William Lawless: Whistleblower Extraordinaire

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At Savannah River, South Carolina, the US Department of Energy ran plutonium production reactors (to make plutonium for bombs) and a reprocessing plant (to separate plutonium from spent nuclear fuel). William Lawless was surprised when -- with no prior experience -- he was put in charge of radioactive waste management at the huge military complex. He wanted to do a good job, so he started asking some pointed questions: why were liquid radioactive wastes being poured into shallow trenches, where they could leak into the soil and enter the surface waters? why were solid plutonium-contaminated wastes being buried in cardboard boxes and covered with earth? He was told to keep quiet. Instead, he went public, and promptly lost his job. He was hired to teach mathematics at a local college, which enabled him to make a living while he kept on talking -- to the press, on national radio and TV -- about shoddy waste management practices at Savannah River. Since then, all plutonium production reactors and reprocessing plants have been shut down not only at Savannah River but throughout the US, and environmental cleanup has become a priority. The US Congress has been told that radioactive cleanup and decontamination at military nuclear facilities in the US will cost over $200 billion -- more than twice the cost of the Vietnam War.

photo by Robert Del Tredici from his book entitled
At Work In The Fields Of The Bomb (Harper and Row, 1987)

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