Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Kansas City Plant Project

Since 2001 the Bannister Federal Complex in Kansas City, Missouri has been on the radar of the EPA, Nuclear Watch, Physicians for Social Responsibility and several other environmental justice groups. Unfortunately for the mega-complex, its notoriety stems from countless health violations and lawless action, not exemplary service. In 2008 the National Nuclear Security Administration recognized the need for a new Kansas City Plant, a key federal facility that manufactures components for nuclear weapons.

While the proposal to build a new safer facility is supported by the local community, the method of operation and ownership has been widely disputed. The Department of Energy has decided to turn over possession of the new federal plant to local municipality and private developer, CenterPoint Zimmer. Sound harmless? It is if you don’t pay taxes. Because of local ownership, the Kansas City Plant production costs will be left out of the NNSA annual budget and are exempt from congressional review. According to the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, the new facility will cost taxpayers $1.2 billion in lease payments over the next 20 years.

Hold on, it gets worse. Remember how I mentioned that the Kansas City Plant was known for health and environmental violations? Before I go any further, let us review a very elementary lesson: when you used to play board games after school and wanted to play something different, didn’t mom always say, “clean up the first activity before you go on to the next?” The only difference between this fundamental concept and the Kansas City Plant is that instead of crayons and checker pieces we’re talking about contaminated groundwater and PCB spills.

The lack of commitment to a comprehensive cleanup plan illustrates a greater concern: accountability. It’s bad enough that the new plant will not have congressional oversight, but allowing a private company to supervise operations increases the chance for misconduct and corporate cover-ups. A recent study by the Government Services Administration found that federal employees at the old Kansas City Plant were lax in their duties and misled the public about safety conditions. Thanks to this lack of responsibility, thousands of former plant employees and members of the local community suffered health problems related to heightened carcinogenic levels. To make matters worse, leaked documents revealed that the contamination at the federal complex was known about, but the information was not released to the public.

The Department of Energy’s Kansas City Plant project is a perfect example of why we need to inform ourselves and take action as a society. I know what you’re thinking: “a small group of activists against the nuclear industry, I wonder who will prevail.” But check out this article released just yesterday by the Kansas City Star. A local advocacy group obtained 4,342 valid signatures on a petition to reassess the practicality of the Kansas City Plant project. If the city refuses to recognize the petition, we may see a court case in the near future.


  1. While this post includes a lot of good information, in some ways it misses a very crucial piece. It assumes that a plant to manufacture nuclear weapons components is desirable and necessary, and says "While the proposal to build a new safer facility is supported by the local community..."

    Well, it seems to me, and many, I believe, that we don't need any more n-weapons, and don't need a plant to make components. We need, instead, universal, mutual, verifiable nuclear disarmament. So, it's not a matter of “clean up the first activity before you go on to the next?”, but rather cleaning up the first and abstaining from the second.

    Big difference, i think.

    Mark Haim
    Mid-Missouri Peaceworks


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