Regarding The Controversy Over ‘The Bluffs’ Senior Housing Development


This is a letter regarding the controversy over “The Bluffs” senior housing development on DP Road.  First of all, when it comes to radiation effects older people are the least vulnerable segment of our population, not the most vulnerable.  Radiation has a much bigger impact on cells that are rapidly dividing, which means that fetuses and young people have a lower tolerance for radiation than older people do.  So, the notion that this is an especially egregious housing development since it involves seniors simply isn’t true. 

Secondly, let’s take a look at what they did find there.  Plutonium is an alpha (Helium) emitter, and that alpha particle won’t even penetrate your skin.  It only becomes problematic when it is lodged inside your body.  There are only two effective ways to get a Plutonium burden.  The first is to inject it intravenously (not a good idea, but you would have to be very rich and very stupid to do that).  The second way is to breathe particulates in a certain size range that lodges in your lungs.  If the particulates are too large, they won’t enter your lungs at all.  If they are too small, you breathe them right out again.  Plutonium in your lungs can lead to lung cancer.  The way to mitigate this risk is to keep it covered up and monitor the air.  That’s exactly what the lab has been doing. 

Uranium is also an alpha emitter, but it is 187500 times less radioactive than Plutonium.  You would probably have to snort a lot of Uranium to acquire a significant Uranium burden.  The more typical problem with Uranium is Radon gas, which is one of the byproducts of Uranium decay.  This can also cause lung cancer and was the primary problem that Uranium miners encountered.  The mitigation for this is good ventilation.  This problem isn’t any different than the rest of us can encounter in our own homes from naturally occurring Uranium sources. 

Consequently, I don’t think there is any great cause for concern about the radioactive materials found on DP Road.  I’ve worked on DP Road for several years, and I don’t lose any sleep about the radioactive waste that has been found there.  The real problem is that people are paranoid about radiation.  As Henry Kissinger once said, “perception is far more important than reality”.  As for me, I’m just going to sit back and watch the show. Sincerely,

Rick Nebel
Los Alamos