“The Bush administration is planning the government’s first production of plutonium 238 since the cold war, stirring debate over the risks and benefits of the deadly material,” reports The New York Times. “The substance, valued as a power source, is so radioactive that a speck can cause cancer.”

[T]he program would produce a total of 150 kilograms (330 pounds) over 30 years at the Idaho National Laboratory, a sprawling site outside Idaho Falls some 100 miles to the west and upwind of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Officials say the program could cost $1.5 billion and generate more than 50,000 drums of hazardous and radioactive waste. …

[M]ost if not all of the new plutonium is intended for secret missions and declined to divulge any details. But in the past, it has powered espionage devices.

In a side piece, reporter William Broad describes witnessing, “up close,” a specialist handling, and dropping, a plutonium pellet at Los Alamos. The new program would require transferring all operations, and expertise, to the Idaho laboratory, reports Mr. Broad.

“Radioactive dust in a Tri-Cities [Wash.] attic and plutonium-tainted clams in the Columbia River are red flags signaling that contamination from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is in the environment and moving into the food chain, a watchdog group [GAP] says,” reports the Seattle Post-Intelligencer on June 15, 2005. Here’s a link to G.A.P.’s Hanford section.

What I know about plutonium, you could put in a thimble, but if it’s leaking out of Hanford, what about Los Alamos, and how can we believe the Idaho lab’s assurances to the NYT that there’s been no sign of environmental contamination?

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