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A Question for Leon Panetta

US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has chosen the anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki to visit Niagara Falls, one of the birthplaces of the atomic bomb.

On the day this paper hits the streets, August 9, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is scheduled to tour the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Base, at the invitation of Congresswoman Kathy Hochul.

This is a campaign-season event: Hochul, who beat Jane Corwin in a special election to win a seat in th House last year, is now facing a tougher opponent in Corwin’s political sponsor, Chris Collins, as well as the demographic realities of being a conservative Democratic incumbent in a predominantly Republican district, running in a presidential year. Panetta has been dispatched by Democratic leadership in DC to burnish Hochul’s credentials as a protector of the base, and all the jobs it represents, in an era of drastic defense spending cuts.

August 9 is also the 67th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, which killed between 75,000 and 140,000 people immediately and, along with the bombing in Hiroshima three days earlier, created a new class of people in the world: hibakusha, or “atomic-bomb-affected people,” survivors of the first (and so far only) nuclear bomb attacks.

Given the date and the critical role that Niagara Falls factory workers, servicemen, and the community played in the early stages of the development of those weapons of mass destruction, it seems fair that Panetta should be asked a question: Why is there so much radioactivity on and around the air base? Aerial studies commissioned by the federal government in the late 1970s clearly show radioactive hot spots on the current base and on the Niagara Falls International Airport, as well as on Niagara County Industrial Development Agency property to the northeast off Walmore Road , in the NCIDA’s Inducon Industrial Park; on the old Bell Aerospace facility to the south at the end of one runway; and at the Rapids Family Bowling Center to the southwest, where another runway used to end.

What is being done, or what has been done, about these apparent waste disposal sites and for the people who have lived and worked around them for decades?

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