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"Ground Zero"

    Here we go again, just yesterday, back into the streets,
with protest signs and sore feet and sweaty armpits -- to tell
our Senators that there is no hurry to open WIPP, the so-called
Waste Isolation Pilot Project, where transuranic "low-level"
nuclear waste, created by the manufacture of our nation's nuclear
arsenal, is to be stored in salt beds 2000 feet below ground,
near Carlsbad, New Mexico.
     One of the senators is hurrying, trying to tack an amendment
onto the Defense Appropriations Bill, which the President will
not dare to veto -- an amendment which will open WIPP six months
ahead of the currently in-effect schedule, and removes the whole
business from EPA oversight.  We, frankly, suspect that the hurry
is caused by the growing volume of evidence from unpurchased
scientists, some of which is due to be made public in a few
months -- to the effect that WIPP cannot be made safe, because of
brine, water flow in the salt beds, the effect of nearby mining
and drilling on that water flow, and so on.  It is increasingly
clear that the government promise that this stuff will not
"migrate" for 10,000 years is a deception and a blatant
     The other Senator hedges and his aides put us off with
gobbledygook political jargon.
     My response to this process, which we have been engaging in
for more than twenty years, is to go home and write rants and
satire and soul-baring pleas for logic and compassion.
     But how does one satirize plutonium and leukemia and
government falsehoods?  Those things cannot be made funny; they
are already the blackest kind of satire.
     What follows is a failed attempt, written many months ago,
after a remarkably similar protest.  The issues have remained
very constant.  "The Leukemia Question" will appear in VERMIN AND
your humble servant.  It will arrive from the printer in late
August.  [ISBN: 0-938513-22-2, 193 pages, line-cut illustrations
by Claiborne O'Connor, $10]  Some of the other stories in the
collection are humorous, I have been told, but this one isn't.

                      THE LEUKEMIA QUESTION
     A group of us who were concerned about the government's
plans to seal the fate of our state by making it the Nuclear
Sacrifice Zone announced a public demonstration at the office of
our local congressman in downtown Duke City.  A new bill had been
proposed in Congress, which would exempt the Waste Isolation
Pilot Project, called WIPP, from nuclear waste safety
requirements and oversight.  WIPP is the proposed repository for
the "transuranic waste" generated by the production of nuclear
     Our media committee did its job, and for a brief period
there were almost as many television reporters and camera-persons
present as protestors.  Some demonstrators carried signs that
insisted that the Environmental Protection Agency and not the
Department of Energy supervise the question of safety at the

                     WE DEMAND EPA OVERSIGHT

                        WIPP IS NOT SAFE

                     CHECK DOE SAFETY RECORD

                        WIPP = CHERNOBYL

Others demonstrators carried more enigmatic signs.

                           GROUND ZERO

                    TRAIL OF BROKEN TREATIES


                        THE ENEMY WITHIN

     The TV cameras were concentrating on the leaders of our
group, near the entrance to the office building.  We protestors
marched with our signs in front of the door, and then on down the
block to corner of the next street.  At that point we wheeled
around, turned our signs to face the street and the cameras, and
paced back to a point beyond the entrance, where we turned around
again and marched back.
     After several marches back and forth on the sidewalk, I
noticed a newcomer to the scene, standing at the corner of the
building, leaning on the wall, with a sign over his head.  I
motioned to him to get in our line ahead of me, but he shook his
head, "No."  A boy of about eight years of age stood close to
him.  His refusal to join us puzzled me, until I read his sign,
on the next walk-around.  It said simply, "Support WIPP."
     I stepped out of line and approached him.  "You support
WIPP?" I asked.
     He appeared frightened; his eyes were open wide, and he
looked away from me as soon as I established eye contact.  He
bobbed his head up and down, once, as if to say, "Yes."
     I studied the boy standing next to him.  He also looked
afraid.  It was obvious that neither of them had ever before
exercised their constitutional right to assemble and demand
redress of grievances.  They were part of that vast majority who
aren't sure that the guarantee of that right is a good idea.
     "Are you from here?" I asked.  Those of us who do value that
right use it in more than one area of concern, and thus come to
know each other and recognize each other.  I was sure that I had
never seen him before.
     He shook his head, "No."
     A light came on in my mind.  "Ah!  You're from Carlsbad."
That's the town near where the DOE has spent one billion dollars
preparing the proposed nuclear waste repository.  He nodded,
"Yes."  More than ninety percent of the residents of that county
say they favor WIPP, when polled.
     "You never watched a kid die of leukemia, did you?" I asked.
His eyes bugged open wider, but he did not speak.  "I did," I
told him.  "It was very unpleasant, even for me, let alone for
     The boy standing next to the counter-protestor touched the
man's arm and said, "Dad --"
     "It was a mess," I continued.  "It took a long time, too.
It started as a nosebleed that wouldn't stop.  Then it made her
skin very shiny and clear -- you thought you could see right
through it.  Then little blood clots appeared under the thin
shiny surface of the skin.  Her cheeks swelled up, but they said
that was from the medicine."
     The boy said again, "Dad --"
     I went on.  "They took her to surgery and removed her
spleen, without ever explaining why they thought that would
     "You're bothering me," the man said.  It was the first time
he spoke.
     "I'm trying to," I said.  "She became very tender and
loving, very fragile and precious.  She wrote poems, telling how
much she loved us all, and how she was going to a place where
everything was perfect, and she was not very sad about that, just
about leaving us all behind."
     "You're bothering me," the man repeated.
     "The whole experience cost me my faith," I said.  "I was no
longer able to believe that a good and all-powerful God was in
charge of the world.  But I still believe that we have to love
each other, and our children, even if there isn't any God to
guarantee anything.  We have to protect them as best we can."
     "They told me not to let anyone bother me, and you're
bothering me," the man said.
     "How much are they paying you to come here and hold that
sign in the middle of our demonstration?" I asked.
     He did not reply.
     "I realize that you don't think that's any of my business,
but you know, it really is, since I and all these people, and all
the taxpayers are furnishing that money."
     "Don't bother me," the man said.
     "I've come to believe in love and truth, and that's why I'm
here, and then I find you here, who believe only in money.  Are
they paying your boy?"  I looked the boy in the face.  He looked
     "You don't want this boy of yours to get leukemia.  Believe
me, you don't.  I suspect that you don't understand what ~half-
life' even means.  You may not believe that plutonium causes
leukemia.  Maybe you never even heard of leukemia before today.
You believe the lies that the DOE teaches.  You don't understand
how much time two hundred and fifty thousand years even is, how
much leukemia and how much suffering that means for future
generations.  People like you, who believe in money instead of
truth and love, don't care about future generations much, I've
noticed -- but you don't want your boy to get leukemia.  Believe
me, you don't."
     Our group continued to march back and forth in front of the
door of the local office of the congressman.  Our leaders were
inside, trying to talk to him.  Each marcher looked at the three
of us standing on the corner, as they made their about-face.  I
did not rejoin them, but stood like a sentinel beside the
frightened man whose sign said that he supported WIPP.  My sign
said, "GROUND ZERO."
     The boy pulled on his father's arm and said, "Let's go,
     One more time the man said to me, "You're bothering me."
     "Good," I said, and then held my tongue.
     The man lowered his sign, and he and the boy turned the
corner and walked rapidly away from all of us.
* * *
Copyright © 1996 Harry Willson

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