Groups join forces to oppose food irradiator

The Associated Press
NEPA NewsOctober 27, 2003

Community members, environmental and religious groups, political organizations and an Indian tribe are joining together to voice opposition to a planned nuclear irradiator.

A Nov. 23 gathering, presided over by tribal leaders from the Lenape Nation of Southeastern Pennsylvania, will feature traditional ceremonies calling for a halt to the project as an "assault on Mother Earth," Lenape spokesman Jim Beer said.

"Our primary role is that we're caretakers, especially when it comes to our homeland," Beer said. "But we have to work together, tribal peoples and the community, toward our common goal of stopping this danger to our environment and our children."

A community group called Concerned Citizens of Milford Township has filed court documents seeking to keep the plans from moving forward.

Opposition has been mounting since May to the planned 1,600-square-foot cobalt-60 irradiator in Milford Township, Bucks County, inside a cold storage facility owned by CFC Logistics Inc., a subsidiary of Clemens Family Corp., which also owns Hatfield Quality Meats.

In August, CFC received an operating license from the NRC for the underwater irradiator, which the company said would be used on food and cosmetic and pharmaceutical products. Generally, irradiators are used to kill bacteria in meat and produce, to sterilize medical supplies, and to harden wood.

NRC officials have determined that the irradiator would pose no danger to the community. Last month, the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board, an independent arm of the NRC, refused a request from Concerned Citizens to block that license.

Bucks County Judge Kenneth Biehn on Oct. 20 barred Milford Township from halting delivery of the radioactive materials and said the township must grant a use permit for the facility, which he said was allowed under the existing zoning ordinance.

But opponents are continuing to file appeals seeking to prevent CFC from continuing with its plans.

Beer and the other groups involved in the gathering say they want to use it as a stepping-off point to tell community leaders and schools of their concerns about irradiation.

"My hope is that it stirs people to see that there are large numbers of individuals who are questioning this and have the courage of their own convictions," Debra Taylor, chairwoman of the Interfaith Peace Community in Quakertown and a partner in the upcoming gathering.

"We've been focusing more on education and peace and justice issues, but we were drawn to this because it's not just a legal battle, it also involves broader human issues."

Opponents have expressed fears about transporting radioactive material to and from the facility near the Pennsylvania Turnpike, environmental hazards in the event of an accident and the potential for terrorist attacks at the site, as well as safety concerns about eating irradiated food.

CFC officials have said that the opposition is being voiced by a small but vocal group. CFC has maintained that the irradiator, which is to be used to sterilize food and other materials, is completely safe and will pose no health, environmental or security risks.

Bill Smedley, Green Party steering committee member and executive director of environmental group GreenWatch, called the Milford irradiator battle "a prime example of when an organization steps on a community."