The entire nuclear cycle — from uranium mining to nuclear power on one hand and weapons production on the other — damages the health of communities and the global environment. It's all lethal, and it is all in slow-motion deterioration.

Take, for example, the cave-in of a tunnel last week at the Hanford Site, a Cold War-era plutonium-production facility turned nuclear-waste cleanup project in Washington state where workers discovered a giant hole in the ground. A tunnel had collapsed that houses an old railway used to transport irradiated fuel rods to a uranium extraction facility. Alarms wailed and 4,000 workers were told to take cover and "shelter in place," according to the Atlantic.

"Fortunately, no radioactive material leaked from the hole before workers plugged it with dirt, according to the DOE. The tunnel is only one structure among many in the vast array of deteriorating, Cold War-era nuclear waste dumps." All of the old nuclear sites have the same sad story: Cleanup of the endless toxic inheritance is underfunded and glacially slow.

Development of nuclear weapons and the entire nuclear enterprise initiated in the 1940s to defend the country must have been thrilling for the hundreds of scientists and engineers and eventual thousands of workers who were tapped to secretly create "the bomb." They probably believed in their work and saw it as absolutely essential and that they were heroes. It was a 24/7 intense race (they thought) to protect the homeland.


Now, there is no thrill or excitement as scientists, engineers, workers and politicians face the mountains of toxic leftovers. There are no national "cleanup heroes," proudly holding badges of courage and brilliant cooperation (except to nuclear insiders who know who is doing the work). It's a long, painful slog to convince and persuade politicians and the public to pay for the best possible cleanup.

Rocky Flats — our own nuclear site, 8 miles from Boulder — is another case in point. Ordinary citizens, including scientists and technically knowledgeable people, filed a lawsuit Wednesday charging that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the site's current manager, has failed to comply with environmental laws as they plan to create trails and a visitor's center at the site. "The litigation charges that the Service has not completed a required analysis of environmental risks and policy options," the Boulder Daily Camera reported.

Stay tuned.

The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.