as the most contaminated nuclear waste site in the US, the Hanford nuclear reservation houses 177 tanks full of radioactive sludge left over from plutonium production during the Cold War era. Tanks housing the waste have about a 20-year long lifespan and are quickly beginning to deteriorate. Just a few weeks ago, a single tank containing roughly 447,000 gallons of highly radioactive waste was revealed to be leaking materials. Over time, it was revealed that not just one but six tank were leaking. Cleanup of the site has been delayed over the years due to budgetary issues and the failure of politicians to take action on the issue. While the governor of Washington is pushing the Federal government to take action on the issue, further budget cuts and austerity measures pursued by Congress and the House of Representatives may make cleanup even more difficult and time-consuming.

Nuclear waste has vast long-term consequences for humans, animals and the environment, and is something we all need to learn more about. While our politicians may be more interested in furthering their own agendas, the health of the earth and humanity are in peril. These are issues we should all begin to look into and I strongly feel that it is time to take action on issues of this sort. Whether this means drafting petitions, writing letters to representatives and congress members or simply educating others, it will ultimately be up to the people to make change in these areas. First of all, we must be sure that we are aware of the situations we face and that we educate ourselves. By expanding our understanding and awareness of social, environmental and political issues, we can empower ourselves to become agents of change for the world and in our communities. For more information on this issue check out these excellent sources:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/16/hanford-nuclear-tank-is-l_n_2701197.html

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/02/23

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/americas/2013/02/2013223223927460308.html

By Randy Newkirk

An Impactful Weekend With C2C Fellows

Applying to Bard’s Center for Environmental Policy’s C2C Fellow’s workshop was one of the greatest ideas I’ve had in a while. The conference was held in Boulder, CO for just three short days. Consisting of a mixture of students from Boulder, University of Wyoming, University of New Mexico, Denver University and others from schools all across the country, our conference group made up a great recipe of creativity, excitement and inspiration. We were lucky enough to be accompanied by the Director of Bards Center for Environmental Policy the entire weekend and two other associate directors. As stated on the C2C website: “C2C stands for Campus to Congress, to Capitol, to City Hall and also for Campus to Corporation. C2C stands for young people gaining control of their future. C2C Fellows is the power network for young people with the wisdom, ambition, talent, and grace to change the future.”

Initially, we heard a lecture on why the earth’s climate is changing and what needs to be done about it to ensure we were all on the same page. We then tried some fun speed dating and getting to know the other fifty C2C fellows. The workshops emphasized that the climate change issue isn’t an economic, technologic or political issue, but a lack of leadership. The director, Eban Goodstein, explained that this is the time for political and entrepreneurial opportunities. Being at the C2C fellow workshop taught me that in order to be a leader you need a vision, a sense to know where to go. More importantly, you must have courage and know that you will fail, so if you do, fail fast and often. Being part of the program also ensures receiving two $1,000 scholarships, career advising from Goodstein in addition to MBA and Bard CEP graduate school scholarships. On the first evening of the conference, Alice Madden, the chair of Sustainable Development at the University of Colorado; Chris Michael, marketing director at BRITE Agrotechnology; and Chris Jones, the transportation planner of Denver, all spoke. All were inspirational.

One thing I learned was that in order to have a vision come true, one must have a way to fund their vision. We learned, when asking for funding, to tell the person or corporation, that you are offering them an opportunity to be part of a new idea or vision. Believe in the vision. If you are told no, ask again. I also learned that in order to be persuasive, the story must be relatable and personable. It is important to repeat, repeat and repeat again while still being humorous and genuine. Finally, ask for what you need from the person, whether it is monetary or emotional support.

Over the weekend, I received a unique chance to network with other people who all care about the environment as much as I do. Some people were more interested in business while others politics and some, like myself, who still didn’t really know what they wanted to do. However, this weekend helped inspire and steer us towards leading in whatever it is we may do.

boulder, colorado

The C2C Fellowship conference was held in the city of Boulder, Colorado. Photo used by Fair Use.

There are still two conferences left this year one in Michigan (Mar 15-17) and one in Portland (April 12-14).  To find out more about Bard College, or C2C fellows workshops you can go to this link: http://www.bard.edu/cep/c2c/

– Kala Hunter

Water Day at Rotary Park

River

Photo by Hari Baumbach.

The Zero-Waste Team is extremely excited to host Water Day at Rotary Park on March 24th. The event is to inspire the community to work together to “spring clean” the Animas River and raise awareness about water conservation and quality. We will begin the day at 1:30 assigning participants portions of the river to clean, followed by live music and prizes for sorting out trash, and ending  the day with a couple of guest speakers and an awesome documentary about water. Everything will take place outside so make sure to bring proper dress apparel and your own blanket or lawn chair for the show. Also bring along your favorite mug to enjoy some hot chocolate for the nightly festivities. The Environmental Center is seeking to educate the community on our precious water resource while having fun on the Animas River! Hope to see you there!

~ Sarah Griffin

Lone Wolf

Five years ago, a lone wolf found himself in Colorado, over a thousand miles away from home, and was killed on I-70. Earlier this year, a new female made her way to our mountains, but she also died within weeks. Wolves are still endangered, yet officials in the Northern Rockies, particularly Yellowstone, are pronouncing success – apparently enough to allow hunting this fall. The Obama administration affirmed a plan to resume wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana this year, originally a product of the Bush administration.
Consider the numbers: a century ago, wolves dominated the West, with an estimated 500 individuals in Yellowstone alone, but they were completely exterminated by the mid-1900s. In 1995, a controversial plan reintroduced 14 wolves to Yellowstone, with low expectations. Now, just 15 years later, approximately 1500 wolves can be found in Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, with about 150 total in Yellowstone. Even though this is just a fraction of the original numbers, state officials are considering it a “population boom” which is now growing out of hand. The plan is to ultimately reduce the numbers to 600.
600 wolves, 3 states. Ecosystems already struggling to hold together will soon have less than half as many wolves to maintain the balance between predator and prey.
What does this mean for Colorado? Due to the lack of predators in the mountains, prey populations, particularly elk, have been a significant problem. One solution which has yet to find enough public support is to reintroduce both Mexican and grey wolf “trial” populations into Rocky Mountain National Park. However, Colorado is officially at a standstill. While refusing to officially fund a reintroduction program, claiming it is too difficult to maintain due to herd migration and the associated risks of predators to livestock, children and pets, state officials claim they will protect whatever wolves happen to wander down to Colorado.
It’s a good idea in theory, but the only two wolves known to have managed the thousand mile trip still died within months.

– Liz Grogan