Federal Government Should Abandon Current Nuclear Cleanup Program

Washington, DC, March 20, 2001—The federal government spends around $6 billion a year to clean up Department of Energy nuclear sites from World War II and the Cold War, but a Senior Fellow in Environmental Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute says the program wastes taxpayers’ money and has the potential to hurt the environment.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />


In his newly released research paper, From Waste to Wilderness: Maintaining Biodiversity on Nuclear-Bomb-Building Sites, Dr. Robert Nelson is proposing a new approach that would successfully convert these waste sites into ecologically sound wilderness areas and save billions of tax dollars at the same time. For more than fifty years, the government has restricted access to nuclear weapons sites because of public safety and health concerns, and now many of those areas have become places where endangered species and other wildlife and plants are thriving.


“The current government attempts to clean up these areas overlook the environmental value of their rare ecologies. It is time for a new form of stewardship strategy, to take the necessary steps to protect Americans from any actual threats posed by radioactive waste, but also to set as a policy priority the conservation of these DOE sites for their rich ecological diversity,” said Dr. Nelson.


Spending billions of dollars on environmental cleanup is not necessarily good for the environment, argues Dr. Nelson, and he points to the Exxon Valdez case as an example. After the oil tanker spilled more than 10 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound in 1989, Exxon launched a massive cleanup that cost about $2 billion. But the process, which involved the spraying of intense jets of hot water and oil detergents, ended up doing significant damage to the shoreline ecology. Since then, many analysts have agreed it would have been better to leave nature to do the job alone.


To avoid situations like that, Dr. Nelson suggests a new “win-win” approach for the cleanup of nuclear waste sites that includes: recognizing the high ecological value of these sites, minimizing actual risk to offsite human population, recognizing that long-term cleanup requires technological advance, and continuing stewardship of DOE sites to conserve ecological value and protect public health.



Dr. Robert Nelson is a Senior Fellow in Environmental Studies at CEI, focusing on land-use and natural resource policy issues. He spent more than 18 years with the US Department of Interior conducting economic and policy studies of department programs and has written numerous books and articles on economic and public lands issues. For more information and/or to set up an interview with Dr. Nelson, please contact the media relations department at [email protected] or 202.331.1010.