The issues around nuclear power? Where do we even begin?
The nuclear power generation cycle, starting with uranium mining has proven to be dangerous for Native Americans in the western United States. According to Grinde and Johansen, half of the United States' recoverable uranium lies in New Mexico, half of which lies on the Navajo Reservation (Grinde and Johansen 206). Since this uranium has come to be synonymous with arms proliferation, many Native Americans have taken an active stance against the mining. After the mining is done, and these communities are left with the large piles of waste, their risk of contracting cancers and other sicknesses due to water and air pollution is greater than most Americans would ever have to worry about. In addition to the fact that the United States has found the majority of its uranium on Native American Reservations, it has been economically lucrative for them there because the labor is cheap and there are little to no regulations regarding pollution, health, or safety (Grinde and Johansen 208). "Thirty years after mining began, an increasing number of deaths from lung cancer made evident the fact that Kerr-McGee had considered miners' lives as cheaply as their labor. As Navajo miners continued to die, children who played in water that had flowed over or through abandoned mines and tailing piles came home with burning sores" (Grinde and Johansen 208-9). Even more disturbing is the fact that radiation exposure compensation for the victims on the Navajo reservation have been statistically lower than compensation given to other victims in different situations (Grinde and Johansen 217).
But the mining of uranium is not the only part of the process that has proved to be dangerous and a health risk to those people unlucky enough to be in the middle of the United States' arms race. In fact, power plant construction and operation has also shown exactly how dangerous the nuclear power generation cycle can be. We've all heard of the spills and the wastes that have resulted from business practices, but have not heard the fact that much of these disasters and resulting pollution from wastes happen to Native Americans that the United States has been willing to use in the name of uranium and nuclear power. Furthermore, people have also been displaced in order to push more water through the dams, to produce more power. Lastly, it must be considered that waste reprocessing, disposal, and decommissioning is also as dangerous as the first two steps of the nuclear power generation cycle. The government has failed to properly dispose of much of the waste that results from both the mining and the operation of nuclear plants, leaving parts of the population with increased instances of various forms of cancer and other related diseases. I feel as if the nuclear power generation cycle is simply one more example of the United States' blatant disregard for the human rights of people because of their own greedy concerns for profit and power in the form of nuclear power.
Nuclear waste disposal and plant decommissioning has been addressed much like the building of dams in India. Without any regard to the costs, the government and nuclear power advocates have spoken of progress and power. The sad fact of the matter is that there is no excuse for the cost that the American government has placed on the heads of many of the country's citizens. Displacement, cancers, and a constant concern for safety has burdened the lives of the "cheap labor" used to fulfill the vision of the United States for it's future in nuclear power creation. So while the government has emphasized how important the mining of uranium is to it's own place within the world, environmentalists have tried to bring the human rights violations that have been part of the process to the spotlight in order to convince people that progress does not come without a cost.
But as of now, there are still things the United States does not want the people to know about the operation of nuclear power plants in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, such as the generation of nitrogen oxides that are a major factor in high summertime ozone levels up and down the East Coast (Blankenship). It has been found that exposure to these high levels of this ozone can have dangerous health risks such as respiratory problems (Blankenship). This nitrogen oxide also has become a dangerous form of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, happening when the air pollution lands on the watershed (Blankenship). If the public were to know about the real dangers posed by these plants, I feel that they would call for change. I know that I will seriously consider the cost of "progress" next time the United States makes some sort of technological advance in the name of nuclear power. With regards to safety, there are many consequences of water loss in waste pools. If a pool is partially or completely drained, a plant's spent fuel pool could "start a high-temperature fire, releasing large quantities of radioactive material into the environment" (Blankenship).
After September 11th, it became obvious that safety concerns regarding nuclear power plants had to be reevaluated since it was thought that they were only minimally protected against a terrorist attack. But the United States government has gone to great lengths to keep this information out of the public spotlight for fear that nuclear plants would be considered dangerous and not the pillars of progress the United States wants people to believe they are. Alarmingly, even the Nuclear Regulatory Commission failed to take the threat of terrorism seriously, not enforcing any stricter safety guidelines for power plants (Steinberg).
Nuclear weapons do not discriminate between men, women, and children. The idea that we are all "downwinders" refers to the fact that nuclear weapons are not something that we can disregard lightly because the stakes are incredibly high, for all of mankind; something that I had learned in a history class studying the US Atomic Bomb. Nations, like the United States, who use deterrence as an excuse for their nuclear weapons, are still human. We are all fallible. If there were to be an accident, miscalculation or miscommunication, the human species as a whole is at risk. If we are to truly make a change in a time long after the Cold War has ended, there are steps that we must embrace. Endorsed by many world leaders, 36 Nobel Laureates, and 14 Nobel Peace Laureates, including Jimmy Carter, Queen Noor of Jordan, Elie Wiesel, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, some of the suggestions include: "Ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and reaffirmation commitments to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; De-alerting all nuclear weapons and de-coupling of all nuclear warheads from their delivery vehicles; declare policies of No First Use of nuclear weapons against other nuclear weapons state and policies of No Use against non-nuclear weapons states; commencement of good faith negotiations to achieve a Nuclear Weapons Convention requiring the phased elimination of all nuclear weapons, with provisions for effective verification and enforcement; and reallocation of resources from the tens of billions of dollars currently being spend for maintaining nuclear arsenals to improve human health, education and welfare throughout the world" (St. Clair and Cockburn).