The Committee to Bridge the Gap is a non-profit nuclear policy organization focusing on issues of nuclear safety, waste disposal, proliferation, and disarmament.
Founded in 1970, our work is aimed at revealing and correcting government misconduct in the control of nuclear and related hazardous materials that pose significant threats to public health and security if not carefully regulated. An unholy alliance between large, powerful polluting industrial interests and “captured” regulatory agencies (captured by the industries they are supposed to regulate) threatens both public safety and the constitutional rights at the heart of a democratic system.
When a polluter can “externalize” its costs of doing business by avoiding the expense of safely handling radioactive materials—or adequately cleaning up contamination—by transferring the risk to the surrounding public in the form of extra cancers and genetic effects, for example, we are all placed at risk. When it is cheaper for a polluting firm to make a campaign contribution to a political figure, assuring significant access to and even control of regulatory agencies by those very interests that are supposed to be regulated, then the public interest is at substantial risk. And when captured agencies and their associated industrial interests resist appropriate measures to protect nuclear facilities and materials from the catastrophic radiation releases that could result from a successful terrorist attack, the country is needlessly exposed to greatly enhanced danger.
We have been exposing this cozy relationship between government and polluter, in the process creating significant public pressure to alter the associated policies that place the public’s health at a very low priority. And we have been winning, victory after victory in these fights – wins that have national implications.
Our method of operation is to identify “force multipliers,” so that we (and those who support us) get as much “bang for the buck” as is humanly possible, given the powerful and well-funded forces we oppose. Archimedes said that if one has a lever long enough and a place to stand, one can move the world. We try to identify those levers and fulcrums.
Actions that are injurious to the public interest generally are taken behind closed doors. We bring them out into the open, shine the light of day on them, use the power of disclosure and the government’s own documents to counter the interests that are inimical to the public well-being. Polluting interests employ legions of lawyers, lobbyists, and public relations personnel to try to push through policies that increase their profit while harming public health and safety and the environment.
And the other thing is we don’t give up. The “other side” is in it for the long haul; they have horizons greater than a year. So must we. It took several years of work for us to help end the practice of ocean dumping of radioactive waste or to shut down the Hanford “N” reactor and with it U.S. plutonium production; five years to shut down the UCLA reactor and press the NRC to require the removal of weapons-grade uranium from most research reactors (a process, unfortunately not yet fully complete); a decade to close the dangerous Department of Energy nuclear facility at Santa Susana; a struggle over many years to block the proposed Ward Valley nuclear dump near the Colorado River; and so on. Social change is not for the sprinter but for the long distance runner.
For example, over the last few years we hit the nuclear industry and regulators year again and again over efforts to deregulate radioactive waste, each disclosure building on the previous one, increasing momentum. We first disclosed that radioactive metals from decommissioning old reactors at a DOE nuclear site were being shipped to a metal recycler in San Pedro and melted down into consumer products; we took the matter to the press, Senators, and worked it within DOE, resulting in a national moratorium of such recycling from DOE sites still in effect. We then disclosed that modular buildings from a nuclear site had been sold, without checking them for contamination, to a school district for use as classrooms, getting Senatorial involvement to get them retrieved and sent to a hazardous waste dump. We then disclosed that radioactive debris from decommissioning old reactors had been sent to local municipal dumps rather than licensed radioactive waste sites; this led to a moratorium on the practice in California, still in effect. We then escalated that issue nationally when the Bush Administration proposed opening up regular landfills nationally to radwaste, succeeding in (at least so far) blocking an EPA proposed regulation. All of these activities helped build momentum for the recent victory in getting the NRC to unanimously turn down its own proposal to deregulate a significant portion of the radioactive waste stream.
Each victory leads to the next; each builds momentum, educates the public and media, and increases pressure on decisionmakers to eventually do the right thing. But it requires persistence, patience, and support.