1,001 uses for nuclear waste

If you’ve got lemons, make lemonade, right?

It’s good to know that this kind of can-do, entrepreneurial thinking has risen to the top ranks of government and industry. As recently reported by Mother Jones magazine, the heavy thinkers at the East Tennessee Technology Park realized that the lemons on their sprawling facility would make some mighty zesty lemonade, so they’ve quietly taken steps to start squeezing and selling their product.

They have to be quiet about it because, instead of lemons, what they actually have is radioactive scrap metal. This “technology park” used to go by another name: The Oak Ridge nuclear-weapons facility. It enriched uranium for America’s nuclear bombs; as a result, it now has tons of contaminated metal on its grounds.

What to do with this radioactive waste? Until now, regulators have required the corporate operators of Oak Ridge and other nuclear facilities to dispose of it. But our industry-friendly Bush administration has come up with the bright idea of turning tons of this stuff into a moneymaker. How? By selling what they call “slightly radioactive” scrap metal to recyclers, who can then resell it to manufacturers of consumer products.

But wait … doesn’t this mean that things like baby strollers, frying pans, bicycles, La-Z-Boys, jewelry and whatnot could contain radioactive material? Yes. Well, gosh, say those pushing this scheme, that’s correct, but — HA,HA — you can trust us, because we’re rewriting the rules to declare that low levels of irradiated metals are “safe.”

Well, are they? No. Scientists say that any dose of radiation, no matter how small, is a risk to public health. To keep you from worrying, however, the Bushites have a simple plan: They won’t require any labeling of products made from recycled nuclear metals. Out of sight, out of mind!

If they strike you as being out of their minds, call Public Citizen: (202) 588-1000.

Fleet tries to pull a fast one

I got a note from the swell folks at Fleet, my credit-card company. Actually, it wasn’t a note but a Notice:

“This Notice is to advise you that the following Arbitration Provision will be added to your Cardholder Agreement,” it cheerfully began. Hmmm, I thought, arbitration. What needs arbitrating? So I squinted at the tiny print they used in this little four-page notice, which had no eye-catching graphics, no whimsical colors, and none of the chatty style you find in other bill stuffers that the companies really want you to … well, notice. Indeed, it’s as though Fleet didn’t truly want me to notice this Notice.

But I thought, don’t be cynical, so I plunged into the prose: “This Arbitration Provision will apply to all claims.” Claims? Like what? Down in the fine print, Fleet told me (sort of): “The term ‘claim’ means any claim, dispute, or controversy between you and us arising from or related to this agreement, any prior agreement that you may have had with us or another credit card issuer from whom we acquired your credit card account or the relationships resulting from the agreement of any prior agreement, including …” yadda, yadda, yadda.

Whoa, I said aloud, trying to uncross my eyes, what’s the bottom line here? Then I found it. Fleet’s Notice practically shouted that if I filed any kind of claim against it for fraud, false advertising, invasion of privacy or whatever it could deny me “the right to litigate that claim in court or have a jury trial on that claim.” Instead, I’d have to go to an arbitration firm of Fleet’s choosing, and “The arbitrator’s decision will be final,” even though “rights that you would have had if you went to court may … not be available in arbitration” and “the fees charged by the administration may be higher than the fees charged by a court.”

To help stop corporate sneak attacks on our constitutional right to a trial by jury, call Trial Lawyers for Public Justice: (202) 797-8600.

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