Old Farts like stockpiles

Thanks to AGMA, a fellow Old Fart blogger, I have reblogged her multi-faceted post Under the sink strategery on which I can expound for what I hope will be a thoughtful and thought-provoking Independence Day Old Fart Friday, even though I didn’t actually do it till Sunday.  Old Farts hate schedules.

First, let me confirm by Old Fart bona fides by confessing that (1) I knew what NPR was before AGMA explained it and (2) I am comfortable in concurring that Walter Cronkite, who has been off the air since 1981, would indeed have been proud of this masterful reportage.  I must also confess that my Old Fart bona fides may be somewhat tarnished as I have been remiss in embellishing my aged intellect;  I don’t even know what the local NPR station is, let alone listen to it.  Perhaps that will be a 2017 New Year’s resolution, if I remember it six months from now.

I am also in agreement with AGMA’s attitude towards “expiration date control” and the efficacy of the multiple meds stashed in my bathroom drawers as well as under the sink.  I have practical proof, though, that expired (by at least a few years) Benadryl, still works on my allergy to horses and other furry creatures to which I am not exposed on a consistent basis.  We’d dragged our kids to a rodeo from which I emerged barely able to breathe.  May have been mind over matter or just distance from the source, but I contend to this day that the expired Benadryl I downed ASAP after leaving the rodeo saved my life and now I don’t leave home without them even if I’m just going to visit my sister and her dog or my daughter and her cat.

Where this post really got me, though, is right where I live, in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, AKA The Secret City or, more appropriately here, The Atomic City.  My safety concern would of course center around radiation hazards in addition to biohazards.  That’s in addition to as opposed to instead of.  As I’ve learned in the five years that I’ve lived here, if the potential exposure to uranium and other radioactive materials stockpiled in nearby federal facilities wasn’t a big enough concern, then potential exposure to chemicals and other byproducts of research and development projects undertaken at any of the local government facilities certainly could be.

I won’t bore, or frighten on my behalf, any of my very few but hopefully also very interested readers, by providing ALL the gory history and details here, but suffice to say you all should be able to get the picture from this summary.

In 1942, the federal government established the Oak Ridge Reservation (ORR) in Anderson and Roane Counties in Tennessee as part of the Manhattan Project to research, develop, and produce special nuclear materials for nuclear weapons. In 1989, the ORR was added to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) National Priorities List because over the years, ORR operations have generated a variety of radioactive and nonradioactive wastes that are present in old waste sites or that have been released to the environment. Since 1992, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) has responded to requests and addressed health concerns of community members, civic organizations, and other government agencies by working extensively to determine whether levels of environmental contamination at and near the ORR present a public health hazard to communities surrounding the ORR.   ATSDR scientists have completed or are conducting public health assessments (PHAs) on iodine 131 releases from the X-10 site, mercury releases from the Y-12 plant, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), radionuclide releases from White Oak Creek, uranium releases from the Y-12 plant, uranium and fluoride releases from the K-25 site, and other topics such as contaminant releases from the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Incinerator and contaminated off-site groundwater.

AGMA, bless her little Southern (lives in Atlanta, I think) heart, also expressed concerns about which antidotes to stockpile in the National Stockpile. Unfortunately, as far as I know, there is no antidote for any of the nasty things that could occur in a body if exposed to unduly high levels of radiation.  That’s a potential concern for as there are only ten miles between this Old Fart’s retirement home overlooking beautiful Melton Hill Lake and Y-12.  What, you may ask, is Y-12?  It is part of a National Nuclear Security Complex and is, among other things, responsible for the maintenance and production of all uranium parts for every nuclear weapon in the United States arsenal.

Located somewhere on the west side (the side closest to me, of course) of Y-12’s 810 acres is this lovely and inviting building, the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility (HEUMF), a 110,000-square-foot, fortress-like storage facility which may very well house the world’s largest inventory of bomb-grade uranium at a single location.


According to a local scribe who for the last thirty five years has been, in his own words at Atomic City Underground, “Piecing together information from multiple sources until a story took shape. Challenging the system — the federal government — to do what’s right…given its size and the scope of work and the security that surrounds it (and he should know since he’s actually been inside and lived to tell the tale), the HEUMF has maintained a fairly low profile over the years.” Many thanks to the very recently retired Frank Munger for that bit of reassuring news, along with this bit from one of his last articles summarizing the results of a Department of Energy (Y-12’s owner) assessment of the site’s, especially its WWII era buildings, criticality accident alarm system.

The currently used suite of accident detectors located in the building were uranium is still actively processed, as opposed to just stored, at Y-12 were purchased and installed in the 1990s, according to the DOE’s report, which went on to say that “Overall, the operability of CAAS (criticality accident alarm system) is adequately being maintained and is verified through routine completion of surveillance testing requirements defined in (safety documents)”, though there were  “deficiencies that indicate that there is some amount of uncertainty in the CAAS detectors’ ability to perform its functional requirements specified in the safety basis.”

“The coverage area for the installed criticality accident detectors in Building 9212 — the main processing center for bomb-grade uranium — is not in compliance because of the shielding inside 9212 and possibly some adjoining buildings.”  Fortunately, the “intervening shielding” in some Y-12 buildings is greater than what’s assumed in the safety documents that establish the area covered by the accident detectors.  The report said the assessment team also identified other deficiencies “with a lower level of significance.” Among those was that Consolidated Nuclear Security — the government’s managing contractor at Y-12 — has not adequately responded to issues related to a backlog of maintenance on the criticality accident alarm system. That backlog is reportedly growing.

You might guess that, like AGMA, this Old Fart has some concerns about the efficacy of our government’s stockpile for this radioactive stuff, especially since our feuding representatives up there in Washington, D.C. can’t even agree that terrorists who can’t fly here should not be allowed to purchase guns here.  As she is concerned about deployment plans for some good stuff- getting the stuff from the warehouse to the people who need it – I might be equally concerned about the contractors who let three protesters — including an 82-year-old nun — make a mockery of Y-12’s security by cutting through multiple fences to reach the uranium storehouse in the plant’s forbidden zone, if they hadn’t already been replaced.  I might also give a small thought to other, occasional news stories about the uranium storehouse, including a report that cracks had developed in the exterior of the mammoth concrete structure.

In conclusion, like AGMA, at this point this Old Fart has already decided that, in the event of local momentous bad news, I would probably kiss my sweet Aging Gracefully ass goodbye, get a bottle or can of beer of something-or-other from Spouse’s beer fridge, as opposed to AGMA’s bottle of champagne from the wine fridge, dive under the bathroom sink and start popping open expired bottles (or cans) of whatever I’d found.  AGMA gave and accepted for herself a 50-50 chance. This Old Fart will also take those odds.

Aging Gracefully My Ass

Raiders_Of_The_Lost_Ark_Government_Warehouse_newPhoto from Google Images courtesy of Steven Spielberg and Indiana Jones

Yesterday, AGMA heard about her worst nightmare. Okay, that may be a bit dramatic. Redo. I heard about something that caused my head to pound and my eye’s to glaze over.

Not that far off of a typical morning for AGMA.

NPR’s Morning Edition reporter Nell Greenfieldboyce did a segment on the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS).

Does that sound like an oxymoron to anybody else?

For AGMA friends across the globe, NPR stands for National Public Radio. It’s non-commercial, not for profit, as close to unbiased media as you can get in the U.S. It relies on a combination of listener contributions, corporate donations and some public monies for funding. In other words, it’s independent, fact-based journalism at it’s best. Old school stuff.

Walter Cronkite would be proud.

So evidently there are these six huge (double super WalMart sized)…

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Israel – My admittedly biased perspective

As a whatever kind I want to call myself Jew, the history, presence and land of Israel continue to exert a great deal of influence on my world view and the way I live my life here in the US.  Israel, just in case there is anyone out there who does not already know this, is at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea, bounded by Lebanon to the north, Syria to the northeast, Jordan and the West Bank to the east, and Egypt and the Gaza Strip to the southwest.  More importantly than its historically unfortunate location, at least in my mind, Israel, in its Basic Laws, defines itself as a Jewish and Democratic State, even though this tiny and newish country has no official religion.  I won’t go into a lot of the history or current politics, but just want to give a little background about how and why Israel came to be, and why it still is so important to me, even now, nearly forty years since my one and only visit there.

Israel was established as a homeland for the Jewish people and is often referred to as a Jewish state. The country’s Law of Return grants all Jews and those of Jewish ancestry the right to Israeli citizenship.  Since the existence of the earliest Jewish diaspora, the hopes and yearnings of Jews living in exile have been an important theme of the Jewish belief system, based on historical ties but also, unfortunately, sometimes as a matter of life and death for anybody who is identified as a Jew, even if they don’t self-identify as one, in some places in the world even today.

The first wave of modern Jewish migration to Ottoman-ruled Palestine, known as the First Aliyah, began in 1881, as Jews fled pogroms in Eastern Europe.  Pogrom is a Russian word and is defined by Wikipedia as a violent riot aimed at massacre or persecution of an ethnic or religious group, particularly one aimed at Jews.  Although the Zionist movement already existed in practice, Austro-Hungarian journalist Theodor Herzl is credited with founding political Zionism, a movement which sought to establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, thus offering a solution to the so-called Jewish Question (this phrase is an eerily familiar carryover to the 20th Century) of the European states. The Second Aliyah (1904–14), began after the Kishinev pogrom, which was not even the last one to happen in Europe.

During World War I, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour sent the Balfour Declaration of 1917 to Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community.  The Declaration stated that Britain intended for the creation of a Jewish “national home” within the Palestinian Mandate.  After World War II, Britain found itself in intense conflict with the world Jewish community over Jewish immigration limits to this promised Jewish “national home.”  At the same time, hundreds of thousands of Jewish Holocaust survivors and refugees sought a new life far from their destroyed communities in Europe. Palestine-based Jewish/Zionist activists attempted to bring these refugees to the “Promised Land” but many were turned away or rounded up and placed in offshore and/or barb wire enclosed detention camps by the British.  Finally, after a lot of strife and some death in the interim, Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations on 11 May 1949.

My Jewish father and his divorced mother were able to leave Germany, though I do not at this point know exactly when or how, and get to England sometime in the 1930s.  My dad was born in 1930, so I’m pretty sure he was just a small boy when they made this big move, all on their own, I imagine, and descended in the strange big city of London just as WWII was looming on America’s horizon, and may have been descending, along with bombs, from the skies over the city, courtesy of a possible pending and potentially deadly for my dad German invasion.  From 7 September 1940, one year into the war, London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 57 consecutive nights. Mom tells me that it was on one of those nights, as people streamed into the deep-level shelters that were built under London Underground stations to protect its citizens during The Blitz, that Grandma met the person who would make it possible for her to make a living as a cook for Turkish embassy and military personnel stationed in the city.  I guess her acquisition of this position, as well as her understandable concern for the safety of her one and only child, led her to find alternate housing for Dad with a Quaker family in what should have been the more peaceful countryside in Surrey.  Mom has often told anyone who’ll listen, that Grandma had to give her written permission for Dad to stay outside as he watched the fireworks of the German bombs that landed elsewhere, though I’d guess still uncomfortably close by for any mother’s comfort.

I’ll probably never know if, when, or how much abuse my grandparents and parents endured as Jews in Germany, in England, and even in the good old USA.  I’ll probably never know if they ever feared for their lives during any of those incidents.  I just know that, for whatever reason, be it stubbornness or tradition or even possibly hope or pride, they have always been and will always be Jewish, and they passed this belief system on to me and my sister.  As I was growing up in Southern California, to the best of my recollection, I experienced just some mild peer-related discomfort due to my little discussed Jewish heritage and lesser observed Jewish traditions, like celebrating Hanukkah instead of Xmas and missing school on the High Holidays. Way back then, in the 1960s and 70s, the bat mitzvah, a ceremony recognizing a girl’s coming of age within Judaism, was not as common as it is today and I don’t know if my parents had ever even considered it as an option for me or my sister. They did, however, send us to religious school, well into our high school years, with the culmination of that experience and education taking place in a confirmation ceremony at the Temple, right around the end of tenth grade, I believe.  That was a pretty impressionable time for me, and probably for most kids, as we painfully, in fits and starts, matured into adults.  That was also a time of a lot of turmoil in and around Israel, as it fought a series of wars with its much larger Arab neighbors, who at various times since its birth in 1948, and from various locations, had tried to destroy the Jewish state (kind of like Iran and what still exists of the Syria’s government today) and sweep all its Jewish citizens into the Mediterranean, assuming no non Arab countries would take them as refugees, as few had thirty years earlier.

I had Jewish friends in college and joined the Jewish sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi, on my campus for my last year or two there.  I had a Jewish boyfriend that I’d met in band there, though by the time I got my degree in 1976, I knew I had forced my mom to the harsh realization that her baby would not emerge from there with the degree she wanted me to have, the Mrs.!  She did, however, offer me, possibly as a substitute for the missed bat mitzvah and to maybe find a future Jewish husband, an all-expenses paid six week trip to Israel and Europe that summer.  I took this trip with the non-college grad daughter of one of Mom’s divorced Jewish friends and it was of course organized by a Jewish travel agency.

In July 1976 an airliner was hijacked during its flight to Tel Aviv by Palestinian guerrillas and landed at Entebbe, Uganda. Israeli commandos carried out an operation in which 102 out of 106 Israeli hostages were successfully rescued.  I was touring Israel as these events took place.  I think we had just left the Golan Heights, where it was I could feel how dangerously close the area captured from Syria and occupied by Israel during the Six-Day War was to populated and exposed areas in Israel.  When we entered Jerusalem and shopped in its open air markets we saw, and may have even picked up on our bus, Israeli soldiers who strolled or sat casually in their olive uniforms, machine guns over their soldiers, which I initially did my best to try to overlook.

During the two weeks I was in Israel, the feeling grew inside me, though I have only a vague memory now of how it actually came to be.   In the middle of all that potential danger, I felt safe.  Given the political direction of my own country now, where, heaven forbid, discrimination among citizens based on religion could become a real fact of life, and in light of the discrimination actually experienced by own family on that basis not so long ago, I am still comforted by the reality of Israel today.

Those who don’t learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them

An email from the Sorbonne (Paris).

I am fresh pressing or reposting or whatever the above from a blogger I follow who I consider to be a fellow old fart (sorry!).  Her vintage is 1956.  Note the comment from vivachange1957.  I am vintage 1955 so I guess many of us old farts like to hang together!?

This action is a backhanded through truly meant compliment and mazel tov to this lovely lady/mature student as well as an appreciation of some more fine and thought-provoking poetry that emerged from a terrible historical event, in this case WWI.  Many of the literary gems that emerged from WWI are based on first-hand accounts of the horrors from which these authors emerged.  I have noticed that some recent best-sellers have the same source material, though these soldier-authors are seeing the same casualties of war on turf that is farther from home i.e. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, parts of Africa.

If only some of the Muslim terrorists, or at least the varying Muslim factions or other radical religious or sectarian warriors, would look more closely at the devastation they leave behind, instead of expecting heavenly rewards or more power or whatever “reasons” they’re giving themselves for leaving all this pain behind, maybe it would humanize them enough to stop it!  If they would put themselves in the shoes of the survivors of this devastation, and learn these lessons of history, maybe they would see how futile their actions are!?

I will try to revert to more humorous entries for this weekly feature in the near future.  By way of excuse and apology, I am almost finished with the second WWII-based book being read and discussed in the last several months by my Fiction Book Club, and I also recently saw “Unbroken” after completing that book.  From these sources I learned that, amazingly and unfortunately, peoples from entirely different cultures and on opposite sides of the globe, committed the same types of atrocities against their fellow human beings, and it just made me sad.