`Radioactive . . . Don Not Eat' This Jam -- Jarring Shipment To Governor, Energy Dept.

RICHLAND - Ruby-red mulberry jam, made from fruit allegedly contaminated with radioactive Strontium 90 from the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, has been sent to Gov. Booth Gardner and U.S. Energy Secretary James Watkins.

Shipped Monday, it was clearly labeled ``Radioactive . . . Do not eat.''

Two Eastern Washington scientists said they created the jam during the weekend from mulberries gathered from the banks of the Columbia River near the reservation, where reactors and plants for four decades processed fuel for nuclear weapons.

One of the scientists, oceanographer Norm Buske, said he wished to send a message to state and federal officials that vegetation contamination near the federal site's shut-down N Reactor poses a threat to the public.

``This mulberry jam is a token of the future hazard of unidentified, uncontained and unmanaged radioactivity at Hanford,'' Buske wrote in a letter to Gardner and Watkins.

A spokesman for the Energy Department's Hanford monitoring contractor, Battelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories, said researchers have known for years that vegetation near N Reactor is contaminated with Strontium 90, a radioactive isotope.

``The fact that he discovered Strontium 90 in the mulberries should not be a surprise to anyone familiar with operations at Hanford,'' said Jerry Holloway.

Strontium 90, when consumed, settles into bones and teeth, where it can cause cancer.

The radioactive element is a byproduct of nuclear-weapons production, Holloway said, and it was knowingly and legally released in the area around N Reactor.

But Buske said his concern is that strontium is in edible plants accessible by boat, and the public needs to be warned.

``Everything that leaves Hanford becomes numbers,'' Buske said. ``The reality of mulberry jam is that it is something that is contaminated and people can see it. It should be made clear to those who are ultimately responsible - the governor and the DOE.''

Buske and his wife, mathematician Linda Josephson, operate Search Technical Services, an independent laboratory in Davenport, Lincoln County, about 75 miles northeast of the reservation.

Buske said he and Josephson picked the berries from a posted area accessible by boat. He says the Strontium 90 travels from underground springs in the area to the Columbia River.

``This area is posted no trespassing,'' said Dick Milne, Gardner's press secretary, who confirmed the jam arrived at the governor's office.

He said officials would be looking into the matter of contaminated vegetation. Meanwhile, ``the mulberry jam with the little extra something'' has been sent to the state radiation lab for further analysis, he said.

The packages were shipped by Federal Express, Buske said.

``We have very strict guidelines for handling and shipment of radioactive material,'' said David Alexander, a Federal Express customer-service representative in Memphis, Tenn.

``We do not accept any kind of hazardous material,'' he said.

Buske said he did not reveal the contents of the packages to the shipper.

The jam contains 80 to 90 times the Strontium 90 levels allowed in daily consumption of drinking water under federal standards, Buske's letter claimed.