"It's a Cover-Up, Not a Clean-Up": Nuclear Waste Smolders in Sites Across the US

Hanford, in Washington State, the scene of largest radioactive cleanup in the country. Cleanup of toxic waste at Hanford has passed the 20 year mark already, and is expected to continue for decades. (Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Riverkeeper)Hanford, in Washington State, the scene of the largest radioactive cleanup in the country. Cleanup of toxic waste at Hanford has passed the 20-year mark already, and is expected to continue for decades. (Photo: Courtesy of Columbia Riverkeeper)

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Renowned wartime journalist Wilfred Burchett described the damage from the atomic bomb that flattened Hiroshima as “far greater than photographs can show.” When it comes to the enduring legacy of the Manhattan Project on home soil, the damage to the environment and human health is proving similarly hard to grasp.

The covert project to create the world’s first atomic weapon during WWII, coupled with the nuclear proliferation of the Cold War era, has left a trail of toxic and radioactive waste at sites across the nation that will necessitate, by some margin, the largest environmental cleanup in the nation’s history. The amount of money that has been poured into remediating the waste already is staggering. Still, it appears that the scale of the problems, and the efforts needed to effectively tackle them, continue to be underestimated by the authorities responsible for their cleanup.

Since 1989, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Environmental Management — the agency charged with cleaning up “legacy” radioactive waste — has spent over $164 billion disposing of nuclear waste and contamination, completing the cleanup at 91 of 107 sites across the country. And yet between 2011 and 2016, the DOE’s Environmental Management environmental liability grew by roughly $94 billion.

Though the president’s proposed 2018 budget siphons $6.5 billion into the DOE’s Environmental Management program, up slightly from $6.2 billion this year and last, that figure is still below the roughly $8.5 billion (after adjustment for inflation) the program received in 2003. It is also well below the amount…

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