Corrections or additions?
These articles were prepared for the May 16, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Radioactive Waste: Perils of Siting
Right along with "the check is in the mail"
are two other laughable lies: "Trust me, I’m in government"
and "Trust me, I’m a scientist." Or at least they are invariably
perceived as lies by a cynical population. And thereon, says John
Weingart, hangs a major national dilemma that is steering us toward
In his new book, "Waste is a Terrible Thing to Mind," Weingart
turns the light on New Jersey’s low-level radioactive waste. Diligently
he documents the problems and attempted solutions of storage and disposal
and selecting containment sites. And in so doing, he reflects on the
public’s failed faith in its institutions and, conversely, those institutions’
frequent contempt for the public’s ability to make a choice.
Whether you are interested in nuclear power plants, the environment,
science, any level of government, its bureaucracy, or social commentary,
John Weingart’s quirky subject may prove fascinating. He speaks at
the League of Women Voters Annual Dinner on Monday, May 21, at 5:30
p.m. at Good Time Charley’s in Kingston. Cost: $25. Call 609-924-6580.
Weingart is a brilliant anomaly. Politically, he is both an analyzer
and a fighter. He served New Jersey as assistant commissioner of the
D.E.P for years, and shouldered the thankless task of chairing the
Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility Siting Board from 1994 to 1998.
At the same time, Weingart graduated from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson
School of Politics and Public Affairs and now serves as associate
director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics.
Weingart is a populist, when the people are fighting for their own
good against a special interest. "Waste is a Terrible Thing to
Mind" was published by the Center for Analysis of Public Issues
— parent of New Jersey Reporter, the environmental and government
watchdog periodical for which Weingart frequently writes. At the same
time, he says that a public hearing, where emotions and a total lack
of knowledge can easily shift into rabble rule, may not be the best
forum for many issues.
Yet the greatest anomaly — so it might seem — shines in his
book. John Weingart labels himself as "environmentally concerned."
One need only tune into 103.3 FM on Sunday nights to hear Weingart’s
show, "Music You Can’t Hear on the Radio" and listen, between
the old classical Bluegrass tunes, to his talks with Pete Seeger and
other environmental purists. He has fought to keep our coastlines
clean and feels for our earth.
Despite all this, John Weingart and his committee spent years trying
to cram a low-level radioactive waste storage site into the backyards
of unwilling New Jerseyans. What’ with this guy?
"The truth is," says Weingart, "that this stuff (low-level
waste) exists all over our state." Over 100 universities, hospitals,
and other labs use small amounts of radioactive material and currently
store their waste at local, temporary sites, infinitely less safe
for the public than the much feared permanent facility.
If you happen to be taking the air along Rutgers’ Busch Campus, you
might stumble through the door of an adjacent greenhouse — or
just break the window. Inside you would behold about 10 blue 50-gallon
drums holding low-level radioactive waste awaiting transport to somewhere.
But whither lies somewhere? Ah, there’s the rub. Historically, New
Brunswick residents who knew of Rutgers’ temporary storage never complained.
But just try to fix them with a permanent storage facility. Came the
cry from every corner of the state, "Not in my backyard!"
This was the state of affairs in l994 when John Weingart voluntarily
accepted the chair of New Jersey’s Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility
Siting Board. "My first job," says Weingart, "was to convince
myself. Could low-level waste be stored permanently, safely, anywhere
with no harm to the workers or residents?" It wasn’t an easy sell.
"I mean, I still had my `No Nukes’ T-shirts in the drawer."
Weingart, more dedicated to truth than dogma, sifted the facts.
Low-level radioactive waste, stored in heavy containers, surrounded
by several feet of concrete, and continuously monitored, is totally
safe. The fact is, if you chained yourself on a short leash to a storage
site filled with this type of waste for one year, you would walk away
with, worst case, no more radiation than that delivered by two chest
When he took the job, Weingart believed our state government
was taking a responsible approach. At that time, New Jersey was sending
all such waste to a permanent storage site in Barnwell, South Carolina
— one of only three in the United States. The state recognized
the hazard and the potential overuse of South Carolina, and decided
New Jersey needed a safe site in-state.
Weingart and his board did away with the original plan of selecting
the "one best site" in the Garden State. Instead they chose
several acceptable ones. One of which was nearby Roosevelt. The proposition:
allow us to build this storage facility here and Roosevelt, a tiny
municipality with an annual budget of less than $1.5 million, will
receive $2 million annually for the betterment of its town.
Weingart called a town meeting to present the plan, and the waste
hit the fan. "Probably the most difficult idea to sell at a public
hearing," says Weingart "is `Don’t worry. It is all totally
safe.’" People instinctively stiffen at this remark — sure,
it’s safe and "the check is in the mail."
The most fearful held the loudest sway. In the case of that tremulous
buzz word "radiation," public perception has been skewed by
half a century of unrelenting Godzilla-size horrors. From Hollywood’s
giant, radiation-induced ants to the tragedy of the Chernobyl melt
down, we have been taught and re-taught one fact: This Monster Never
Totally Dies. Godzilla always rises again to punish Tokyo for the
sin of nuclear energy. And you want to put those barrels HERE?
An incredible paranoia took over, recalls Weingart, "I watched
people who had just downloaded five pages from the Internet given
the same credence as experts brought in from the National Academy
of Science. The whole attitude was summed up by the comment: `I don’t
care what you have to say; I won’t allow it here.’ They only heard
the word `nuclear’ and said no."
Weingart is fond of telling the story how when Nuclear Resonance Imaging
was newly brought to hospitals, fearful patients wouldn’t go near
it. Doctors changed the name to Magnetic Resonance Imaging and now
one out of every three Americans has availed himself of an MRI.
In the end, Roosevelt came close, but the proposition to locate a
site (and an annual $2 million) in town failed in the town council
— by one vote.
Weingart and his crew pitched and tried for four years. They met resistance
everywhere. Today, New Jersey has no permanent storage site for its
low-level radioactive waste.
Barnwell, South Carolina, agreed to take nuclear waste from New Jersey
and Connecticut on the condition that they would have to take none
other. Thus, the remaining 47 states must split their waste between
the only two sites left.
The hazardous waste haulers (paid by the mile) win. The public loses.
John Weingart sits in his office and shrugs. "I’m a man who has
spotted the problem, but I really don’t hold any solutions. Distrust
of government is a bad, but enlarging cycle." A few suggestions
come to mind:
to know the approval path of an issue. They need to see a flow chart
of how the issue will be decided — when pubic comment is invited,
and when it ends. Every issue must have a deadline where all the studies
and public hearings stop, and boom, the decision is made.
be given more responsibility, not less. Endless outside review boards
do more to snarl bureaucracy than bureaucrats. "We’ve got to make
it challenging and fun to work in government," Weingart says.
"We can’t forever tie our government’s hands and expect more of
to decide for what issues, and in what manner, public hearings can
be held. It’s a tricky question, but falling prey to a vocal minority
does not always serve the public good.
in its institutions. I know the truth always sounds naive, yet perhaps
we just need more of it."
— Bart Jackson
Engineers, programmers, chemists, and biologists all
share conflicting needs, says Cate Jones of Blessing White.
They need autonomy but like collegiality. "Managers need to understand
what makes them tick," she says.
Blessing White is the global consulting firm, based on Orchard Road,
that specializes in personal and corporate growth (www.blessingwhite.com).
Its "Technical Leadership" course is based on three years
of research with 300 leaders in 19 technology companies and groups.
"We found that technical professionals have unique needs,"
says Jones, "and that successful managers displayed specific skills.
In every class, when we ask what are the challenges of managing technical
professionals, the managers come up with the same questions we found
in the research. Our research is validated with every class."
Before Jones took the job of marketing director, she was the product
manager for this course. She is a chemical engineer from Columbia
who had worked at Groundwater Technology and Johnson Matthey. (E-mail:
email@example.com). The current course manager is Crys Sheets,
based in California.
Most of the time, corporations buy this course to use as standard
training, but Blessing White has schedule a course for its Orchard
Road headquarters from Tuesday to Thursday, May 22 to 24, from 8 a.m.
to 5 p.m. It will be limited to 10 to 15 people who manage or lead
Certain managers were found to be more successful at fostering innovation,
strengthening teamwork, and sustaining commitment. They consistently
used six motivational skills: maintaining and enhancing self-esteem,
focusing on specific behavior and impact, asking appropriate questions,
using "active" listening, communicating benefits, and setting
goals and follow-up dates. Specifically, they learned to do the following:
authority and access to resources helps them achieve a higher level
of job satisfaction.
that everyone is different, and respond to the specific needs of each
by nurturing, facilitating, and protecting your employees creative
and worthwhile ideas.
ways of helping team members become self-directing, responsible, and
performance goals, and incorporate goal setting into their communications
with team members. Team members will be more motivated to contribute
when they understand and support a need or objective.
— Barbara Fox
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