The recent nuclear disaster in Japan and the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine are certainly not the first nuclear disasters. But, Chernobyl was the worst nuclear accident in history. The attempt to contain the contamination involved some 500,000 workers and cost an estimated 18 billion Rubles which crippled the soviet economy. We had our own nuclear diaster in March of 1979 when a nuclear power plant failure happened at Three Mile Island in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. There was radiation contamination of surrounding areas. It was, to date, the worst U.S. power plant failure.
On March 1, 1954 America detonated an atomic bomb of 15 megatons over the Bikini atoll in the Marshall Islands. The flash was seen in Okinawa, 2600 miles away. Fallout extended over an area of some 7000 miles. The native residents of the nearby island of Rongelap, had only been told to expect a bright light and a loud bang. In fact it knocked down some house and made some of them permanently deaf. Radioactive ash fell on them and within minutes they were sick. Within hours they were severely nauseated and blistering. Within a few days some started to bleed internally. Also caught in the blast were 23 fishermen on Japanese fishing boat. By the time they got back to Japan most of the crewmen were sick. The fish were unloaded at market where they were mixed among thousands of other catches landed that day. When the news got out, the Japanese refused to eat fish for weeks nearly wrecking the industry.
We also set off nuclear bombs on Christmas Island and in the Johnstone atoll in the Pacific, as well as the global waters in the South Atlantic Ocean and in New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado, Alaska and Mississippi. Between 1946 and 1962, the United States detonated just over 1000 nuclear warheads, including some 300 in the open air discharging tons of radioactive dust into the atmosphere. The USSR, China, Brittan and France detonated scores more.
The test were moved underground but they still caused problems. in 1962 a hydrogen bomb was detonated beneath the desert in Frenchman Flat Nevada.The blast was so powerful that land around it rose 300 feet and left a crater 800 feet across. By that afternoon the radioactive dust cloud was so dense that in Ely,Nevada, 200 miles from Ground Zero, streetlights had to be turned on. The fallout landed on six Western states and two Canadian provinces. There was never an acKnowledgement of the fiasco and no warnings were ever issued to people about this. In fact, the details remained secret for two decades until a journalist filed suit under the Freedom of Information Act find out what happened.
More than fifty years later, Bikini remains uninhabitable. Chernobyl remains contaminated and the long term impact of the multiple nuclear explosions on humans and the enviornment is largely unknown (thanks to government secrecy) except it can't be good. In addition, the byproduct of nuclear plants, radioactive waste, has to be stored safely for thousands of years and storage is far from secure or safe.
Washington state has a history with nuclear power. Dixie Lee Ray was Washington's first female governor elected in 1976 as a Democrat who quickly alienated her party with her conservative views. She had taught at the University of Washington, served as director of the Pacific Science Center and was an advocate of nuclear power and supercarriers carrying oil through Puget Sound from Alaska. Richard Nixon had appointed her to chair the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission in 1973. Her views about nuclear power included these statements: "A nuclear power plant is infinitely safer than eating, because 300 people choke to death on food every year."
The Tri Cities Hanford site is now the most contaminated site in North America and represents the world's most complex and difficult toxic cleanup project. Some 1.7 trillion gallons of contaminated wastes were dumped into unlined soil trenches during its operation. More than a third of the underground storage tanks have leaked resulting in more than a million gallons of high level nuclear waste contaminating ground water near the Columbia River.
Hanford has gone from producing Plutonium and Tritium for the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal to one of the largest U.S. superfund clean up sites. Some 11,500 people are involved in the cleanup. More than a billion dollars a year has been spent in the effort to clean up and the project far from complete.
The above is just a brief history of our legacy of our involvement with nuclear production and use. It's not a very reassuring one. On top of that, think about the fact we rely upon government for solving the problems and dealing responsibly with the issue. I am reminded of Ronald Reagan's famous quote:
"The most terrifying words in the English language are: 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help."