The Nuclear Gamble

By Grayson Webb

During the past few weeks the U.S. government and the nuclear industry failed multiple times to keep workers and residents safe from the toxic radioactive waste that nuclear power produces. We witnessed the collapse of a storage tunnel at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation where highly contaminated radioactive material was being stored. In a case of Déjà Vu, another event occurred at a nuclear waste landfill in Idaho when an excavator was digging up highly radioactive material. The wall of the pit he was working on collapsed, sending the excavator down into the quarry. The operator stayed in his shielded cab for 90 minutes until he could be removed safely.  These events just go to show that despite its claims of impeccable safety standards, the atomic power and atomic weapons industries are riddled with dangerous incidents and unmonitored or releases of toxic radioactivity.  Of course who can forget the kitty litter explosion at the WIPP underground salt mine on Valentines Day 2014 that closed the facility for 3 years!

These radioactive emergencies happen here in the U.S. and all over the world, as the nuclear industry and its alleged governmental regulators hide radiation releases from their citizens. For instance, have you ever heard of the Kyshtym Nuclear Disaster? Not many people have, but this early nuclear radiation catastrophe, which happened in the U.S.S.R. in 1957, was every bit as serious as Chernobyl or Fukushima. In an effort to catch up to the United States nuclear weapons program, the Soviets built the Mayak plutonium production reactor in a town that according to the government did not exist. During the time of its peak production, the allegedly non-existent town was named Chelyabinsk-65, and later it was renamed Ozyorsk.

Memorial of the Kysthym Disaster 1957  Photo Source: MemphiStofel via  Wikimapia

Memorial of the Kysthym Disaster 1957

Photo Source: MemphiStofel via Wikimapia

The goal of the government of the U.S.S.R. was to get the plant operational as quickly as possible in order to catch up to the U.S., since the arms race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. was in full swing.  Corners were cut across the board in order for the facility to open as soon as possible, so workers were given minimal safety training and equipment.

The Mayak plutonium production reactor began operating in 1948. From day one, radioactive waste was either dumped in the local Techa River or burned on-site, polluting the surrounding town with extremely dangerous levels of radiation.

Numerous incidents occurred over the years it was running including one in which a worker had to have both his legs amputated after a heavy dose of radiation. The real disaster didn’t occur until 1957 when the plant’s cooling system failed completely and no one noticed until it was too late.  Without a cooling system, the waste tank containing highly radioactive material exploded, spewing hot particles over more than 20,000 square miles where at least 270,000 people lived. Unbelievably, a total of only 11,000 people were evacuated during a two-year period.

In the aftermath of this nuclear weapons plutonium disaster, the government used the people who were not evacuated as an experiment to study the effects of chronic radiation exposure. No one was told that their lives were forfeited or that they were fodder for radiation exposure.  In the nearby village of Korabolka, 300 of the towns’ 5,000 residents died of acute radiation poisoning during the days following the explosion. The U.S.S.R. kept the world and the majority of its own residents in the dark for years, and even today Russian suppression and manipulation of information is frightening issue. The world will probably never know just how many people died from the Kyshtym Nuclear Disaster, but we do know it has profoundly impacted the health of those who live in the area today. More than 90% of the children living in Muslumovo village suffer from rare genetic abnormalities.

The risk of widespread radiation and its extremely dangerous health effects are not something the world should gamble with, and yet we know that the nuclear industry has gambled with atomic energy since the it began designing Atoms for Peace following the horrors of bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission calculated that out of the 100 operational Nuclear Plants in the United States in 1985 (now 99), there was a 45% chance that we would have a nuclear meltdown in the following 20-year period. Our personal health and safety is wagered in a 50-50-coin flip by the U.S. government and the atomic power industry because there is so much money to make. Now that nuclear power is so overpriced compared to just about every other energy source, the nuclear power industry wants even more subsidies, using our hard-earned tax dollars to line their CEO’s and shareholders’ pockets.  

It is time to stop this game of nuclear roulette before any more lives are lost.