If the Department of Energy gets its way you may up with eye glasses, pacemakers, zippers, braces and more made from our nuclear weapons complex.
How would you like radioactive metal from nuclear weapons facilities to be recycled for use in consumer goods like silverware, pots and pans, eye glasses, zippers, kid’s braces, and even pacemakers and artificial hip joints? If the U.S. Department of Energy gets its way (after a public comment period ends Feb. 11), that is exactly what we can expect in our future.
DOE’s Hanford site in eastern Washington state, for example, is the most contaminated place in the Western hemisphere and the site of the world’s largest cleanup operation. An article in Der Spiegel notes that “240 square miles are uninhabitable due to the radioactivity that has seeped into the soil and ground water: uranium, cesium, strontium, plutonium and other deadly radionuclides.” Maps showing DOE cleanup sites are here and here.
The first and only inventory of DOE’s assets, which was conducted in the nineties under Alvarez’s direction, revealed the department had 20,700 specialized facilities and buildings including 5,000 warehouses, 7,000 administration buildings, 1,600 laboratories, 89 nuclear reactors, 208 particle accelerators, and 665 production and manufacturing facilities.
“At the time, we found there was more than 270,000 metric tons of scrap, which is equivalent to two modern aircraft carriers in weight,” Alvarez said.
Adding in the three gaseous diffusion plants in Paducah, Kentucky; Portsmouth, Ohio; and at DOE’s Y-25 site at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, would contribute another 1.4 million metric tons to the department’s scrap-metal heap. Gaseous diffusion, an extremely polluting technology, was the first technique to turn natural uranium into nuclear fuel on an industrial scale. Significant amounts of toxic and radioactive materials have been released into the air, water, and soil at all three sites.