Most early developers of nuclear energy explored its potential fifty years ago to produce bombs that would inflict unprecedented damage.
Seven years after the United States tested two such weapons on the populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the collective guilt generated by the deaths of some 350,000 Japanese civilians prompted the American government to advocate a new policy: the "peaceful use of atomic energy" to produce "safe, clean electricity," a form of power touted as being "too cheap to meter."
Nuclear power production and the processes employed in the manufacture of nuclear weapons are responsible for generating billions of NEW radioactive atoms and molecules, and these are the second most prevalent sources of public exposure today.
The difference is that you can turn X rays off, but radioactive waste lasts forever the vast bulk of the POTENTIAL exposure for humans emanates from nuclear fission.
No Such Thing As Safe?
Today's safety standards have already been shown by several studies to be dangerously high. When investigators of low-dose ionizing radiation revealed that levels of radiation lower than those permitted were causing cancer, government agencies attempted to suppress their findings.
Increased Risk of Cancer
Of all the creatures on Earth, human beings have been found to be one of the most susceptible to the carcinogenic effects of radiation (because their cells are rapidly dividing, fetuses, infants, and young children are the most sensitive to radiation's effects.)
Radiation is insidious, because it cannot be detected by the senses. We are not biologically equipped to feel its power, or see, hear, touch, or smell it. Yet gamma radiation can penetrate our bodies if we are exposed to radioactive substances. Beta particles can pass through the skin to damage living cells, although, like alpha particles, which are unable to penetrate this barrier, their most serious and irreparable damage is done when we ingest food or water-or inhale air-contaminated with particles of radioactive matter. Radiation harms us by ionizing, that is, altering the electric charge of-the atoms and molecules composing our body cells.
The world's major military powers have built tens of thousands of atomic bombs powerful enough to kill the world's inhabitants several times over, and, despite the fact that nuclear disarmament is occurring between the super powers, it is a very slow process.
It is difficult to predict how many mutated children will be born in the world as a result of nuclear power and weapons production, or what the nature of their defects will be. But it is indisputable that the mutation rate will rise-perhaps far higher than we would care to contemplate.
The Growth of Nuclear Power
It is important that we keep in mind the fact that the nuclear industries are relatively young. Nuclear power has been in commercial production in the United States for only thirty-three years; arms production for forty-eight. Since the latency period of cancer is twelve to sixty years and genetic mutations do not manifest for generations, we have just begun to experience effects radiation can have upon us. Nuclear power plants and military facilities will continue to release radioactive materials into the environment, until public pressure becomes great enough to bring such releases to a halt.
Nuclear power plants operate under many untested theoretical principles. Certain safety systems are built on the shaky test results of computer models. Many components are made of metals susceptible to failure from contact with the nuclear environment. As a result, corrosion causes cracks and subsequent leaks that are often difficult to remedy in certain sections of the plant, because localized intense radioactivity prevents entrance.
Dangerous Time Bomb?
Each operating reactor daily releases carcinogenic and mutagenic effluent. These radioactive materials raise the level of background radiation to which we are constantly exposed, increasing our risk of developing cancer and genetic disease.
Tons of Waste
Each reactor annually produces approximately five hundred pounds of plutonium. Dangerous for at least 500,000 years, this toxic substance poses a threat to public health that cannot be over emphasized.
Once created, some of these nuclear by-products will remain in our biosphere for tens and hundreds of thousands of years, wreaking irreversible damage on plant, animal, and human life, unless successfully contained. What moral right do we have to leave such a legacy to our descendants?
Since there is no way to dispose of the highly radioactive irradiated fuel rods permanently, they are currently managed on site at each of the operating and formally operational reactor sites in the United States. The rods are also extremely hot and must be stored for five years or more in a pool of water usually located near the reactor. The water cools the rods, preventing them from spontaneously melting and releasing their poisonous contents into the atmosphere, and permitting their radioactivity to decline. The swimming-pool-like structures are designed to hold the spent fuel for one to ten years. These temporary storage pools often leak radioactive water into the environment. The water has to be filtered and the resultant sludges comprise some of the hottest "low-level" radioactive waste.
Today there are more than 92 million gallons of this high-level liquid waste in storage tanks in the United States; many of these liquids are so hot that they boil spontaneously and continually. Most can be found at the Hanford Military Reservation in Washington and the Savannah River facility in South Carolina.
Dangers with Storage Methods
Moreover, many of these tanks have already sprung deadly leaks. From 1958 to 1975, twenty of Hanford's older, single-walled carbon steel tanks developed cracks through which 430,000 gallons of high-level waste leaked into the soil.
Power Plant Shelf Life
What Can We Do?
Only if we abolish nuclear weapons and permanently halt the nuclear power industry and contain radioactive waste inventories from entering the biosphere, can we hope to survive.
Carrying the Facts of Atomic Energy
First and perhaps most important, we can no longer afford to entrust our lives, and the lives and health of future generations, to politicians, bureaucrats, "experts," or scientific specialists, because all too often their objectivity is compromised. Most government officials are shockingly uninformed about the medical implications of nuclear power and atomic warfare, and yet they daily make life and death decisions in regard to these issues.
Unacceptable Risks to Health
Out of the growing number of organizations opposed to nuclear power and nuclear arms must come a grass roots movement of unprecedented power and determination. Its momentum alone, will determine whether we and our children, and all future generations of humankind, and perhaps even life itself, will survive.
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