Occupy Portland lines up speakers for Sunday rally in Richland

By Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldApril 13, 2012 

Occupy Portland plans to occupy John Dam Plaza in Richland for five hours Sunday afternoon, hoping to raise awareness about what the group calls the environmental tragedy of Hanford.

The group has been getting the word out in Portland, most recently by a topless rally downtown, and will have up to three chartered buses available for people wanting a ride to Richland, said Miriam German, spokeswoman for the Hanford rally. In addition, the Squadron 13 antiwar bus from Eugene is expected to make the drive to Richland.

Occupy Portland has lined up a list of speakers that starts with Dr. Helen Caldicott, an activist opposing nuclear power and weapons, who cofounded Physicians for Social Responsibility, according to her website.

Occupy Tri-Cities members may or may not support the rally -- depending on who you ask.

Jason Caryl of Pasco had a letter to the editor published in the Tri-City Herald last month saying that Occupy Tri-Cities as a group does not support the rally, which is focused mainly on "anti-nuke rhetoric."

Occupy Tri-Cities is concentrating on other issues, including removing big money from politics, ending corporate personhood, promotion of buying local, and green and sustainable technologies, the letter said.

However, a message from Occupy Tri-Cities Facebook page to the Herald said the letter had not been approved by the group's general assembly and does not speak for everyone in the group.

The Eastern Washington Section of the American Nuclear Society also has issues with the rally, based on information Occupy Portland has released. Those who live near Hanford are as familiar with issues of government waste as Occupy Portland, said Gerald Woodcock, speaking on behalf of the society.

"Where we part company is in their characterization of, and fears about, Hanford and its operations," he said. "Nothing in Hanford's operating history or present activities poses the slightest threat to anyone in Portland."

The Occupy Hanford rally is planned to focus on three broad themes, each tied to Hanford, German said.

Many of the invited speakers come from peace groups, and the rally will oppose nuclear weapons. While the work at Hanford now is focused on environmental cleanup, the environmental contamination there is left from the past production of much of the nation's weapons plutonium from World War II through the Cold War.

Second, the rally will raise concerns about the safety of nuclear energy and its production of nuclear waste. The Northwest's only nuclear power plant, the Columbia Generating Station, is on leased land at Hanford, which is a Department of Energy project.

Occupy Portland is calling the rally "Hanford: North America's Fukushima," linking it to the nuclear power disaster caused by an earthquake and tsunami last year in Japan. The group is worried about the effect of a large earthquake at Hanford, German said.

Third, the rally will focus on cleanup efforts, including calling attention to the need for external oversight of DOE's cleanup of Hanford, German said. Occupy Hanford wants more money to be spent on Hanford cleanup, while increasing transparency and efficiency and protecting against profiteering and conflicts of interest.

Most years, the federal government spends more than $2 billion on Hanford environmental cleanup.

The rally also is planned "to unite the people of all communities affected by the Hanford situation, including the Native communities, Hanford employees, downwinders and residents of the Tri-Cities area in order to call for and to find solutions to the problems caused by Hanford's past," according to an Occupy Portland press release.

"We must speak out against the failure and corruption of this cleanup as it stands today," the release said.

Planned speakers include representatives of the American Indian Movement, Hanford Watch, Oregon Conservancy Foundation, Columbia Riverkeeper, Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility, NukeWatch, Oregon PeaceWorks and Mothers for Peace. The group also invited DOE to speak at the rally, but DOE declined, German said.

The group is concerned about nuclear contamination entering the Columbia River upstream of Portland, because Hanford ground water is contaminated.

"This is not a healthy place," German said.

Most people in Portland don't know about the nuclear waste at Hanford, and the group said Portland media was too slow to publicize the Hanford rally, she said.

Occupy Portland responded on April 5 with "Boobs out for A15 (April 15)" in downtown Portland at rush hour. Going topless was a big step, but the group was serious enough about the rally to use that ploy as a way to catch the media and public's attention, German said.

Women did paint their breasts so they didn't appear totally naked above the waist, but it is legal to go topless in Portland, she said. The stunt lead to a flurry of articles and photos, particularly in Portland and Seattle publications and news websites.

The Eastern Washington Section of the American Nuclear Society has seen out-of-towners come to the Tri-Cities area to hold Hanford rallies and protests for decades. It's not impressed by this one, according to information supplied by Woodcock.

"The association of Hanford with Fukushima is pure sensationalism, having absolutely no basis in scientific or engineering fact," Woodcock said. "These people have been grossly misled."

Occupy Portland should remember that a great deal of waste stabilization has taken place over the last 20 years, which greatly has reduced the hazards from underground tanks holding radioactive waste that have leaked in the past, according to Woodcock's group. The push of contaminants from the soil into ground water and toward the river also has been slowed.

The chapter also calls into question Caldicott's credentials, saying she has no journal publications in the scientific literature on the biological effects of radiation. Her works are extremely inaccurate as to the risks and environmental effects of radiation and nuclear technology, according to the Woodcock's group.

The rally is planned from noon to 5 p.m. in the park, which is on George Washington Way.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com

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