INTERVIEWEE: Beverly Gattis (BG)
INTERVIEWERS: David Todd (DT) and David Weisman (DW)
DATE: October 4, 2002
LOCATION: Amarillo, Texas
TRANSCRIBERS: Chris Flores and Robin Johnson
REELS: 2215 and 2216
Please note that the video includes roughly 60 seconds of color bars and sound tone for technical settings at the outset of the recordings. Numbers mark the time codes for the VHS tape copy of the interview. “Misc.” refers to various off-camera conversation or background noise, unrelated to the interview.
DT: My name is David Todd. I’m here for the Conservation History Association of Texas. It’s October 4, 2002 and we’re in Amarillo, Texas, at the home of Beverly Gattis who’s been kind enough to sit down with us and talk about some of her experiences working with STAND on struggles against nuclear waste disposal in the panhandle, and also oversight of the Pantex site, which is outside of Amarillo. So I want to take this chance to thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
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BG: My pleasure.
DT: I thought we might start by talking a little bit about your childhood and if there might have been some experience or some person in your family or your circle of friends who might’ve introduced to the outdoors or to environmental concerns.
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BG: Well, my mother was raised on a farm in central Texas, and she always cared a lot about gardening and such, but both of my parents—my father was raised in the panhandle area. Though he was not an outdoorsman in any way, shape or form, they respected that you leave things as good as you find them, you are not careless with things. But—and I always just had an inclination to be outside and in nature. Girl Scouts helped, oddly enough, I mean, I—I was in a troop that did outdoor things and we didn’t make a lot of potholders and stuff like that. And so that was—that was really helpful, you know, and it just felt right so I—it’s my own inclination as well. But just the upbringing of respect, I think, and a real affinity for animals and things like that. So it just came naturally to me, I don’t think I could’ve avoided it if I’d wanted to. Uh-oh.
DT: We talked earlier about your early days, childhood days, and some of your experiences in Girl Scouts and so on. Can you maybe take us forward a step and talk about some of your schoolday years, and whether there was any sort of influence there on your later interests in the environment?
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BG: Yeah. Well that—there was no sense of environmental program in schools at that time, and certainly not in this kind of conservative area where it’s just isn’t natural to think in terms of environmental concerns, but it’s one of those odd things that, I think, people shouldn’t ever ignore. I had a recurring nightmare when I was in about seventh grade or so, which would have been, I don’t know, ‘63, ‘64, something like that, about sharks. And I’d always loved water. And I finally decided the way to work with this is—we were supposed to do a science paper on some topic of our choosing, and I did
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mine on sharks. And that’s when I bumped into Jacques Cousteau and Frederic Dumas and learned that I wanted very much to learn how to scuba dive and all kinds of things. And learned the difference between how you can feel about an animal, even a—an ominous one like sharks, and then you read more about it and you learn more about it, and you realize you need to separate reality from myth. And—so that was really seminal for me and that’s purely one of those personal things that I think people just should nod to and—and accept as it just—something in your response to those things. And I—my science teacher was completely puzzled, this young, seventh-grade girl was writing this
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thing on shark attacks, but whatever. But, so that is, you know. And then when I went away to college, I went away to college to be a marine biologist, that was what my degree work was going to be in. I wanted to be in oceans, I cared very much about all of that. And had the good fortune at the University of Texas in Austin to get to go down to the Galveston area and go out on one of the ships and found out that I have terminal seasickness, so that wasn’t how I wanted to spend my life. But, took a lot of science courses because that—I started out in biology and I had a—a b—ecology course in biology and this would’ve been like ‘69 or ‘70 that really made a huge difference, I think,
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for me because it was the first time I had formal information and training about looking at ecological issues in that—in a little bit more powerful way. And this professor was not a fan of nuclear power and I’m sure that’s partly where I got that disinclination to have anything to do with this. He just always compared it to—nuclear power is a—an absurd
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use, it’s like using a cannon to swat a fly because it’s such a massive power source and a massive powerful thing that it’s not an appropriate match to the job you’re asking it to do. And that was—that always stuck with me very well, too. And then, in college, too, just your basic government course where you have a government professor that’s smart enough to tell you that as exotic or as interesting or more riveting as federal politics might seem, the presidential race, that sort of thing, the government that will affect you the most is your local city and county government, and you should never forget that. So education can teach you some things that you don’t understand otherwise, or that—at
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least plant those ideas. And from time to time, I’ve been very glad to see it, in recent years, we’ll turn on the public television station here and bump into a course that Amarillo College has on—for their continuing education, that people can use the television to attend the courses. And I’ve learned some interesting things there, and I think how well done they are. So I wouldn’t want anyone to underestimate those things at all.
DW: You mentioned where you were during the years ‘63 to ‘69. There was a lot happening in this country also at that time involving Vietnam, the war, and also at that time, about the time you’re becoming a marine biologist, that’s the time that Rachel Carson’s book was coming out and I was wondering if any of these things were playing into your later decisions you’ve addressed to David.
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BG: Boy, you’re picky. That is—I’m glad you—the book by Rachel Carson, Silent Spring, that was one of the things that we read in this ecology course, and that was a powerful book to me. And you can just go into—I tend to just go into a state of grief, I’m getting choked up now just thinking about it. You worry about these things, and so much destruction. Can you edit this? Anyway, so I think you can probably see why I couldn’t not do the work, because you just care so deeply. Is a—a magical world and being used with such carelessness and thoughtlessness. And I find it almost unbearable. As for—it was a tumultuous time. I will simply use as an example for people that being raised in this conservative area—when I graduated from high school, I was not a liberal person. I
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cared about ecological things, but I wasn’t a liberal person and the big debate for me at that time was whether to go to college or go into the army. And I was very patriotic in the standard ways and—but I just—I did decide on college and went down to the University of Texas at Austin and just by what I heard there, which you didn’t hear here, or and I—I didn’t seek it out particularly as a high school student, completely changed how I felt about the Vietnam War or any of those other things. And when I went to learn to scuba dive, another instance for—for people just to—to know you make these contacts. At UTA [University of Texas at Amarillo], I went to the scuba diving club and they were teaching lessons, and all the folks that were teaching us were Vietnam vets. And one was missing a foot, and one
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had bullet holes across his chest, and one was a—a man that had been in the underwater demolition work and things like that. And they felt differently about the war, but it was just how you—you learned about these things and the prices that people were paying. So, it was a tumultuous time, and I was—I’m glad that I was in some of those marches and learned some of the things I learned. It simply struck me as true when I read some of the things that I had no idea of before. Ho Chi Minh coming to visit—not visit, but feeling that the United States, of all countries, would understand their struggle for independence, and it breaks your heart to think—when you think of all the things you want your country
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to be and what you feel, ideally, how it is in your heart and how you—what you believe your country is, as opposed to what you begin to learn your country is and how it moves in the world. I have had a lot of dreams for the United States, but one of my dreams was never that we would be arms merchant to the world. And that’s one of the things we are. So as you learn those things, you either decide to—I guess, to hide or if an opportunity comes your way, you say, I have to fight for what this country is supposed to be. And that’s—you’re fighting for the thing that it should be. And I think that’s part of what always moved me to work on when the nuclear w—waste issue came up, so. But I didn’t
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always live in Amarillo, I was raise—born and raised here, but went away to college and when my—got married, my husband and I lived in Portland, Oregon for a couple of years also. And we only moved back to Amarillo in 1978. So I’ve lived here for—since 1978. And it was in 1983 that the nuclear waste controversy—where this country was going to
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store or dispose of or whatever term you want to use, where it was going to bury its high level, civilian nuclear waste. The panhandle of Texas had two different counties that were on the list of sites that might be chosen. And I avoided going to some of the meetings because I just—it was such bad news I—I didn’t really want to know, and I knew that if I went to some of the meetings, I might not ever get away. And that is what happened. A friend finally said, we really need to go. And so Harry and I went with this other couple. And we went, and they didn’t join and Harry and I did. And we wound up—we’ve wound up working with STAND ever since, so.
DT: Before we get too far into the waste disposals issues, maybe you can just give us a little bit more background and conclude your story about being at University of Texas in the late sixties and where you might’ve been in 1970, in April, for Earth Day, if that was an event for you.
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BG: Oh, it was. Earth Day, I was—we were there. It was wonderful, it felt so hopeful. And it felt as if so many people cared that you might actually manage to rescue some of these things you cared about that you feel—felt were imperiled. It felt like the start of a movement and it was a—it was a wonderful thing. I can’t remember where it was, precisely, on cam—on campus, I suppose, I don’t know. But it was just a
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celebration, and so. But that was—that was wonderful to me. And when I graduated from college, I think I had this—this, kind of, standard associations with the Sierra Club or that kind of thing that I maintained, but went into work. I had shifted my majors by—my major by then. It’s a—it’s one of those wonderful, absurd things when you’re working in a, kind of a, techni—technical controversy, as nuclear waste or the Pantex facility can be. It always tickled me to see people’s reaction when my degree work is actually—my degree, technically, is in French and my—my minor was English. And
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they’re sort of—so that should be an inspiration to a lot of people. You don’t have to know all the science. You have to be willing to learn some of the technical stuff, but you don’t have to be a scientist to take on these problems. You just need to be a person who cares. And different talents come and play a—a valuable role. You have to be able, sometimes, to be able to write about these things, to do a newsletter, to think clearly, to—to whatever. So I wouldn’t want anyone to let their—gee, I’m not trained. And you run into that. People just feel like they can’t tackle the issues because they don’t know enough or they don’t know the right kind of things. I wouldn’t want people to let that
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stop them. The other piece of my background is that my father was raised in this area; his father was the Methodist minister. So he had, I think, both my parents had very strong standards and scruples of respect and care for things, that you don’t—you’re not careless with things. But, my father came—being the—one of seven children, wound up in Amarillo with $45 in his pocket. But my—he and mother together eventually owned
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five shoe stores. And I worked all my life in those shoe stores, one way or another, gift-wrapping at Christmas or whatever. So every time I went to apply for jobs after I graduated, since I wasn’t really interested in being a teacher, I wound up in the business community. So in Portland, Oregon, where my husband and I lived while he did his residency in orthodontics, I worked for a large department store up there. Then when it came time to decide where to move, we moved here because of my family’s business. My father wasn’t very well and I was the child that was kind of interested—I find business interesting. And so I came and gradually, was the general manager for all the
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five family stores. So it gave me a lot of pragmatic background. I don’t dislike business; I just don’t think all businesses are scrupulously run. But when they are, it’s a fine thing. So, it’s a good kind of background to have. And it gave me a lot of credibility to tackle a controversial issue, and I did not look like what they like to paint the opposition as. The powers that be that might want to push through some sort of project would really like for everyone to think that all of the folks on the other side are crazy and hippies and whatever you want to label them as. And it stood me in very good stead to have such a mainstream, pragmatic kind of background. They basically couldn’t make that label
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stick. And it was very useful. And I’m—I’m proud of the diversity that I’ve done because it all applied. It gave me a lot more tolerance and a lot more patience, I think with people who didn’t quite understand. And I’ve had so much to learn myself. If you never forget how much you don’t know, you’ll be better off. And if you also are always able to remember when you were first learning, the misconceptions that you had or the—how you felt about things when you were first learning, so that as you shift, if you can remember back to that, it helps you remember how to talk to people and how to be patient with them. And how to start where they are, are opposed to starting too far up the ladder so that they can’t even relate to what you’re saying, so they can’t get on board, in some way.
DT: Well, Beverly, you’ve discussed a little bit about your childhood and your education and some of your business background, and maybe you can help us jump right into your introduction to more full-time environmental work. And I think it began with this proposal to site high-level nuclear waste disposal site in the panhandle. Is that right?
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BG: Yes, that’s when I got involved with that. And it was not anything that anyone was anxious to do because it was controversial. But there was tremendously good leadership about it coming from Tulia, which is where the original STAND organization started and a man named Delbert Devin that was the head of that. And also from other rural sites near where the site was going to be—was proposed in Deaf Smith County. Some groups called POWER and a woman named Tonya Kleuskens and the landowners around the site in Deaf Smith County that had been chosen. So really, STAND of Amarillo formed a little bit later and I started working with it, but it was not a—a fight that was being led by the city of Amarillo, particularly. It didn’t have the same kind of planned movement and support behind it that we would see in later years on a different
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issue. And those rural voices were excellent. The people were turning out for meetings, for these hearings that the Department of Energy would hold. It was a real learning process for me and what I noticed was the leadership capabilities of these people from smaller, more rural towns. They were used to working in their churches, on the boards of their churches, in their schools, in their city—in their town governments, in their county governments and things like that. And they didn’t feel the least bit that they had no right to be in this discussion, whereas the people who were coming here from the Department of Energy seemed to convey this aura of, you know, we’re the federal government, we’re
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more sophisticated, this needs to happen, you guys just have to accept it. And it was such a revelation to me to watch these people simply feel that they had a right to participate in their society. And they did it really well. And Delbert Devin was as savvy as they ever would run up against any place. And one of the things he did, he went—he traveled to Washington, D.C. and he watched—he went to some of the hearings that Congress was holding on it—on this whole issue. And he noticed that there was a gentleman named Don Hancock who was a technical person that, when he testified before Congress, they never questioned his facts. And Delbert got with Don Hancock, who works with an outfit
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called Southwest Research and Information Center in Albuquerque, New Mexico and asked Don if he—he would be willing to be hired as STAND’s technical consultant, and Don agreed. And it was a powerful team. But—so, I think the—the things that worked so well—as Delbert was a man who helped people understand they had a right to be in
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this conversation and that they should, in defense of the land and the water that they cared about. And he cared deeply about this agricultural land and water. And others of us got involved because we couldn’t believe the madness of—of trying to dispose of nuclear waste in an area that is so agriculturally important. It is wildly absurd to endanger such a—a tremendously important food producing area, with such limited water supplies and, as we learned more about the plans and looked at them, it was just—we could not believe that you—I guess some of us expected a higher level of—of work, I guess, out of the federal government. They were absolutely blasé about the fact that one
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of the sites that they chose in Deaf Smith County, that site, they would’ve had to drill through two groundwater aquifers. One of which was under artesian pressure and it had never been done anyplace in the world. They were going to be using freeze ring drilling, it was called. And it had never been accomplished anywhere, it was quite new. But their answer to concerns were always, it will be—it’ll be fine, it’ll work. You know, it really was just the, trust us, it’s going to be fine. So that was—it was just—you had to be able to fight some of that technical stuff, you had to be able to know that it hadn’t been done anyplace yet, that it was being tested in Germany, but. So you have to be able to do the
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technical side of it, you need to be able to empower people that you should come, and you should speak at these hearings, and you don’t have to talk about technical things, you just need to come and say, we care about this and this is not a wise choice for this irreplaceable kind of land and this agricultural area. So people have to be encouraged to come in spite of the fact that they can’t address technical issues, necessarily, but that their voices matter.
DT: Could you back up a little bit more and give us a little bit more information about what the reason for trying to find a high level radioactive waste disposal site was, and what the scope and scale of this project was? And where some of the other sites might have been?
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DT: You know, for those who aren’t familiar with that?
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BG: I will do it with this one caveat of my memory is bound to be—is really quite shaky for some of the details that I used to know so well because I just have let them slide out of my mind. But there was the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1983. The nation had been, I will say, informally, or—the Department of Energy had been looking for a disposal site in a not real organized, or a not public way, necessarily, before that Nuclear Waste Policy Act was established. When—so when that Act was passed by Congress, the Department of Energy already had a list of sites it wanted to propose. It was not, as the act described, that this country needs to go and look for and find what can be a long term storage site for civilian—the power rods out of civilian nuclear reactors. So it
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wasn’t—it didn’t have a clean start, it started out to working from work that had already been done that wasn’t done in a way that was truly, I think, based on science as much as it was on politics. Rural areas were targeted and the program wasn’t well outlined. So in 1983, the DOE was able to immediately give Congress a list of seven or nine, I can’t remember which it was, places and on that list of seven or nine potential sites, Swisher County in the panhandle of Texas and Deaf Smith County were both listed. And two—those are two tremendously powerful agricultural counties. The panhandle area of Texas, which is the top square part of the state—I’m sorry, I say that because I’m used to people
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who don’t know Texas so well—accounted, at that time, for like 25% of the state’s cash receipts for crops and livestock. And it is not 25% of the physical area of the state, as you know. It is such valuable land and water up here, such an irreplaceable commodity, which people who are involved in environmental things recognize but other folks, the Department of Energy people and the—some of the people who were doing their work, came up here and just portrayed it as almost a desert. And rural and wasteland, and it was just astonishing to me. You would watch their PR film that they would send around to civic groups for meetings and things like that, and I loved it. At the Deaf Smith site in
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particular, they photographed a bar ditch, which is, of course, grown up in grasses and weeds and things like that and the soundtrack in the background as they showed this site where this waste could go—didn’t show farmhouses around, didn’t show seed farms around, didn’t show that kind of thing, in the background is the sound of wind (wind
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noises). You just go, this is so bogus, it has nothing to do with what this area should be valued for and what this country’s going to need from this area in the future when food—food producing lands are a valuable thing, that we don’t feel yet, but people who know environmental things knew very well in the future we would regret if we ever destroyed this, and destroyed the water resource under it. So, and I’ve—I’ve gotten lost a little bit here and I’m not sure, but that’s the kind of portrayal the Department of Energy was doing almost immediately.
DT: And there was a pattern to this, the other sites that were identified in the original list were similarly isolated, rural…
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BG: Tended to be.
DT: Not as politically powerful?
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BG: And they—they narrowed the list down immediately and all of the sudden you found that no site east of the Mississippi stayed on the list. And there was one up in, I’m going to say Maine, or Vermont, a gran—a site in granite. But you kept running into the problem of, if it’s too near too many people, it wasn’t going to stay there. The politics entered into it. Political pressure could be brought to bear very differently than a—a rural site that couldn’t get its state senators behind it or its state congressional folks behind it particularly.
DT: So you think that decision to stay away from populated areas was more of a result of there being a lot of votes in those areas that probably turned down any kind of a…
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DT: Rather than, there are a lot of people who might be exposed, might be hurt?
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BG: Absolutely. And you’re always faced with the—they tell you to—it will be safe, we will do it right, and then when you look at the details in the plans, as much as you could find out about them, you find out that there will be emissions, there will be transportation, the waste is not only radioactively hot, it is hot with temperature. And we went for two or three years unable to get the fac—kind of the more concrete details of exactly how they would do this, you were trapped in the generalities of things. And so they were out—they always used the words, what we could do, what we may do, what we might do, you could—until you begin to pin them down and get concrete plans from them, you can’t really fight against the fact that they say, whatever needs to be done is what we will do. We will make it right. And so it makes it very hard, people tend to trust and they say, well—well, they won’t intentionally do it wrong. And so it can be hard to
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generate people to fight the fight and get the public support that you need in some ways. Because people have their—their boxing with a—a shadow, it’s not concrete enough, so you can’t have your people say, realistically, gentlemen, concrete is not impermeable to water. There will be water migration. So you—and then—as the more concrete plans came out and you say they were planning to use concrete, it wasn’t lined, as you raised those issues as an organization and made your comments, the next rendition of the plans you would see would say that it was going to be lined. So you make a difference, but it’s not the kind of difference that makes you, sort of, able to get people to go—stand up and
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cheer and look at what we did. You have this quiet impact that you improve the plans and you improve what they say they will do and you begin to have a little bit more—it’s a—it’s a two-edged sword. The more you improve the plans and make them where they would be better, you make it more possible for them to go forward also, but.
DT: Speaking of the plan, can you explain why, I mean, it’s sounds like the idea of storing these radioactive fuel rods on site, at the power stations where they originally had been irradiated was dismissed out of hand, and the thought was always to get them offsite, despite the problems of finding new sites and transportation. Is that fair to say?
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BG: Certainly on the part of industry and the Department of Energy, absolutely fair to say. But that was one of things for citizens to raise also. That you can—that we have a nuclear waste disposal program that is going to cause future generations unknown amounts of harm and trouble and that we have got to do this right if we are going to do it. And we can buy time to do that; this is what citizen’s groups held up. We can buy time to do that by storing these things on site, and it can be done and it can be done safely. We can look at dry cask storage, we can look at different methods of doing it, so that we do this right, if it is indeed the correct answer. But there were a lot of people who weren’t at all convinced it was the correct answer. And certainly not, necessarily, the
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correct places that had been targeted for it, especially after the list was narrowed down to three. And one was Deaf Smith County in Texas, one was Yucca Mountain in Nevada and one was Hanford, Washington. And none of those sites, not one of them, was a good site. They all were jeopardized in one way or another. And that is one of the things you learned, too. The criteria laid out for what this country was looking for, in terms of to be a good repository, you need to find certain things geologically. You needed to have, if you—if it is a site such as we would’ve had here, you need to have a contiguous geology that doesn’t have a lot of fractures, doesn’t have clay interbeds, so that if—when your canisters break down and—and they begin to leak and water begins to cause the material
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to migrate, it won’t hit a ledge or a crack or something like that and run far more quickly that we predicted it would run so that it gets to a—a groundwater source or goes off-site more quickly than they planned for it. Well, what we found here is, number one, what so few people know is we wound up on the list of the last three sites to be considered, Deaf
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Smith County, and they had never done a single test hole on that site itself. And yet, we hit the—the last—one of the top three lists—places that should be used. And it’s because the landowners wouldn’t allow them on their land—those landowners were a joy and a pleasure, I mean, those folks fought the fight. They gave money to hire the technical experts; they worked in their communities. They—one was Richardson’s Seed Farm, a very valuable, well-respected seed farm that Texas A&M University would send up it’s—some of its strains of foundation wheat seeds that they had generated for Richardson Seed Farm to grow and propagate because they ran their business so well.
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And because in this area, Johnson grass doesn’t thrive so well, and Johnson grass will interbreed with wheat, so you need seed production farms in a place that your seed comes out more pure and it doesn’t have interference of Johnson grass and that—in it genetically and that kind of thing. And the—one—the place that they wanted to put this site in Deaf Smith County would’ve taken the water wells that Richardson’s Seed Farm needed. It didn’t take all of Richardson’s Seed Farm; it just would’ve taken their water wells because this was going to be a heavy water user for cooling because these rods are
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so hot. So it’s—it’s—I’m—I’m sorry, it’s so hard not to just, sort of, go from thing to thing but you learn these things as you got into the—to reading the documents or helv—having someone technical help you know those things. And you can see, I’m doing right now the very thing that is so hard for the public to deal with, too much, I think, technical information in a confusing way. Some people respond to technical information and that’s what makes them have the confidence to join or to speak out. Other people, you need to help them stand up for—this land is too valuable to be used as a waste dump for this kind of material and that they simply speak to the fact that it’s a bad match. It shouldn’t be done in a place like this; it’s too destructive of something that this country can’t afford to lose.
DT: Is that the gist of the argument that was often made was that the land was too valuable, that the food that was produced, or the seed that was produced. Did they ever make the argument that the public health of the people in this area could be affected and that’s too great a risk?
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BG: Yes, but, you know, the emissions were not well known and I think—and I—we knew there would be emissions from it, but that is so—that is so hard an argument to prove, you can’t prove it. All you can say is, people would be better off without being near these emissions. But they would cite wind speeds and distance to the nearest farm and dispersion and all those things and they can just begin to make people feel silly that they’re even worried about that. You get more from a chest x-ray, all those kinds of things, that you have to have someone help you sort the sheep from the goats, from what’s a real technical argument and what’s not. And, so that was part of it, too. I will say another interesting thing about the Department of Energy at this time, though, is that they were very—they were arrogant in how they moved with people. And they—they treated people as, well, it really doesn’t matter what you want, the nation needs this and
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we’re going to do it. And, of course, some of us were saying, it isn’t so much the nation needs this, the nuclear industry needs this and this is in the service of the industry, this is not in the service of the country. But they were very autocratic and very offensive and people—before some of the Department of Energy people moved away, there were folks at—at the meetings who had had enough of this arrogance and they just said, well, I just think you ought to be careful as you’re driving from Canyon into Hereford to work. It’d be a shame if your tires got shot out, or something like that. I mean, they were being physically threatened, which kind of, being a more urban person, I was startled by and I
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wasn’t sure how I felt about that. But I have to say, those people earned some of that kind of comment from folks. They treated folks as if they were rural rubes and rednecks and all that kind of stuff and so finally some of the people just gave them, well, if that’s what you think, we may just prove it to you. And they began to really, I think, be worried that something physical might happen to them and that was—I don’t—I still don’t know how I feel about that whole dynamic. I do know, unfortunately, that that dynamic made a difference. I really think it did. It made those people feel as intimidated as perhaps they had made us feel. And I had thought if nothing else, I did think it was
00:36:51 – 2215
fair that they felt some intimidation, instead of feeling so smug and so sophisticated and they’re the scientists. For once, they were having to feel some of the heat of being treated in a way that made them feel vulnerable. And I thought it was probably a good lesson for them. But I still don’t—I mean, it’s not anything that I would ever lead or do, but it was people’s right to feel that way and to say it in a public meeting if that’s what they chose to say. And it was interesting to watch that dynamic. In later years, the Department of Energy sent its people to charm school, and they didn’t make those kinds of mistakes in the same way. But it was an interesting dynamic.
DT: Was the Department of Energy the main proponent of these sites or was the nuclear utility industry involved either in the background or on the frontline?
00:37:42 – 2215
BG: I think the nuclear industry’s role was just to keep pushing the Department to get a site. You’ve got to take this off our hands because as soon—most people don’t realize that the nuclear industry’s liability for these wastes ends when the federal government takes it off their hands. And so they will no longer be responsible for it. And that’s why the industry is so determined to see that it shifts hands into the—the federal government’s hand. Nuclear power has been so subsidized in terms of coverage, limited liability if they have an accident and the waste being an obligation that the federal government took on, that it really is an industry that has not—it’s playing tennis with the nets down. It’s not responsible for the full life cycle of what it uses and what it creates and what it does. And if it looks profitable on paper, it’s only at the expense of the public. So.
DT: Why do you think the net is down?
00:38:41 – 2215
BG: Because they aren’t having to be responsible for—fully responsible for accidents which they might have. The federal government will pick up all liability over a certain amount, the Price-Anderson Act saw to that. And because they don’t have to be responsible for the cost of dealing with their waste. And so it’s essentially like having had two of the industry’s biggest liabilities taken off their shoulders. And so that’s why I say they’re playing tennis with the nets down. It’s an easier game for them because their—two of their biggest challenges that would’ve defeated, I think, nuclear power in this country as being a viable energy source, were taken off their shoulders and assumed by the government.
DT: Why do you think the government decided to let the net down and subsidize the industry so heavily?
00:39:26 – 2215
BG: Do you know, I don’t know that history well; I think they just—this was—this is—I don’t remember well what people used to say. The arguments are frequently, I think, that we needed the energy source. I think people wanted to see peaceful things done with things nuclear instead of just weaponry done with it. And I think they were just such dreams, you know, the old spiel of we’ll have energy so cheap you won’t even need to meter it. It seemed like an incredible blessing and a boon if it could happen and be true. It’s never transpired that way, but. But, the—how the industry lobbied to get those things, how Congress was persuaded to do those things, I don’t know that history well and someone should read that history to—to understand that.
DT: To talk about the issue here locally, you’ve told us a little bit about the promoters in the Department of Energy and some of the opponents. I’m a little unclear if there was a regulator involved or was the Department of Energy both the promoter and the regulator?
00:40:38 – 2215
BG: Well, civilian nuclear waste would be, I think, under the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. I’m sorry, I’ve really forgotten that whole dynamic there. But the search for a site was in the hands of the Department of Energy. Then when a site would be permitted, that permitting process would’ve pulled in, perhaps, the NRC and certainly, I would say, the state wherever it’s located, to one degree or another. So there would be a permitting process that would—that would then go into effect. But locating the site and creating the plans and all that sort of stuff, until it was—had actually been permitted by a state, or the NRC, if it would’ve had part in—a part of that, then it was in the hands of the Department of Energy to get it that far until those other entities kicked in.
DT: I guess the way it played out between the proponents of the site and the opponents, you gave a few reasons why it was ultimately defeated, can you expand a little bit on why they were ultimately successful in dissuading the DOE from pursuing the panhandle site?
00:41:57 – 2215
BG: It was pure politics. It was pure political maneuvering that Yucca Mountain got—it was a political decision to focus on one site only and Yucca Mountain was that site. And at the time, Texas had Jim Wright in the House of Representatives. Delbert Devin and STAND, the STAND organizations, had raised money to hire a lobbyist who was very good. He, as a matter of fact, was one of the farmers that went to Washington, D.C. in the tractorcade, when farmers went driving their tractors to Washington, D.C.? You—do you remember that—you don’t remember that? And he stayed and became a lobbyist. And he was excellent. He was—he was great, he was a good storyteller, a good poker player, a good—all that kind of stuff. And he was energetic and active and
00:42:41 – 2215
personable and he was a lobbyist. And Delbert Devin was there with Don Hancock, this lobbyist whose name I can’t remember, and I’m sorry, but Tonya Kleuskens probably will. And going with Jim Wright and following the Congressional meetings. They were in Washington, D.C. talking to people, persuading them about why this would be such a bad site, all that kind of stuff, as all this political maneuvering was going on, those people were there.
DT: Was Jim Wright speaker at the time?
00:43:10 – 2215
BG: Uh-huh, I think so. And so when Congress found itself in a bind with this kind of controversial issue and needed to break the deadlock and push it forward somehow, the political decision was, we’ll go forward with one site only because the price tag for this thing is just astronomical. And Yucca Mountain was chosen because it had less political influence. It was pure politics.
DT: Not a geologic…
00:43:37 – 2215
BG: It’s a bad site, it is a bad site. It’s a bad site. And it will, I absolutely am utterly convinced, future generations will pay a really high price if that site is opened and used. But the state of Nevada, interestingly though, they didn’t have the political clout to stop this process in D.C. The state of Nevada has fought this fight to keep that site from opening far better than Texas ever would’ve given the subsequent governors that we had and that kind of thing. If it had—if they had chosen Deaf Smith County, I bet you that site would be up and running already because the state of Texas, the subsequent governors and all that kind of stuff wouldn’t have fought it in the same way. Nevada’s done a great job of pointing out the flaws of this, and they have STAND committed to not
00:44:31 – 2215
being this political choice which just—it just targeted Nevada. And it wasn’t based on science like it said it was supposed to be so. That’s an interesting twist of what seemed like such a raw deal for Nevada at the time, and I could hardly even rejoice that the decis—that we were off the hook. And as a matter of fact, we kept STAND operating in a kind of an explore energy issues, meet once a quarter, or monthly when we had a program sort of way, because we were so sure that nuclear things would crop up again. We didn’t let the organization disappear. We kept it up and running, even in—in a much quieter way, more as a study group almost. Because we knew we were going to have to
00:45:14 – 2215
deal with nuclear stuff again, we didn’t doubt it one bit. But, as I said, what looked like such a bad deal for Nevada at the time was probably a blessing for the country because, as a state, they have fended it off so much better than Texas would have.
DW: Well, that leads me to a question which is, I think we face this dilemma in all these instances. If not our place, it’s going to be some other place. And they work that guilt on you. If we’re not going to have (?) it does mean boostering it someplace else. I was wondering how you dealt within your group or with each other that that moral thing, well, it’s not going to be here but—I mean, you can pray for the Nevadans, you can send money, you can do an alliance, but morally and ethically, this nuclear thing is always somewhere else and it’s never good for anyone. And I know in our group, we have divisions, well, if we don’t get it here, we’re going to have to send it to Yucca Mountain and we’ve got to stand by them, too. It’s sort of like, there’s no place to send it and how do you keep that from driving you nuts?
00:46:18 – 2215
BG: But you always remind people that that’s a very real quandary. And it’s a very accurate reflection of nuclear power. That it drives—drives you into these, kind of, I was about to say desperate choices, these unattractive…
00:46:38 – 2215
BG: Yeah. And it is—it is bigger in nuclear power, because of the nature of that kind of power, than it is in anything else. It’s a nasty industry, that we should find other ways to get our energy than that. But STAND dealt with that, in part, we never, ever said any of the sites were good. We said just what I said here, none of these sites are any good. This process should start over and it should be done in a—it really should honor the science and technical issues. It’s going to cause trouble no matter what, but at least, we could choose a better site than any of these that are left on this list. They are none of them fit for the job they are being asked to do. We would—and so we always said that
00:47:20 – 2215
and we always pointed to the fact that this industry needs to take care of its waste in a different way instead of one region gathering all the good and extracting all of the good and then sending its waste somewhere else. That is unacceptable. And as for—it’ll be safe, if it’s going to be safe wherever they do it, then they need to do it at the power plant site. But you have to have some sympathy for the power plant communities that probably had very little say in whether or not those power plants were established there. That was a juggernaut of its own type also, I’m sure. And that they were always promised that the
00:48:03 – 2215
waste would go away. And so you find those communities confronted with the fact of they were—they were, kind of, got on board with this power source because they knew that the waste wasn’t going to live there forever. And now you have someone—so it’s—it—I mean, it’s just—you’ve been set up the whole way. And so no one is—I—I’m not really angry at the communities that don’t want to have it there, but I am disgusted with
00:48:31 – 2215
the industry who is so willing to foist these things off and pat itself on the back as a clean industry when it is anything but. And it does not blink its eye one bit, the industry or the Department of Energy, at fracturing communities and polarizing them into people who are for it or for—or who are against it. They don’t care one bit, only—they only care that they win, they don’t care what they’ve done to the fabric of the communities where they’ve caused these conversations to go forward, these arguments.
DT: Can you talk about some of the schisms that you saw in Amarillo or in Tulia or Hereford over whether the site should come or not?
00:49:11 – 2215
BG: Well, I think in the small towns in particular, Hereford, I know and—but Tonya Kleuskens is the person to really talk to. She lived it with her group and her people who fought with it. But I would say that it was a—it’s a—what a town of 45, 40, 50,000—I don’t know what it was then, that’s why I’m hesitating over the figure. That I don’t think withstands that kind of schism easily. And so you had the Chamber of Commerce, sort of booster types, wanting it, wanting it for the jobs, wanting all that kind of thing. And painting the other folks who don’t want it as being backward and hysterical and exaggerating and preying on people’s fears and all that kind of stuff. And it just—it fractures communities, it is such—there are such hard arguments and such hard things are said, and such unpleasant accusations get made that you have to—it’s very hard. A lot of people come away very embittered by the conversations. It’s hard to heal those kinds of
00:50:14 – 2215
rifts and ever want to work—you don’t work as comfortably again in your community with those people for maybe a joint goal again. It just—it just creates rifts. But you should ask her more about that. It affected Amarillo less because we were not so much on the firing line and we are a bigger city. And there was not, at that time, as serious a push backing this effort as there would be later when the city of Amarillo decided to back expansion of Pantex, the nuclear weapons facility. That was very different. But for the nuclear waste issue, Amarillo as a city wasn’t really galvanized to back it. It was a little bit distasteful, wasn’t it? People had a hard time saying that they wanted to be a—a
00:50:58 – 2215
waste site. It’s a little bit less pleasant to tell people, you should stand up and want this waste. It just doesn’t fly as well. People are sort of going, I don’t think so, even if they don’t stand up and say it real loud, people have a lot of common sense that you can always depend on, and frankly, being a waste dump site for waste that was generated mostly east of the Mississippi River just doesn’t appeal to us all that much. You know, you ran into that dynamic, too. East versus west, rural areas versus urban areas. A lot of that, we don’t take kindly to having to take the waste for big cities. And so it was harder for Amarillo to feel like it ought to really try to get the city behind being a waste dump.
00:51:42 – 2215
We ought to want that in the panhandle. It just didn’t happen the same way, so. But in smaller towns that are—in rural towns that are so desperate for jobs and so much of the social fabric and the economic fabric in this country is causing people to concentrate in metropolitan areas and family farms—farms are getting bigger and bigger run by fewer
00:52:06 – 2215
people, so your ur—rural areas are becoming depopulated. Those towns are having such a hard time staying alive that it makes them so vulnerable to all of these projects that proffer—offer some degree of jobs to help these towns stay alive. And it’s an ugly dynamic, it—it sets them up for taking things that the bigger cities don’t want. You didn’t see Dallas and Austin and places like that signing up to be a waste dump. You didn’t see them offering and saying, we want the jobs. You saw desperate, rural areas trying to stay alive be willing to take on these kinds of projects. Or have, at least, a certain segment of their population being willing to take it on. Especially when it’s wrapped in, it’s going to be technically well done, all that kind of thing. Then that—that makes it easier for people to be suckered into it. So.
DW: How do you feel about it when they say it’s going to be technically well done? Hasn’t it become just a battle of our scientist versus your scientist? Our paid expert versus your paid expert? And how do you win that kind of an argument with battling the bureaucracy?
00:53:10 – 2215
BG: Well, you, as an organization STAND always made as sure as it could that its facts were absolutely accurate so that no one could ever hold up anything that we ever gave to our members or gave to the press and could say, they’re absolutely wrong about this. So you do that piece of it. I will tell you one of the dark sides of this work that I had to learn doing this is that you find that you have technical people who will not, even
00:53:42 – 2215
though they agree with you and will tell you off the record it’s a bad idea or the plans are not good enough. They will not lightly become a technical expert for a citizen’s group because their tr—reputation will be trashed in their own industry by how the Department of Energy will move with it. Technical people, they can find their careers, their reputations just absolutely undermined by their work being undercut by the battle of the experts and that kind of thing. And so you—it’s a—we ran into, quite a few times, it’s hard to find technical experts that—that want to take on the fight and will take on that risk.
DT: And the fear is that they will lose commercial consulting contracts or do they lose funding from NSF?
00:54:31 – 2215
BG: They’d lose—and they’d lose their scientific credibility. Their stuff would be so mauled, I guess is a good word, by the experts from the department or whoever they choose to hire. The—the people who are for hire by the industry, that kind of stuff, that their credibility as a scientist, as a reputable scientist, just gets destroyed. And so, it’s hard for citizen’s groups to find people who will always—sometimes do that work. And you also, at that time, I learned the power of industry funding of university research. And you have industry with such big grants going to universities and their research departments of various types that you find that those professors don’t want to put at risk their grants. And so you find universities unwilling to take on some of these things that
00:55:25 – 2215
you would expect them to take on so that you have an independent voice. But it influences what universities are willing to take on also. And so you ran into that dynamic. It’s an ugly fight.
DT: When did you find that some of these people who might be likely experts for public interest groups like STAND had been prophylactically hired by the commercial side, the DOE, in order to limit their availability to public interest groups?
00:55:58 – 2215
BG: Yes, absolutely you find that. I would say you find that when the Department of Energy goes into a town, that they don’t have one law firm they work with. I bet you they have work that they have out with all kinds of law firms in that town. I know that’s the—certainly the case, beyond any doubt, in Amarillo with Pantex. I didn’t have occasion to run into that for the nuclear waste thing. But I wouldn’t doubt it at all. So all of a sudden, if you need a lawyer, you can’t even find a law firm that doesn’t have a con—conflict of interest. And you do find that they—they go to the universities and ask the universities to do some—some of—of this work and that kind of thing. But what you
00:56:37 – 2215
find is that you always have to follow the money. And you—you have to know that the money influences findings. Whether people wish for it to or not. Even if it’s only to the extent that they soft-pedal or try to be so judicious about their criticisms, they simply don’t speak the truth with—in as direct a way. They—they will be far more cautious how they will state criticisms and so it’s not as clear to people. So. Yes.
DT: Did you ever find that there’s a part of professional character of scientists and engineers to mute what they say and try to be very careful to be balanced and objective because they didn’t have the full confidence, they didn’t have the statistical grounds to say, with no doubt, that there was complete certainty that such and such was true.
00:57:36 – 2215
DT: I mean, aside from the money issues, there was just an ingrained side to their character; they were just unwilling to say things outright.
00:57:51 – 2215
BG: Right, if you can’t prove it. And one of the things that citizens are susceptible to is that you can’t get someone to say this sort of thing will give you these kinds of health effects if you have those exposures of a certain type. It just—it doesn’t follow that way. And we don’t have the statistical proof yet. What you do find, and what’s helpful sometimes was to educate people about how little we actually know and so you should move more cautiously than people are saying you should move because we know so little. And that, in terms of health effects, is particularly true for any exposures to radiation that you have, or to radio material—radioactive materials. We just don’t know. And the only way you’ll finally know is that you keep enough records and you track the
00:58:46 – 2215
array of health effects, not just the cancer deaths, not just cancer. Health effects happen in terms of just diminishment of your quality of life. Do you have child that all of a sudden has nosebleeds a lot? Or has some—they just don’t feel good. Health effects take such a variety of shapes and forms and people—it’s one of the hardest things that I had to kind of learn. I was looking for more certainty and it just isn’t there. And the health effects can be laid off onto a zillion other things; you can’t pinpoint them as associated with this particular exposure or that kind—kind of thing. And so it’s a very murky world, and you can’t get people to say clear enough things because they don’t
00:59:29 – 2215
have the facts to do so. And then the downside is, if we ever do finally have enough facts to say things truly clearly, we have hurt a lot of people, and we’re closing the door after the horse has already gone. And it’s hard for people to understand that. You won’t be able to prove health effects until you have good record keeping, which isn’t happening, and they do tend to thwart that. And by that time, you’ve cost a lot of people their health if not their lives. And it’s a—a tragic price to pay and not a necessary price to pay. One other thing about the—and I’m the—the not in my backyard argument, which is so
01:00:10 – 2215
powerful, it feels so powerful. And I puzzled over that one for kind of a long time. And as I said, STAND simply made it a point not to target any other place, but to point out what this program, if it goes forward, should be based on and how it should be done. But another piece to the not in my backyard accusation is they promise you that these things will be well done, that they will be state of the art, that they will whatever and every time
01:00:42 – 2215
I’ve ever watched one of these things, the plans get laid out. When they come up with their final plans, it is a robust building of a whatever sort and a, you know, x amount this, that and the other. And what you find is that it is so expensive and the price is so high that—that it gets mitigated, it gets downgraded, and so it simply doesn’t come true. And what I think people should always remember to say when they’re confronted with the not in my backyard is that that is only half of the argument. And it is—what you never hear people say, is that, all right, if we are responsible for taking on this work on behalf of the entire nation, if we are obliged to do that, on behalf of the health and well-being of this
01:01:26 – 2215
nation, than what is the nation’s commitment to us. That this thing is done perfectly well, as well as we can do it. That we are given every fighting chance to survive this project, that we’re not destroyed by doing this work. And that is not what happens. What happens is the price tag gets too high and the project starts being done in a less robust way and these areas get put at risk. So, at the very least, people who are confronted with not in my backyard is, okay, if we are obliged, what is your equal obligation to us. How are you going to help us survive this work? If we take it on, how do you make it where we survive it? That you don’t destroy us doing this work. And that’s the other piece of the argument you never hear. They don’t talk about it. So.
[End of Reel 2215]
DT: Beverly, we were talking earlier on the previous tape about this struggle to dissuade DOE from siting the high level nuclear waste disposal site here in the panhandle, and I was wondering if you could explain what they meant by high level and how that’s different from low level and how much confidence you have in those kinds of terms?
00:01:56 – 2216
BG: I’m happy to try, but I can tell you I’ve forgotten a lot and so I can’t do it as technically as I’d like to. But the definitions they use to distinguish one type of nuclear waste from another are really arbitrary in terms of they, I think, are established by how the waste was generated. So it isn’t an accurate reflection of how radioactive it is, how dangerous it is in terms of you can’t get within certain number of feet of this or you will have received too much exposure, or it has a certain half-life, so you have to con—sequester it for longer versus things that have quite a short half-life. That—that isn’t how it was done, it’s how you’d think it was done, but it isn’t. It has more to do with how it was generated. And high level nuclear waste is generally the fuel rods, of course, and
00:02:41 – 2216
then, I think, some of the containment building—portions of that will also be. But, I’m sorry, I don’t remember as clearly as I should. For us, it was really, we just thought of it in terms as the fuel rods from a reactor that had been irradiated and so they were—they were both physically hot—hot temperature wise and hot with radioactivity—radiation emissions. When you talk about low-level nuclear waste, it is—they like to describe it as gloves and booties and health waste and things like that. And it can be a—a wide array
00:03:16 – 2216
of things. It can be—some of it that should be categorized, in terms of radioactivity, it should be in the high level category. It is extremely broad and so those definitions lend themselves to making really bad mistakes and it would be a fine thing if this country would go back and define these things according to their hazard, not by how they were generated. And that we separate them out and you would find that you have a body of waste that might, indeed, be safe for land disposal, say, in a decade or so as opposed to it being blended in with this volume of other things that you have to sequester forever, if you can. And you would find your problems, I think, more manageable. But the industry
00:04:03 – 2216
isn’t—isn’t done that way and so we are struggling with that. And it makes it hard for citizens to understand, also, and they are lulled by the term, it’s only low level waste so it’s no worse than, you know, gloves and booties, and so they won’t feel as at risk if they come knocking at the door of your county and say they’d like to have a low level waste dump in your county. Not they would ever call it a dump either. I’m sure it would be a repository because this was certainly going to be a high level nuclear waste repository. But STAND is quite intentionally named Serious Texans Against Nuclear Dumping and
00:04:37 – 2216
they always hated that name, but that’s—the people who named STAND intentionally called it dumping. Trying not to fall into using their lingo, their sort of PR version of terminology or their confusing version of terminology. And there were different times when that has different ramifications, but for instance in the—when you get into defense stuff, what used to be called tube alloy during the old Manhattan Project is highly
00:05:06 – 2216
enriched uranium. But a worker who was harmed at Pantex, for instance, was told he was exposed to tube alloy, and he didn’t know what that was and he couldn’t find out what that was for a while. And it was quite intentional, so language gets used very carefully by these people. They measure every word and they tell you nothing they don’t have to tell you, so. I was going to—I’ve lost the train of thought, but I was going to tell you one anecdote that I—I just have to tell you, my first outing as an activist. Oh, no, go ahead if you have something else you’d rather…
DT: No, go.
00:05:40 – 2216
BG: There was a kind of a Chamber of Commerce business fair and so I decided, well, STAND will have a booth at this business fair and we’ll see what kind of response we get. I was very ill at ease with it, but one of the things they kept telling us was you have to sequester it for 10,000 years. That is, by the way, an arbitrary f—figure of how long you have to keep high-level nuclear waste sequestered. It doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous after 10,000 years, the—I think it was the National Academy of Sciences said, realistically, 10,000 years is the most you could even pretend you could predict being able to sequester this material. And after that, it’s just absurd to even pretend you can try. So the 10,000 year figure for sequestering high level nuclear waste from expose—it—public—the public being exposed to it in some way, is completely arbitrary because some of the wastes that are being buried have half-lives of far more than that.
DT: So it has to do with the limits of our ability to foresee, or the limits of our technology, not the limits of the hazard.
00:06:42 – 2216
BG: Exactly, yeah, yeah. So once again, people get confused with that. But they always used to toss out this 10,000-year figure. So I thought, you know, we’ve lost our sense of—of time so I decided a time line would be helpful. So I—I concocted this timeline that was six feet of poster board behind the table, the banquet table. Showed things like when man invented the wheel and that sort of thing, that was kind of what we were at at 10,000 years and the half life of nuclear—some of these nuclear ma—materials were like 100,000 years, so I used adding machine paper and you started at 10,000 years ago today, sort of did it as it if it was a refrigerator ad or something, and showed different
00:07:28 – 2216
things that happened, which was fascinating in its own right. Then you’re at the present. And then you run out 100,000 years of adding machine tape and it just went off the table and on the floor in a big wad and all that kind of thing. And it’s just—it’s an absurd amount of time to even try to think about. But 10,000 years ago today, we were still in caves, and it’s not easy to predict where you’ll be and how to handle things. But, at this event, a young man came in with a very thick—and this will sound absurd for me to say because I have an accent myself—a very thick Southern accent. And he said—I thought he said—I would like to do anything that has to do with rioting. And I thought, rioting, well, and being a child of the sixties that I am, I knew—I knew that was an option. But
00:08:14 – 2216
I—I said, well, you know, thank you so much for that offer, that’s probably not the first thing we’re going to try. And, of course, what he was saying was writing, as in writing articles or things like that. And he looked with me, he was just completely puzzled with my response. That’s probably not the first thing we’re going to try. And it wasn’t until about five minutes after he’d walked away that I realized what he actually said to me. And I probably lost our first volunteer because I thought he’d said rioting. Anyway, maybe you had to be there, I don’t know, but I just—there’s a innumerable number of foolish things you’ll do as you fight this fight, I guess. And it’s—none of it’s fatal and it can be kind of funny to think back about, so anyway.
DT: Well, it does bring to mind sort of the options that you had in front of you, the tools that you had to show this displeasure that you had with the high level waste proposal. Did you all make a conscious decision not do any sort of civil disobedience? It seems like you all were careful to be very measured in your responses.
00:09:33 – 2216
BG: We were, and it was a reflection of this place. That—this—I mentioned before, this is not a liberal area and it’s not an area that respects that kind of civil disobedience, really. And it wasn’t the best tool to use to persuade people to join, it—it would’ve made it too alienating and too risky, I think. So that just isn’t the path that we chose. And I think—I still think that was the right decision, so. But it’s—I have a lot of regard for people who are willing to do civil disobedience, spend the night in jail, or do whatever
00:10:12 – 2216
it—it takes or—those things have power, sometimes, for the individual. It is not, perhaps, the best tool to move your community, but it has power that maintains and supports the individual doing the work, and so there are different reasons for doing those things. And I don’t—I wouldn’t tell people not to do them, I would simply say, here it wouldn’t be the most effective way to get people to join your cause. But if it helps you keep heart and soul together, then maybe it’s the right thing for you to do. And I—we’re not big on telling people what they must or must not do, we are very—we try to be very clear about what STAND is likely to stand for and be willing to do. And that—that wasn’t our bailiwick, so.
DT: Well, this might be a good time to move to something else that STAND did stand for. It got very involved, as I understand it, in doing some of the oversight of the Pantex complex out near Panhandle, east of Amarillo, where, as I understand it, they assembled the nuclear weapons and now are disassembling some as well.
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BG: That’s—you’re saying it that way is a perfect example of what they want people to think. That we now have treaties and we’re now doing dismantlement and disarmament. That plant is still the final assembly, disassembly, maintenance, repair point for all U.S. nuclear weapons. And their work is probably 50% assembly, maintenance, all that kind of stuff. They are not, by any stretch, merely a benign dismantlement site. But it is the site that does the dismantlements when they happen, so. Yes, we did, and that was a big
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step for STAND. Just as—as—as an example of how the—they can get you to sign up for one thing and then the discussion or the project will shift, they always said it was civilian high level nuclear waste that would go in a waste repository here. Before they shifted it to that political decision and made Nevada the targeted site, it had been redefined that it would also be defense high-level nuclear waste. Not just civilian, which would put you in a different regulatory structure and that kind of thing. And that was one of the things you could almost be guaranteed of, you might say, okay, if this is the deal, I can buy into that. But you always could never take your eye off the ball because it would
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always be redefined at the convenience or the pragmatism of—of the needs of the government or whatever the department saw it needed to do. And so, you never could—you can never trust that what you sign up for is what you will finally be saddled with. So that’s just—just a fair warning for everyone. It’s the nature of—of how this was done. But STAND had always been—we were composed, and it was one of our strengths, of both liberal and conservative people because we did not deal with defense nuclear weapons issues. We just didn’t touch it. We had enough on our plate trying to deal with
00:13:20 – 2216
this other end—to keep all the people in the boat, learning and caring, we simply said, we don’t—we’re not talking about defense materials. In 1990, when it turned out that the city of Amarillo had joined up and partnered with Pantex to proposed becoming the new plutonium manufacturing site, which means they get plutonium from a Hanford or Savannah River, or whatever, bring it in and shape it and form it and machine it into weapons parts, that’s what they mean by manufacturing as opposed to production. A site like Hanford produced plutonium and reactors. A site like Rocky Flats machined that plutonium into parts for a weapon, so you had filings and emissions and potential exposures and waste streams and stuff that we’d never had here. Because Pantex was, in terms of manufacturing, it manufactured high explosive components, so it would receive high explosives from the produ—producer
DT: They were conventional.
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BG: Yes, and shape them into the—the lenses—lenses and all the sorts of things that were needed for a weapon. So that was the manufacturing that we did, we—that that plant did. And then, assembly, disassembly, all that kind of stuff was the other piece that Pantex did. Therefore, we were lucky, and we had a lot less radioactive waste streams coming out of that plant that the manufacturing or production sites had. And that’s why, I think, the communities around the manufacturing or the production sites were more easily galvanized to rise up about the problems that these sites were causing than we were around Pantex because Pantex has had a subtler impact and didn’t have those same kinds of problems. And the DOE, very legitimately, was able to say this is a clean site compared to the others. What people just needed to know was, doesn’t mean Pantex is clean, it just means the others were so horrific and that we had different quantities and qualities of waste streams that had been released into the environment and our groundwater was deep enough that it hadn’t impacted it in the same way. That was the
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only—real difference. But we just had less volume. We were not a high volume production site and it’s what saved us in some ways. So STAND, we went—we gathered up and just said, this is coming. I was able to come back from a meeting that I attended—actually on nuclear waste, again. Oddly enough, I’d been asked to go to Washington, D.C. by some groups in New Mexico and to also keep an ear on things because Don Hancock in New Mexico was saying STAND probably needs to tune into this conversation. There are some things starting to crank up and it would be good if they saw that someone from your area was there and still tuned in and it wouldn’t be just a cakewalk, that if they were to site it there, it would just slide through easily. They are
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looking for the point of least resistance. So I went, and it was when we were th—when I was there in Washington, D.C. that they announced this revamping of the nuclear weapons context—and that—complex, and that Pantex was one of the sites proposed to become the new plutonium manufacturing site when they would close down the Rocky Flats site near Denver.
DT: And it closed down because…?
00:16:47 – 2216
BG: Of it’s tremendous environmental trouble that it had caused. Because the facilities were not sufficient to the winds that they endure there, the—the complex had been allowed to deteriorate. The department and the military wanted new, upgraded facilities, they kind of wanted to remodel and redo. And the people around there had closed down because of citizen pressure, they had found out so much of what had been released, what the emissions were, what the risks were, how decrepit some of the buildings were and the population rose up and started fighting the fight. So there was a lot of political pressure brought to bear to move that site, it was too close to a major metropolitan area. That plant is about sixteen miles from Denver. Pantex is about twelve
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miles, or fourteen miles, I can’t even remember for sure, from Amarillo. But we’re a smaller city, and so it—we needed to move it away from so many voters and put it, perhaps, near fewer voters and fewer voters who tend to be a little bit more my country, right or wrong. And old slogan from the Vietnam days. They question less. So anyway, STAND had to decide how to—or if, even, to tackle this. And my request to the members and the board was that we really need to, we have to decide how. How can we keep all of the—both our liberal and conservative members of our group, how can we respond to our commitment to them that we aren’t going to be a disarmament group.
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And so STAND simply established itself as we deal with environment, safety, health, and policy issues but we will not enter into the discussion, we don’t—won’t have a position on whether or not the country should have nuclear weapons. We don’t talk about that. What we do feel free to talk about, and this was wonderful, I thought, the conservative members of STAND who tended to be very fiscally conservative, lower your taxes, all
00:18:56 – 2216
that kind of thing. We talked about whether or not the country needed so many nuclear weapons and we used it as a chance to help teach people about how usable or unusable nuclear weapons actually are. So it was an education process and we didn’t not talk about all those kinds of things and we made proposals that this country has far too big an arsenal and has far too big a nuclear weapons complex also. But we did it for fiscal reasons and for sheer, you don’t bankrupt your country doing these things and just, let’s look at these things realistically. But we didn’t ever say you didn’t need any. And this is one of those times that I—I think anyone who goes into work like this, I was so
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uninformed about nuclear weapons things and I feel badly about that in some ways, but it has always made me a good barometer. I understand other people who know as little as I used to know because I know how that happens. And I’m not a stupid person; I’m not an uneducated person. But it is—I know the sense of it is so huge and so devastating and so intractacle—intractable a problem that I simply just didn’t ever really want to look at it. So I have watched my evolution of a person who honestly didn’t know how devastating the current weapons are to how many we even had. I had no idea that we had 20 or 25,000 at the h—height of the Cold War, that number of warheads. I didn’t even know those figures and I didn’t even appreciate how overwhelmingly, ridiculously huge that number was and how unnecessary that number was until I learned more.
DT: Can you give us an idea of scale? What is enough?
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BG: I have changed from a person who didn’t even know that 25,000 was too many to being willing to say that I really think if the United States had ten, it would be fine. And I honestly believe that is the case because they are so unusable. And I—so I—you know, I used to feel even more strongly about how unusable they were before we have the current president we have now, who is much more problematic about these things. But truly, ten would do it. Ten would keep the peace. Ten that—they’re not all in one place and all that kind of stuff, would be plenty. And it’d be a vast improvement for the safety of this planet.
DT: If ten is enough, as a deterrent, why do we have a thousand times as many?
00:21:42 – 2216
BG: Oh, I don’t know. I think, you should never underestimate the level of paranoia. You should never underestimate the—the level of, when you are in a group of like-minded people, how you lose your sense of proportion. And I think there are a lot of people who operate in—in military or strategic circles or inside the beltway and all that kind of stuff, that all of this begins to seem realistic. It’s a little like hearing them talk about we’ve gone from having the one major Cold War enemy of the U.S.S.R., that we now have to be able to fight a war on five fronts. You know, that kind of military thinking and people who’ve preyed on people’s fear forever. I think it’s a combination of people too—too insulated and too insular in their own working area that they lose their perspective to other—other people who have such fear of we have to be able to defeat
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anything. And tha—then the general population who has so little knowledge that they don’t know how to judge really, but they certainly don’t want to put their country at risk and so they tend to vote for defense spending, you know. You—it’s—it’s so complex and there’s so many things that we, as the public, don’t know. You all must need to make these decisions and we’ll back you on it and we’ll—we’ll just have to trust that you know because we can’t possibly know, we’re not sophisticated enough, we don’t have the information. All that kind of thing plays into it and so it just can get bigger and bigger. And the arms race, you know, Russia says it has this number of bombers, that kind of thing and, so it just—it happened that way.
DT: Well, speaking of scale, you described a little bit about the weapons industry as a whole and the role of Pantex in the industry. Can you say a little bit about the size of Pantex, how many people work there, just give people an idea of the scope of the place?
00:23:53 – 2216
BG: I can, though it has changed and I’m—I’m afraid I will confuse the figures. Maybe even more to the point would be to say that the plant, when this conversation started was, I hope I’ve got this right, about between 2000 and 2500 people. All of a sudden, the plant payroll gets a little bit bigger as they—you talk about jobs and how important it is to the community and the—the boosters for the plant pulled out the card of if we don’t get—if we don’t become the new Rocky Flats, if we don’t accept this dangerous new work, not that they would ever say it was dangerous, but if we don’t
00:24:28 – 2216
accept this new work, then they’ll close the plant. And Amarillo will lose one of its largest employers and it will be a devastating blow. So that was—that was the main dynamic here. You—you—you should support your country patriotically so we should be doing this because our country needs nuclear weapons. And you—if we don’t buy into this thing that people in Colorado and around Denver drummed out of its neighborhood, if we don’t accept that, they’ll close our plant. And so they just were using that fear tactic of having this huge economic hit on our city as one of the ways they
00:25:02 – 2216
drove that—that discussion and polarized people into saying—they used the slogan, “Pantex Yes”. Not a lot of detail, just say yes. My country right or wrong, that’s what it was like. They really questioned your patriotism if you questioned. And it’s an uncomfortable position to be in. But one of the things that we would find—I generally wound up being the person who represented STAND is to remind people, it’s—an activist is always so at risk of being so cynical and so bitter that it’s almost unbearable to stay inside your own skin and you begin not to be able to talk to people because you’re too overwhelming to talk to. It seems too hopeless and too—too black and so you just—
00:25:59 – 2216
you—you don’t even want to join that group, it just—you don’t want your spirit to just go that dark route. And I always tried to take the tack of talking about what our country should be. And we will do for our country what the country truly needs, but our government must ask for what it needs, no more, no less. And it was asking for more than it needed. It must be willing to invest in it and do it in a top-drawer way, a safe way
00:26:34 – 2216
so that we’re not destroyed doing the work if we take it on. And it’s got to tell us, it has got to give us the details, it cannot expect us, should not expect any citizen to sign on to an undefined program, to a blank check and just say, we trust you, go ahead and do it. It’s our responsibility to learn and judge and back it if we believe in it and question it if we think it is insufficient. And that’s how I would talk to people. It was like playing a role in your country, the very role your country needs you to play. It eventually caused me to redefine my definition of—of patriotism that I’ve—I finally decided that in this
00:27:18 – 2216
area we were a little too inclined to the heroic version of patriotism, the being willing to die for your country, that’s patriotism. And I began to tell people that I think the patriotism your country needs the most is to be willing to think for your country and to do the work, day in and day out. And stay the course, and anything else—anything less, you betray your country, so. And people responded to that. They do. Too often, I think, maybe, people hear too little of that kind of more sophisticated patriotism, I guess. And I’m not uncomfortable saying it that way. I’m more fleshed out. How do you maintain this thing you love, this country that is the only country in the world that I think I could truly be comfortable living in, from my limited amount of travel? How do you bring out
00:28:14 – 2216
its best, and not let it succumb to its worst? And how do you play the role you’re supposed to play? So, it was interesting, you know, in the early days of the nu—nuclear waste thing, there’s a tri-state fair that happens here and we would have a booth at the fair where we would offer information and things like that. And it was during those days that
00:28:35 – 2216
I learned how—how powerful fear is and I know a lot about fear myself. I have—I am not a person who’s at ease in public and I’m not a person who ever wanted to be in the public eye or wanted to make a speech. I didn’t—I was not even comfortable just trying to talk one on one very well. But you would be at this booth, and I remember so clearly one time one woman coming up to me and just saying, well, it’s in God’s hands. And I was so—that was such a debilitating thing for her to feel and it was so dangerous for the—for the world and the country, I felt, that I—I rarely did this, but I just reached across the table and I took her hands and I lifted them up and I said, these are God’s
00:29:19 – 2216
hands. And she was—she just sort of looked at—and she said, you might be right. But she, you know, it’s just hard for people to believe that they are so important, each individual is so important. And it’s just so true; it’s the one thing that makes a difference. But getting them to believe that is a hard thing. So.
DT: So tell me something. Did the panhandle, I think Amarillo as well, has a very strong religious component to it, a lot of churches here. I wonder how this love of life and goodness coexist with a munitions factory and an industry that basically trades in…
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BG: Mass death?
DT: Weapons of mass destruction.
00:30:19 – 2216
BG: I can’t answer that for you. I can only tell you that I was divorced enough from it before that I think people just can’t—they just don’t look at it because it’s so intract—intractable moral question. I am harsher about it in my own mind now, I’m more judgmental, I think, of the people who work at the plant for—because so many—so often they are—it’s kind of a fundamentalist religion and it seems to take—it’d be a little bit more Old Testament than New Testament, I guess is the only way I can describe it to you.
DT: The cruel God.
00:30:52 – 2216
BG: Yeah, it seems to be an option. But I cannot figure out what they do with that pesky little commandment about thou shall not kill, I just can’t quite settle that in my own mind. And I can tell you that, from my own church, the assistant pastor’s wife works at Pantex and I, I mean, I cannot get this picture to focus. So that’s—I—you know, everybody has to walk through those things as individuals and—and make up their own mind about what they’re going to do. I only know that my own tolerance for that has mitigated. I used to not feel—I—you know, you would hear people say, these are not bad people and I would say, you’re absolutely right, they’re not. I still don’t think they’re bad people, but I do think that they are wrong in this and not looking at it truly straight on or they couldn’t be doing what they’re doing. But some people do believe, I guess, that you would defend this country and that would be the right thing to do, you know, so I, anyway.
DT: You say that the folks at Pantex, in some ways, are wrong and you’ve mentioned this sort of boondoggle aspect of it, this is just a industry that is creating much more product than we really need and the other argument that this is a morally, religiously wrong thing to be catering in death. Can you talk a little bit about the health aspect of having radioactive materials? What are some of the arguments you’ve made there?
00:32:25 – 2216
BG: Well, I think it will be hard to prove for this plant because they’re not manufacturing the radioactive materials yet, if they never do. So the exposures are different, they’re getting exposures from working with completed materials and I think the worst health insults happened in the plants where they were producing, machining, sorting, doing that kind of exposure. But I also think that the health records are not kept in a way that will really, honestly, reveal in a statistical way the damage and harm that’s been caused to people. Now, I will backtrack some part and say that when, under the Clinton Administration, the Department of Energy sent people here to hear from workers about health impacts. If you could’ve heard some of those stories, you would’ve been amazed. And they are not stati—statistically significant, it might not be but one or two or whatever additional cancers, and it might have been a child of the person who worked at the plant or something like that. But those people were pretty clearly convinced and compelling that it was a parent’s exposure in the plant that caused it, or the exposure of
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the husband that caused it. But these are going to be so hard to prove in a way that is irrefutable enough, scientifically, that you can make the charge stick. It can be muddied so well that—well, yes, but he smoked also, and he drank, and this that and the other. And anyone who raises these issues on behalf of a family member will probably see it’s a little, I think, like being on trial for—the victim of rape. That your own character gets pretty well assassinated also. They’ll look at what your other lifestyle is as well, you can’t pin it just on the plant or just on the work. But are workers exposed out there? Yes, I’m convinced they are. Unnecessarily so. I remember, regarding nuclear waste
00:34:28 – 2216
transportation shipments going to the New Mexico WIPP [Waste Isolation Pilot Project] site, they had a hearing here in Amarillo. I want to say it was in ‘89 or so; this is before I knew much about Pantex at all. And the Pantex people were there talking about how some oversight—they were testifying before this—it was nicknamed the O’Hearn committee. And they were talking about, we’ve learned a lot, we don’t let our workers in the past, you know, two or three years, we don’t ride in our—the workers don’t stand right next to the warheads anymore any longer than they have to. When their operation is through, we have them stand back now, so they get less exposure because distance makes such a—a difference in certain
00:35:10 – 2216
kinds of exposures and things like that. And I remember sitting there thinking, it is 1989 and you guys have been doing this since the 50’s and only in the past few months you have made these changes? And I thought, you are not the plant that people think you are. And so there—I have no doubt workers were harmed, more so in the past than they are now, I hope, and are they still at risk? You bet they are.
DT: Do you think that there’s an attitude of managing the risk rather than trying to eliminate the risk?
00:35:45 – 2216
BG: Oh, absolutely. And for a good enough paycheck, you’ll take those risks for your family. Even if you get uneasy, you’ll stay there. But my experience has been—limited as it is—that the people who work at the plant really do feel, in general, I think, that it does a pretty good job and people are pretty safe and pretty protected. And it’s only when you are exposed in some way, used in a way that was not necessary and got an exposure that you shouldn’t have had, something—or you see safety things not being followed and you go to your supervisors and you can’t get them to enforce the safety procedures as they’re written and you watch people being cavalier with this stuff or
00:36:32 – 2216
throwing a wrench in a room where you’re doing an operation on a weapon or something like that, that you can’t get people to stop doing that. It’s only when those workers have to try and confront their system or they get abused by their system so that they raise these issues, then all of a sudden they find they have just run into a buzz saw and the plant is absolutely ruthless about undermining them, not giving them information, coming at them with, you know, thirteen lawyers. It’s—it’s a massive attack against you. So it…
DT: This is before they actually become a whistle blower, this is just when they bring their concerns to a superior?
00:37:13 – 2216
BG: I would say, internally, in the plant, even raising issues in there. My understanding from a few folks who have talked to us is that is not a comfortable thing to do. They’re trying to change the culture, as they say. But you will never know the truth of the inside of this plant. It is too secret. I really do believe that we—I was always—and got to be more and more uncomfortable with people thinking we knew more about this plant than we could possibly know. It is too secret and it must be well managed from the inside and it needs an independent regulator that can go in there and make—and have the authority to make changes and demands. And go into these top-secret areas and see
00:37:57 – 2216
things as they are. Citizen’s groups can do some good but they cannot know for sure that these plants are run right. And I would never want people to take anything I say as saying that that plant is safe. I can only say, I don’t know. I will tell you that that plant is more trouble than I ever dreamed it was before I ever looked at it. There is evidence for that, so. Does that help at all?
DT: Well, maybe you can talk a little bit more about the people of conscience who also know, the whistle blowers, and what happens to them when they try and speak out? If you have any examples, that would be helpful.
00:38:46 – 2216
BG: Well, there were two, in particular, that really did go public with Pantex. One was a man who—both he and his brother had worked there for decades. And in, I think it was, perhaps ’89, but I surely could have the year wrong, I’m sorry. In the eighties, though. That he was asked to do a machining operation, that the material kept smoldering and smoking, and he was breathing in this smoke because he was trying to cut this part away from—from this off—I gather it was a warhead sort of situation. And he asked, should I be wearing a respirator? And the folks who’d called him in here to do this operation, who were standing across the room, said, no, no, it’s fine. Go ahead, do that. And this is the man who—his health after he did that, within months, his health had
00:39:34 – 2216
just collapsed. And they—he went to the doctor at the plant who—they were treating him for everything from epilepsy on. And the exposure he got, and they told him he was exposed to tube alloy. He went over to Amarillo College, the junior college here, and went to science department there and talked to the woman who was, I don’t know, the head of that and asked her what he had been exposed to, what tube alloy was and she said she couldn’t help him. It turned out later that we learned that that woman was the wife of the assistant manager of the Pantex plant. The woman at the college. And I will probably say that, I think she probably could’ve found out what tube alloy was and have helped these people try to find out what he was exposed to. What it turned out he was
00:40:18 – 2216
exposed to was uranium smoke, so he inhaled it. And his health has just cratered completely. He’s still alive, but much impaired and various things going wrong and tumors showing up and all kinds of things. But he was crucified in his trial. Just absolutely—he’s—the defense—his own defense could not refute their experts that came in and just—he got—he was just—it was just a mess, just awful. And so…
DT: What was he filing for?
00:40:53 – 2216
BG: Well, he sought compensation and needed to prove harm and couldn’t do it sufficiently and…
DT: The burden was on him.
00:41:01 – 2216
BG: Yeah. And they just—I mean, they had all the experts you could want lined up. People who go around from plant to plant testifying, sort of the hired guns. Very plausible, all that kind of stuff. And here these people are sick, very few resources, all that kind of stuff. So his is a particularly sad story and—but you just—it is a—it’s a brass knuckles fight, if you go into it. If you don’t just sort of take the bullet and be a good soldier and keep quiet. If you try to get compensation or something like that, you’re in a brass knuckles fight. And they come at you with, you know, all kinds of lawyers and depositions and it’s endless and exhausting then and it’s—you can’t prove very clearly. It’s real hard to prove. So that was one example. Another example is a man who saw safety violations happening in the plant and he was part of a team of people who would work on warheads. Assembly, disassembly, whatever. And he just felt that the supervisors and management were more focused on production or not putting up with all
00:42:13 – 2216
of these irritating safety steps that were so aggravating, all spelled out, all that kind of stuff. And he finally went public. He had the help of the Government Accountability Project to fight his fight and I think it made a huge difference in terms of those people have the expertise and the knowledge of how to—they can—they sort of have brass knuckles of their own. They help whistle blowers fight these kinds of fights and they know more what they’re getting into. They know how to get the information; they know how to read the information. They don’t have so much to—of a learning curve, and I’m so sorry to have to say that I can’t remember how Mark’s case turned out. I mean, he got
00:42:55 – 2216
away from the plant. I believe, I—I’m—I should—I’m not even going to say. I can’t even believe I’ve forgotten the upshot. But he knew when he did that that he probably couldn’t continue to work at the plant, even though management says, don’t take any retribution on these people. Your fellow workers, or people like that. You find, you know, things in your locker. You’re harassed if you meet somebody alone in the hall and there’s no witness. Just the attitude of people who won’t talk to you, sit near you, don’t want to work with you, all that kind of stuff. But it was—it was so telling. It doesn’t prove anything. But there—a part of the materials that were sought by his lawyers in
00:43:41 – 2216
discovery, they weren’t able to produce even though Mark knew they existed and he had told them they existed, he’d seen these documents, all that kind of stuff. But, golly, they were stored at Pantex, they were stored next to the incinerator and someone accidentally threw them in. Doesn’t prove anything. They say it was an accident, you can’t say it wasn’t. But I mean, I’m sorry, but, please. You know. But anyway, so.
DT: Tell me something.
DT: I was thinking about these whistle blowers, and especially the ones that have health problems. Did they get any help from the local medical community?
00:44:27 – 2216
BG: No. No not really.
DT: Why is that?
00:44:39 – 2216
BG: It’s hard to prove, they’re not good records. It could probably destroy your practice, in some ways. There’s a lot of pressure to be brought to bear. One of the things early on in—in this debate about whether or not Pantex should take on plutonium work, for instance. Was one of those Pantex, yes, those booster things about support Pantex, went out in the pay envelopes of all the hospitals. One of the booster little support things. You shouldn’t underestimate how small the percentage of people who were willing to speak out in opposition to Pantex being expanded because it felt too much like speaking out against Pantex. And physicians just—there’s the company doctor that they went to.
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And, I’m sorry, I really—I don’t even feel like I should answer this, I just think some of the physicians who might have said these things—one came to a meeting one time and talked about, this is a neurosurgeon’s dreamland here, there are so many brain tumors in this area. But he left, went somewhere else, so. I—I can’t answer that well. All I can tell you is there was never a medical community that sort of stood up and said, we have seen too much of this. We might have a physician or two talk about it privately, but they didn’t ever stand up and really do the work of speaking out and giving some credibility to these people. And as for their healthcare, the plant sometimes sends them to
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Albuquerque for this, or to Dallas for that, or other places, also, so. You know, I don’t know what I should know about it, it’s a—there’s a—I think there’s people who know better than I do about these things.
DT: You’ve also talked about how there’s this culture of confidentiality and secrecy and security. Can you explain where that comes from? Is it part because it’s a weapons facility or is a loyalty to the company or is it because it’s a government project? What is it?
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BG: Oh, I think it has that but I think the real underpinning is the—that is—is—this is one place where all the components of nuclear weapons are in one place and you can know as much as you need to know about a nuclear weapon if you need to, you know, find out about it. So it is—it is, truly, one of the most secret of all of the plants. The others have been secret for—also, but this is, I mean—and they like to—you know, it is kind of an elite group that get to be in this fraternity of people who are in the know of this powerful secret thing. But it is for—they—national security reasons, I think, is really what they pull out as the important card. But they use it far, far beyond what—
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what they should use it for. They won’t give you environmental waste stream information sometimes that you ought to have because it might tell you too much about what a bomb is composed of. And part of that is truly bogus, I did not realize this before I got into this, but it’s not really all that secret how to build a nuclear weapon. That kind of information and smart scientists, even smart students, have figured that out. What is being kept secret more has to do with safety mechanisms, how to build a weapon and not blow yourself up doing it, that kind of thing. So people tend to think that we have to keep this quiet and the citizen’s tend to buy into the fact that this plant needs to have these levels of secrecy because we wouldn’t want people to find out how to make a bomb
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and what’s in a bomb. But I’ve—I now really firmly believe that information is already, for a good scientist, is already out there so well that that’s not the secret you have to maintain and therefore citizens and communities where these plants are should have access to the environmental information they need to understand what’s going on and how to straighten things out. But it’s—it’s the national security trump card and it’s
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getting worse, not better, during the times that are in now with President Bush and since September 11th. So. One of the things that STAND did concretely, for instance, I had no idea—the—great—when you meet some of the landowners that live near the plant, there’s a—a woman and her husband, Doris and Phillip Smith, who have been so crucial and it is, I think, a perfect snapshot. I’ll try and tell you two things. A perfect snapshot of the temper of this community. Even with my business background, I’m not your standard sort of wild-eyed, liberal persona but the first time I ever met Doris Smith was at an Amarillo city government meeting that I’d gone to sort of say, gentlemen, we really
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think you are not wise to think about making Pantex the new plutonium manufacturer. And a man named Les Breeding, who helped start the Peace Farm, goes to the same church as Doris and Phillip Smith and he introduced me to Doris. And Doris was so—she’s a wonderful woman, sophisticated and elegant and all that kind of stuff, and smart as a whip, but she met me and shook my hand in a very cursory sort of way, turned on her heel, and walked up to the city commissioners and said, I’m not with those people. Because it was the Peace Farm and then STAND, and we were regarded as such a radical group even though we had this broad spectrum of people who were members and stuff
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like that. Since then, she and I have become excellent friends and good working partners and I have nothing but respect for her, but that is a perfect snapshot of how people feel about the folks who do this kind of activist work. You don’t—I mean, calling someone an activist is an insult, so. That’s—that’s one piece of the story and I’ve forgotten the
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other piece and maybe it’ll come back to me. But anyway, that’s a snapshot of what it’s like here so you shouldn’t underestimate the pressure that people feel and how easy it is to succumb to their unease or their fear. That there’ll be repercussions for their job. There’s one woman here who feels that she’s an environmental lawyer but her—when we invited her to be on the board of directors of STAND, when she checked with her law firm, they said, we’d rather you didn’t. You can be a member, but we don’t want you to serve on the board. And she didn’t, so there’s a lot going on that way.
DT: Maybe you can help us see the whole picture and especially, how it resolved. Has there been a final decision on how these plutonium processing facilities are going to be sited or are they coming to Pantex or not?
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BG: Not what they were talking about originally. What actually has happened is that the—because of treaties, we shouldn’t really be needing to manufacture new plutonium pits. That’s essentially what Rocky Flats—that’s what we were going to receive, it’s called pit manufacturing. And I will just say, as much as we can know, a plutonium pit is like a hollow sphere of this heavy metal that is the internal core of a nuclear weapon and that—that sphere of plutonium is what is compressed by the explosives and then creates the chain reaction and creates the nuclear explosion. But we have so many weapons that we shouldn’t need anymore. So they’re not actually manufacturing plutonium pits anywhere. They talked about if we start doing that, that it will go to the Savannah River
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site is really the site that’s been targeted for more of the plutonium work. But I would not say any of that has been written in concrete and there’s a new discussion that’s been launched about establishing new pit production facilities somewhere and Pantex is on that new list as is Los Alamos National Labs, that sort of thing. These decisions are kind of rubber, depends on what sort of need crops up. They’ll be revisited; you can never feel like you’ve won the fight. Not really, you just have to always keep your eye on it, so. And not enough about how to encourage people to be activists.
DT: Well, why don’t you discuss that a little bit? It’s clear that getting involved in these radioactive waste disposal issues or into the plutonium processing issues is just a daunting sort of effort and I was wondering what sort of impact it’s had on you and how you’ve responded personally and how you might make the case that others should join in or try other kinds of efforts that are more productive.
00:53:37 – 2216
BG: Well, it is daunting and I—maybe it’s a good thing that the previous parts of this tape will sort of paint that picture somewhat. And yet, I’m not sorry that I did it. It took a real heavy toll on me because I don’t think I kept my balance well in the middle of so many things that needed to be done, so many issues that needed to be addressed and so much harm that’s been caused. And you can tend to get lost in that. But I also know that people tend not to come into this business because it is so—so daunting, or citizens don’t even want to join the organization because they feel daunted by it or it’s—it’s hopeless.
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And I am—I am sorry for people to feel that way because for all that it has been—it—it will always be, I think, kind of unresolved, you’re—you’re never quite sure that you’ve won because it can change on you. You don’t—it’s—it’s been interesting to talk to people and remind them, you don’t play only the sports that you know you’ll always win. You take some risks and you don’t have to win the decision that you’re going after to have made a difference. You—you do other—you’ve made a difference, in spite of the fact someone could look at it and say, it’s fruitless, what do you think—we heard this so often—what on earth do you think you can do? It’s the federal government you’re
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fighting, you can’t possibly win. But you don’t fight only the fights you can win. You fight sometimes the fights that need fighting. And you make a difference in terms of reminding people that we can do better and that you do make a difference, the decisions will be better, that plant runs better, I have no doubt whatsoever, because we raised issues that we did. For one thing, commercial airlines don’t still fly over that facility. And that’s one of the things that we tackled. When the city fathers and the powers that be, the boosters, were saying, don’t raise that, they’ll close our airport. Or they just made it sound—I mean, you can’t—you should not fly over a nuclear weapons plant, you just shouldn’t do it, that’s kind of a no-brainer. And we just kept talking about that until we got it changed.
DT: This was prior to 9/11?
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BG: Yes. So, this plant is still, I would argue, an indefensible plant. It should close just because of the very issues that 9/11 raises. I don’t know that they’ll do that, but it should—I don’t see that you can defend this plant from all kinds of attack. Not just an airliner sort of thing. But anyway, so. I’m trying to think, though, how to—how to convey to people that it is work worth doing and you know that you—you know you’re not going to win everything, but at least you did put up a fight. You didn’t just lay them—lay there and let them roll over you. And it’s—you can keep your balance and feel like you’ve done a good thing and you’ve helped support people. And it is so supportive to have people spend even an hour a month, to send in their membership
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check, to learn some, to be at a meeting, to take the risk of feeling foolish and—by testifying even though you feel like you don’t know quite what to say, helping get out newsletters. It all makes a difference and it empowers the people that you ask to be out in front for you. But finally, at the end of the day, it is, perhaps, for your own sake that you should do some activist work. They—I think, my sister was telling me one time that she read a study that they had done, that children whose parents were active in causes felt much less disempowered and much less fearful of the future than children of people who didn’t do that kind of work. And I thought that was such an interesting finding. I am, you know, I’m a lot less fearful now, having gone through the ringer, than I was before. And I can’t tell you that we won great things but we did good work. And I can, at least, look at myself in the mirror and know that I did what I could. And that I helped other people do it, too. And I learned enough to be useful in the future, also. Maybe one of the
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mistakes that we make, STAND purposefully—we have a hard time keeping an—an environmental organization running in this area because it’s not that popular a thing. So twice the Sierra Club has started a chapter here, some of us start it, and it doesn’t keep going. The—and so we have so few of us willing to do environmental work that we really kind of need to husband our resources. But one thing we purposely did with STAND was to try and take the heat off of a group like the Sierra Club group or whatever, so they didn’t have to tackle such a controversial topic and put themselves at risk. I don’t know if that was the right decision or not but I do know that one effect it had on us—the subject and the work is so overwhelming just in this one area that it’s more
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than you can possibly do. But I still think we need to find places where we say, you know, we can’t do all those things, we’re going to have to let some of these things fall off the table, and STAND is also going to do some more, instead of fighting against this bad thing, we’re going to find some places where we fight for things. A little more clearly, so people see it that way differently. I think we needed to find more positive aspect to our project.
DT: Speaking of positive things, we usually close these interviews with some sort of discussion about a place that you find some serenity, peace, restoration, usually in the outdoors, some place that you might be able to tell us about that you like to visit?
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BG: Yeah. Well, for my husband and I, we’ve always wanted a piece of land and we’ve looked for years and taken a lot of nice hikes and that sort of thing. And I almost feel like it was our reward for doing this work that about four years ago, we found this piece of land that we know is the place we belong. And it’s twelve miles southeast of Claude here, and so we are part-time there and part-time here in town now. And that’s where I go and it is so reviving just to—to be there, it just feels like home. The prairie area always felt like home to me, I’m one of those people who left this area to go, as I said, be a marine biologist and I was going someplace where there was trees and hills and I was only coming back to visit. Got down to Austin and I got claustrophobic, I couldn’t
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see. I had to ask them to move me to the twelfth floor of the dormitory so I could see the sunrises and the sunset. So that you gradually learn if you’re a prairie person or not. And I am, and so this—this land that we have that is both canyon and prairie is where we go to get close to that. Under trees, but also in the grass and walk and be in the thing we’re trying to save, I guess.
DT: Thank you.
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BG: You’re welcome.
[End of Reel 2216]
[End of Interview with Beverly Gattis]