Health and Environmental Effects of Nuclear Technologies

The proliferation of nuclear weapons is inextricably linked to nuclear power by a shared need for enriched uranium and by generating plutonium as a byproduct of spent nuclear fuel. Because decisions regarding new atomic 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 promoting a non-nuclear energy policy.

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, 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 nuclear weapons-related activities will generate more waste over the next two decades than from the cleanup of past actions. 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 nationwide will be affected by decisions to build new nuclear weapons research and production facilities, decommission atomic power plants, establish atomic 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) atomic 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 receiving 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 safe way to “dispose” of this deadly, long-lived radioactive waste.

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