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The Experience of a Former Nuclear Energy Worker

by Dan Rudka

I would like to thank all involved in this effort for allowing me to speak to you today. I have been a resident of the Municipality of Port Hope since 1990. A former nuclear energy worker (NEW), employed for two years with Zircatec, in Port Hope.

Let me start by telling you that uranium is dangerous. Period. We have been too casual in our acceptance of its presence. The danger is down graded by industry. And unfortunately, by politicians, that know even less about uranium. We have no viable solution as to what to do with nuclear waste. Really, there is no such “uranium cycle”. The uranium, its by products, the waste, is hazardous, deadly dangerous and will be that way from hundreds, to hundreds of thousands of years.

There are many issues of interest and concern around uranium. I would like to speak of a more personal aspect. How it can affect life itself. The silent, invisible nature in which uranium, radiation attacks the body with impunity.

Imagine you have moved your family into a new home in the Municipality Port Hope Ontario, unaware of the town’s nuclear history. In 1993 you take a job in the local uranium industry. The company requires that you pass a physical examination. It’s your second in two years. Confirming, how you feel, that you are in the best physical condition of your life.

In January 1995, while at work, you are assaulted. Viciously attacked by a fellow employee, his behavior is psychotic. The resulting injuries are severe, physical and traumatic. It will be six years before you are compensated (through the WSIB- Workers Safety and Insurance Board) for this criminal act. But justice is never served.

During this period you become quit ill. It starts slowly. Headaches, body pain, sleeplessness and exhaustion initially. Sores appear and grow in size, break open and weep fluids that painfully burn your good skin raw. Your face arms and hands where affected the worst. Your ear lobe goes hard and swollen. In months it will rot away. Your cheekbone, has been an open wound for over half a year, deteriorates. Later, it will be your forehead, into your skull. Flesh rotting off your jaw, your skin re-heals attached to the bone. You can hardly feed yourself for the pain. Your jaw longer fully opens.

At the same time your body is agitated, restless. Sometimes awake for days, exhausted but unable to sleep. When you do sleep, you suffer sweats, fever, awake frequently to wet clothing and bedding, your hair is soaking, you are cold and shaking. You dry off and change, some nights, several times. When the laundry is washed your bed cloths, towel you dried with and the bedding is returned and the color is washed out from your sweat. As you look at the bed sheets and pillowcase bleached out on your side of the bed, fine on the side of your spouse, your mind shudders. What is coming out of me?

Your mornings greet you with nausea, weakness and sickness – vomiting. It’s become every morning. Violently, you puke yourself white and shaking, sweat dripping from your body. Stomach muscles heave with pain from the violent nature of the action. It takes most of a year to get control of the problem with medication. And still, it gets you every once in a while anyway. Nausea, in waves, is a part of every day life. Over twelve years of it makes it all seem hopeless that it would ever change.

The breakdown continues, you are fatigued, suffering extreme pain in your joints and bones, stricken to your bed most days. Your blood iron drops dangerously low. There is bowel pain, stomach problems. Pain in your, now enlarged, liver and kidneys. And your teeth are sore and throb. They have been chipping and splitting, fillings have come lose, fallen out. Bone splints grow out from your gum and cut your inner cheek tissue. Headaches and facial pain are paralyzing.

Since 1996 you have had a gradual shortness of breath. In 1999 you are much worse on all accounts. You have come to the understanding that you are not just sick, you are in fact, dying. Sharing this with no one, you quietly go about preparing. You will find this the loneliest year of your life.

A cough that had started lightly enough, lasts for months, and becomes more intense. X-rays reveal advanced “A” typical pneumonia. After two years of various antibiotics and no improvement, you have a lung biopsy. There are complications, your lung collapses. Eventually you get home….. ……..for about ten hours. Worse by the hour, Doctors having been alerted, await your return at hospital emergency.

You are readmitted to hospital. Blood/oxygen absorption levels have dropped to near 80% while on supplementary oxygen. All that matters is family, prayer……and breathing. Minutes too hours are so long, the days are forever. And the nights are longer, sleepless, sweat drenched, fever pitched and fearful. You have lost over one third of your body mass, now well under 100 pounds. Five pathologists have been required to diagnose the lung biopsy material. You have a very rare lung disease and there is no cure. The respirologist suggests that it could well be a result of exposure from the nuclear industry. You can see that he is not optimistic. With that your heart pounds with fear and anger.

You deteriorate, and one evening, you know that it is the last that you will see of your children…..they sit on your bedside. You see your spouse, as you never have before. You pray that your family will be well. You blame yourself. In their absence, you slip away into a confused, time lost delirium. Later, unaware, you have fought and struggled for the last three days, you make your peace, give yourself over, surrender and all is fine. Now peacefully, motionless, shallow in breath, you rest for a long time. If you succumb, the truth, the real cause, will go with you. Although it has not crossed your mind, but, if you survive…….what will you do?

Well, what would you do?

This was my experience, after uranium. That I should have survived is by the Grace of God. I still suffer many symptoms previously described and some new ones, including a second lung disease. Over 20 surgical procedures, a rebuilt face, – titanium, replacing bone. My life has been turned inside out and the quality leaves much to be desired. And I have become costly, expensive to maintain. Once in a while I get in a good day or two and I feel like I got away with something.

In the nuclear world of Port Hope there are also the social, political and economic factors that weigh in so heavily. That world’s response for the most part has been to treat me unfairly, with indifference and even ridicule. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Health Canada, the company, the union, municipal and provincial politicians are aware of my situation. There has been denial, no response, disassociation and intimidation, from many of the same people that will be responsible for your safety. After they have forced you to accept their uranium mine’s.

The assault, I must include, it was the first of several injustices not addressed properly by those of authority and responsibility. This event must be given consideration, as it may be connected to my poisoning. The incident is a distraction of the real problem of my contamination. The assault, my health, and where I worked, have been the source of rumor, talk, gossip. Also labeled as untruthful and vengeful, all orchestrated to contribute to character assassination. Mine this time around. I am not alone in this respect. There have been others before me, some along with me. There may well be repercussions for speaking here today.

Port Hope is a very sad and socially divided, cruel town, that pivots that balance around the local nuclear industry.

In November 2007 at a press release at the Waterkeeper offices in Toronto, the Port Hope Community Health Concerns Committee (PHCHCC) and the Uranium Medical Research Centre (UMRC) released test results for uranium contamination on 9 Port Hope residents. All 9 showed U235 and U238, natural uranium, and all 9 had U234, a signature of recycled enriched uranium, unnatural, in their bodies. Three of those tested where former nuclear workers who also had U236, spent reactor fuel in their systems, another unnatural species. Eleven to 23 years after employment, it is still being released from our bodies. I am one of those contaminated workers.

Consider all the illness, the uranium evidence in my body. Consider the seemingly unconscious silence of the company, union, Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Health Canada, our Government and politicians across this country. It all takes on a ghostly image, shadowing unethical, unprincipled, corruption of someplace else, some other, less desirable, country. And it has shaken the very foundation of what it means to me, to be a Canadian.

The proposed uranium mining effort in Ontario will not help Port Hope. For the people and environment, it is a dangerous proposal that will have far reaching affects beyond the common understanding, and trust of most Canadians. The fact is that wherever the uranium industry operates, the contamination and pollution, and exposures just cannot be avoided. There will be incidents. There is no safe effective waste solution. More importantly, as for personal contamination, there is no cure.

The history of uranium, nuclear development and industry has a great deal to account for over the decades. Concerns ranging from our health and well being, to the environment, financial waste, the pollution and our future, leaves us nothing, but even more concern when uranium is involved. It is time to move in a safer, more economical and sustainable direction wherever possible.

And between now and then we need to assure recognition, assistance and compensation for all nuclear victims, from the Canadian Atomic Veterans, to industrial workers, to the unsuspecting children of Port Hope…….

We need truth, accountability, and a future of no more victims.

Thank you for the opportunity to share my personal experience and thoughts with you.

Effects of Radiation