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Health and Environmental Effects of Nuclear Technologies

This article was originally published on wslfweb.org

The proliferation of nuclear weapons is inextricably linked to nuclear power by virtue of a shared need for enriched uranium, and through the generation of plutonium as a byproduct of spent nuclear fuel. Because decisions regarding new nuclear technologies are often made without proper, public environmental review, they also contribute to the erosion of democracy. Efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons must be linked with promotion of a non-nuclear energy policy.

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The half-century embrace of the atom as an instrument of military technology and a purported energy panacea has created an unprecedented environmental burden in the form of contaminated air, land, and water, and vast quantities of long-lived radioactive wastes. The U.S. Department of Energy has conservatively estimated that the federal government will be required to spend $230 billion over the next 75 years to "clean up" the existing mess. Yet a current DOE planning document indicates that more wastes will be generated by nuclear weapons related activities over the next two decades than from cleanup of past activities. This new environmental assault is emerging while efforts to identify and disclose the public health consequences of past nuclear weapons activities are only beginning. In coming years, thousands of communities across the country will be affected by decisions to build new nuclear weapons research and production facilities, decommission nuclear power plants, establish nuclear waste storage sites, transport spent nuclear fuel, and clean up hundreds of sites. In the densely populated San Francisco Bay area, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) nuclear weapons related activities continue to produce toxic and radioactive waste, despite unanswered questions concerning how much past contamination has reached the surrounding environment. DOE has also begun to receive spent nuclear fuel from foreign research reactors at the Concord Naval Weapons Station, then shipping it by train through California, Nevada and Utah, to Idaho, for "temporary" storage. There is no known safe way to "dispose" of this deadly, long-lived radioactive waste.