Democracy in action: the fight for local control
The story below was written by a CCMT leader and originally slated for publication on October 5th, 2003 in The Philadelphia Inquirer's "Neighbors" section. It was intended to appear in the "Community Voices" column next to an opposing piece written by CFC Logistics, the owner/operator of the nuclear irradiator. Citing irreconcilable disparities between the two stories, the newspaper's editors removed both of them from their publishing calendar.
From what we were told, cobalt-60 and its role as a possible ingredient in "dirty bombs" was the discussion point that led to the Inquirer's decision to cancel the series. As a result of this terrorism-related subject matter, raised in CCMT's story, the paper decided instead to assign the irradiator topic to one of its science reporters, Faye Flam.
Apparently, senior editors at the Inquirer conveyed that they believed this was the most responsible course of action in order to avoid reader confusion about an issue with such serious implications for the community. The Neighbors editor indicated that the cancellation of the two opposing articles was the first time a series he had approved for publication had been pulled at the last moment by his superiors.
The resulting "scientific" treatment of the irradiator topic by the Inquirer appeared on the front page of the newspaper on November 28, 2003. Unfortunately, it contained inaccuracies. The science reporter never interviewed leaders from CCMT or Public Citizen for her story, despite the groups' intense involvement in the matter and our focus, independent from each other, on the preparation of written materials covering technical subjects related to the irradiator struggle. Although both groups were mentioned in the Inquirer's article (see link below), neither was given a chance to respond:
Irradiator prompts terrorism concerns
Here is CCMT's story that was originally intended for publication:
Near Molasses Creek in Milford Township, not far from the birthplace of the Fries Rebellion in 1799, an uprising of a different kind is underway. Two centuries later, residents of this municipality and surrounding areas have organized Concerned Citizens of Milford Township (CCMT) to oppose a cobalt-60 irradiator constructed in a local cold food storage warehouse. The facility would be the nation’s first gamma nuclear irradiation plant to go online since the tragic events of 9/11. It is CCMT’s understanding that the irradiator’s special design has never previously been used in commercial operations — and we do not want to become guinea pigs for a new nuclear technology.
The targets of community outrage are the irradiator’s owner/operator, CFC Logistics, a subsidiary of Clemens Family Corp., which includes Hatfield Quality Meats; Gray*Star, Inc., the irradiator’s designer, and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which issued a nuclear materials license on August 27. CFC is moving ahead with the initial delivery of radioactive source material, pending ongoing litigation.
Instead of counting the number of windowpanes in homes for tax purposes, an impetus for the 1799 uprising, residents now must compute the irradiator’s microbe-killing curies of radiation. (One million are currently authorized, with plans for millions more.)
Milford Township has limited emergency response capabilities. It relies on the State Police to patrol its 28.32 square miles. Home to 8,800 residents, this once-rural community is rapidly becoming suburbanized, with the population projected to grow by 27 percent this decade, making it one of Bucks County’s fastest growing municipalities.
We are worried that the absence of a local police force, combined with a volunteer fire and rescue company unaccustomed to handling radioactive contamination, could spell disaster in the event of a nuclear incident. Of special concern is cobalt-60’s desirability to terrorists who seek to construct "dirty bombs." Also troubling is the plant’s location on land with a very high water table that is within yards of the Quakertown interchange of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, along the flight path of the Quakertown Airport, and in an active seismic zone. (In July, a fiery plane crash occurred one mile from the irradiator. An August earthquake centered in Milford, New Jersey was felt in Upper Bucks. September brought tornadoes, hurricane-force winds and power outages.)
Citizens are furious that a rubber-stamping NRC has, by following narrow government guidelines, trivialized our worries and discounted the probability of a terrorist attack, operational failure, or natural hazard. Particularly after 9/11, residents find the NRC’s guidelines inadequate. Better laws are needed to protect citizens.
The NRC ignored not only residents, but elected officials, including Pennsylvania’s two U.S. senators, who urged that a license not be issued until residents had been "given the fullest possible disclosure of the facts about such a plant and measures being taken to assure their safety." Despite intense community and political pressure, the NRC marched forward.
The township Board of Supervisors issued a permit last February that allowed for construction of the first irradiation pit. Residents were outraged that they weren’t notified about the project. Community ire and overflowing crowds at twice-monthly township meetings this summer forced a change of heart. In September, the supervisors adopted an ordinance to limit where a "radioactive materials facility" could be located. This ordinance would prevent CFC from operating an irradiator in its current location, too close to an elementary school projected to reopen in 2005; it would, however, allow an irradiator in other parts of the township’s light-industrial zone.
A turning point for residents occurred during an NRC public meeting in July when a member of the township’s zoning hearing board disclosed that CFC Logistics had failed to apply for the necessary township land-use permit required to operate the facility. CFC has challenged this claim in Bucks County Court, where CCMT has joined with Milford Township to prevent delivery of cobalt-60. A decision on the competing petitions is expected this week.
The outcome of these legal battles could ultimately change this historic community’s quality of life forever — or expose some questionable corporate calculations and business models.
Kim Haymans-Geisler — of adjacent Marlborough Township — chairs the communications committee for Concerned Citizens of Milford Township (firstname.lastname@example.org).
LITIGATION UPDATE: Milford Township and CCMT lost their bid in Bucks County Court to prevent CFC Logistics from taking delivery of the initial shipment of cobalt-60. In September 2003, a new ordinance controlling "Radioactive Materials Facilities" was passed unanimously by the Milford Township Board of Supervisors, despite some reservations by township solicitor, Terry Clemons (photo, right). During the public meeting a surprise appearance was made by David Onorato (photo, left), an attorney for CFC Logistics, who informed the Board of his intent to sue the township in federal court. In July 2004, a consent decree was issued to settle the legal case about the constitutionality of the new ordinance. Both sides agreed to end litigation while maintaining their respective positions. The lawsuit had cited discrimination against a corporation under the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Meanwhile, CCMT continued to fight its legal case before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board Panel (ASLBP) until a settlement was reached between CFC Logistics and two of the original petitioners in August 2004. That agreement was approved by the ASLBP Presiding Officer in November 2004 and the case was ultimately terminated in January 2005.
NOTE: The issue of corporate versus community rights in a land-use battle being waged in another Pennsylvania town was explored on the February 18, 2005 edition of NOW on PBS; to read the transcript, click here.