Prevent Massive Release of Radioactive Material

From the Foundation's 1998 Annual Report

The Foundation's broad objective is to promote the development and implementation of policies that will prevent the massive release of radioactive materials into the environment.

Recent trends indicate that the public will have significantly more information with which to encourage sounder nuclear policies and practices. In 1998 scientists learned that plutonium migrates much faster through ground water than had been previously thought, altering criteria for regulating nuclear facilities. In 1998, the Department of Energy (DOE) reached a settlement in a Federal District Court that requires the agency to create a public database on the waste generated by the department, and on the levels of contamination at DOE facilities. The court also ordered an environmental assessment of the department's stewardship plans for these sites. Foundation grantees contributed to the successful lawsuit and will monitor DOE's implementation of the judgement.

Still, chronicling the extent of dangerous contamination does not solve the long-term and intractable problems of safely dealing with radioactive material. Plutonium is the most dangerous of these, and will be in abundant supply as nuclear weapons are dismantled. Russia and the U.S. are working together to develop a form of nuclear fuel that will "burn" plutonium extracted from weapons. Meanwhile, the French nuclear industry hopes to win American funding to build plants to fabricate this fuel in Russia and the U.S. While the objective of eliminating plutonium is laudable, this approach greatly increases risks that plutonium could be diverted for illicit weapons-use or accidentally released into the environment.

Dealing with nuclear waste is equally problematic. The nuclear industry presses the government to find a place to store waste, but no such site has been found that meets environmental standards and wins sufficient public support. The Foundation therefore supports productive dialogue among experts, policymakers and the public to avoid misguided solutions to the waste problem while recognizing that something must be done with the waste.

Because plants that produce nuclear fuel and electricity can also be used to make nuclear weapons materials, the long-term challenge of protecting humankind and the environment from radioactive weapons requires the promotion of non-nuclear energy alternatives. The Foundation's Energy for Peace initiative seeks to develop and promote cost-effective alternatives to nuclear power in countries that might otherwise develop interests in nuclear weapons, or whose facilities might be targets of terrorist efforts to acquire nuclear materials.

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