From the same organization that gave us the ‘lives touched’ method for calculating stimulus job creation, the Department of Energy (DOE) has now stumbled upon a whole new way to increase employment.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Wednesday announced that they are investigating ‘an uncontrolled spread of radioactive material’ at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory in Niskayuna, New York. Elevated radiation levels have been confirmed in the air surrounding the site, as well as the Mohawk River which was deluged with over 600 gallons of radioactive water. The radiation stemmed from an incident in late September when workers attempted to take down a building – building H2 - at the site.
Worse, the DOE failed to notify local officials of the spill, leaving those who rely on their water supply from the Mohawk completely oblivious to the potential health and safety issues.
The Albany Times Union obtained a copy of a report filed by investigators for the DOE, which cited “an atmosphere of fear among the work force not to speak up about issues of concern”. The report reveals the main reason that workers for the Washington Group International (WGI), a private company contracted to clean up the Cold War-era facility, felt pressured to ignore safety issues:
The company was pushing to finish work three months earlier than first planned -- by September 2011 rather than December 2011 -- in order to receive an extra $32 million in federal stimulus funding awarded for the cleanup in April 2009.
A DOE newsletter in September, 2009, trumpeted the speed at which the project was moving along thanks to the stimulus bill. The newsletter refers to the North Field area of the Knolls Laboratory:
Recovery Act funding will also create at least 20 new jobs - 6 have already been hired - and will allow the North Field project to be completed in 2010, three years earlier than originally planned.
Referring specifically to the H2 building which caused the radioactive spill, the DOE newsletter reads:
Additional Recovery Act funds ($37M) will accelerate decontamination and demolition (D&D) of two contaminated buildings (a process research and office building, known as G2, and a waste processing building, known as H2)…
In their Report to Congress in January of 2009, the DOE discussed environmental risks and the potential to accelerate remaining work at the Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, but there is no mention of dangling stimulus funds as an incentive.
Ironically, the New York Times reports that money from the stimulus bill is now being used to decommission the site.
A silver lining exists around this potentially dangerous situation, however. While the cleanup at Knolls has suffered through several instances of bumbling management over the last few months, the company was merely warned of a potential firing from the project, and top managers were simply replaced. Essentially, their jobs were saved.
Job creation came into play when pressure from the DOE incited the URS Corporation, a parent group to the WGI, to hire more staff for the Knolls project, including an operations manager, decommission and demolition engineer, radiological engineer, training specialist, and waste specialist.
Stimulus funding has been cited as a specific cause of carelessness that led to an atomic spill, ultimately providing new employment opportunities. The stimulus, it would seem, is creating jobs after all.