Is the Cold War Coming Back to Haunt Us?
Radiation Leaks from Days Long Gone
06.02.19 | Sunday | Nofit Amir
The rush to build up a nuclear arsenal following World War II, with the onset of the Cold War, came at an early point in nuclear research when guidelines were not yet formed and the long-term risks of exposure to low levels of radiation were still unclarified.
The legacy of this uninformed rush is what must be dealt with today: the aging nuclear infrastructure that was not adequately built to last. In the past month alone, two incidents have made headlines: 1) a school has closed down in Piketon, Ohio, due to an attempted nuclear waste cleanup of a defunct uranium enrichment plant (built in 1954 and closed since 2001); and 2) a “nuclear coffin” (holding radioactive waste from post-World War II nuclear experiments in the Pacific Ocean) is attempted nuclear waste cleanup.
While stopping the coffin’s leakage into the ocean seems to be a huge technical challenge that remains questionable, the cleanup of defunct enrichment plants is a challenge that is being taken up by nuclear workers. At times the mess is so large that decontamination requires billions of dollars and several decades (as in the case of Washington’s decommissioned Hanford plutonium enrichment plant, which began functioning during the “Manhattan Project” in 1943, and leaked nuclear waste into the Columbia River and surrounding environment).
Old nuclear enrichment plants and nuclear waste sites around the world seem to leaks waiting to happen – veritable ticking time bombs from the far past. Tasked with literally cleaning up after the mess of others before them, nuclear workers are the only hope for protecting the surrounding population and saving the environment. It’s imperative that these workers be equipped with radiation shielding, particularly against the short- and long- term effects of penetrating gamma rays. Today, we cannot plead ignorance as to the effects of radiation and must help workers performing these heroic tasks.
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