Radioactive Politics

Is there a financial motivation behind opposition to a radioactive-waste incinerator?



The rallying cry for opponents of a proposed radioactive-waste incinerator on Presidents Island is a real zinger: "Hell No We Won't Glow."

But exactly what does this takeoff on a 1960s antiwar slogan mean? That Memphians will glow like lightbulbs if the proposal is approved by the Memphis City Council on October 11th? That there should be a ban on radioactive-waste incinerators? That radiation is so dangerous that we should all stop going to the doctor and dentist?

No one knows better than the opponents themselves that there is a place in this modern world for companies that dispose of radioactive waste.

And one place is in the investment portfolios of anyone (including me) who owns shares in the Longleaf mutual funds managed by Memphis-based Southeastern Asset Management. Vivendi Universal, a global conglomerate with businesses as diverse as entertainment and waste management, is the largest single holding in the Longleaf Partners fund. Waste Management Inc. is another company in the Longleaf fund. The total value of those investments is approximately $900 million.

C.T. and Kelley Fitzpatrick are secretary and president of, the umbrella organization for those opposing the incinerator proposal by Radiological Assistance, Consulting, and Engineering (RACE). C.T. Fitzpatrick is a vice president and financial adviser for Longleaf Partners. Kelley is his wife.

With $30 million in annual revenues, RACE is not likely to put Vivendi or Waste Management or their subsidiaries out of business. It is more like a flea on the back of an elephant, but it is a competitor nevertheless.

"This is a break-the-company deal," said Robert Applebaum, co-chairman of RACE. "Without the permit, we couldn't do what we do."

The connection between a vice president of Southeastern Asset Management and was brought out by RACE attorney Robert Spence last week.

"How can the Fitzpatricks truly be against radioactive-waste processing and incineration yet have investments in companies which perform those services?" asked Applebaum.

The proposed incinerator has become a fairly big story because of the emotional arguments and the pressure being applied to the City Council. Opponents are represented by Richard Fields, a veteran civil rights attorney. Spence is a former city attorney and school board candidate. Kelley Fitzpatrick, a former Wall Street trader, describes herself as "a mom going into PTA mode and panicking" when she read a short newspaper story about RACE in February.

"I couldn't believe an incinerator [for radioactive waste] was going in a metropolitan area," she said. "Nobody seemed to have any outrage. I was naive enough to think I will do it myself. My husband said, 'I will be your secretary. Go for it.'"

C.T. Fitzpatrick said he is involved in numerous civic activities, and it is "laughable" to think his company has a vested interest in this issue.

"From an economic point of view, I could not care less," he said. "MemphisTruth is not opposed to RACE operating a nuclear-waste incinerator. We are opposed to operating a facility like this in a large metropolitan area. We think the risks are unacceptable."

RACE was founded in 1999 by Applebaum and Gerald Webb. Applebaum formerly worked for the Frank W. Hake waste company on Presidents Island, has a master's degree in health physics, and served on a nuclear submarine in the Navy. RACE is a privately held company, unlike Vivendi and Waste Management, in which individuals can buy stock. RACE has facilities only in Memphis.

The City Council will have to weigh whether a company that plans to process millions of pounds of radioactive waste is "absolutely safe," as Applebaum said. Presidents Island is an industrial park where employees do dirty jobs and are not likely to belong to the Sierra Club. Unless you work there, there is no reason to visit.

It is often said that if you like hot dogs you are better off not seeing how they are made. Something like that may apply to the business of radioactive waste. Most of us have no idea how hospitals, manufacturers, and bioscience centers get rid of their ugly mess. We are about to find out.

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