No doubt there are a plethora of ways to celebrate Earth Day- from concerts to rallies, and fundraisers to protests. If you are still at a loss, I suggest perusing “Wiki How” for five easy ways that YOU can get involved on Earth Day. At the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation one of our organization’s chief concerns is the threat posed by nuclear weapons, and today provides an excellent occasion for addressing the negative environmental impacts of nuclear weapons testing and use.
In 2000, a United Nations report on the effects of atomic radiation concluded that:
“The main man-made contribution to the exposure of the world's population [to radiation] has come from the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, from 1945 to 1980. Each nuclear test resulted in unrestrained release into the environment of substantial quantities of radioactive materials, which were widely dispersed in the atmosphere and deposited everywhere on the Earth’s surface.”
The long-term effects of nuclear explosions are certainly detrimental, and the immediate consequences are horrendous. A nuclear explosion will cause an intense blast wave followed by thermal radiation and a firestorm within the blast radius. Raging fires and intense heat will consume anything combustible, and the resulting vegetation fires, coupled with a lack of available firefighters, could burn for days. The radiation and fallout resulting from a nuclear explosion will present an extreme environmental hazard, as the wind will most likely carry the hazardous material far from the original detonation point. Essentials needed for human survival, including food products, milk, and vegetables could likely be rendered unfit for consumption.
Reaching Critical Will, a website dedicated to bridging the gap between nongovernmental organizations and UN disarmament programs, reports that by-products from nuclear facilities in the United States have resulted in the contamination of major water sources, including the Columbia River, Savannah River, and the Snake River. The same is true for Russia, the second “founder” of the nuclear age, where lakes and reservoirs have been polluted by unsecured nuclear waste. Soil contamination has resulted from the release of harmful byproducts of nuclear weapons testing facilities which last for thousands of years. Some of these byproducts include plutonium, uranium, cesium, benzene, mercury and cyanide. Air contamination has been caused by the release of radioactive byproducts resulting from atmospheric nuclear testing, although such testing methods were prohibited in the 1960s. Burying nuclear waste is currently the preferred method for getting rid of it. Out of sight, out of mind! Although many precautions are taken to keep the nuclear waste safe and separated from the outside environment, the major concern is how to prevent leakage. And do we really know for sure what happens when thousands of tons of nuclear waste underground indefinitely? Most likely, we do not.
The moral of this story is that as you celebrate Earth Day, don’t forget that one of the major sources of environmental pollution these days has been caused by the production and testing of nuclear weapons. Of greater consequence are the incredibly detrimental effects of an actual nuclear explosion. Let’s not let that happen.