Waste Lands: America’s forgotten nuclear legacy


“During the build-up to the Cold War, the U.S. government called upon hundreds of factories and research centers to help develop nuclear weapons and other forms of atomic energy. At many sites, this work left behind residual radioactive contamination requiring government cleanups, some of which are still going on.”

Residue, left by the routine processing as well as the occasional mishandling of nuclear material, exists in almost three dozen states. Emshwiller discusses how those cleanup efforts have been carried out and what the public knows about them.

Research heavily relies on FUSRAP Considered Sites reports of Energy Department energy.gov and also on the report by Department of Health and Human Services Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). It brings together data about 517 sites. The access to the data is weird, if you go through the landing page of the WSJ there is a payment barrier however you can access the same information if you are patient enough to read the methodology and browse area by area.

For instance, click the post image to browse and learn more about the sites in New Jersey. This database is a simplified version of two meshed up databases. It is a great reference however the real fascination starts if you go deeper FUSRAP Considered Sites reports. You can reach thousands of PDFs, scanned from the reports about the site inspection form 1940′s to 1990′s. Follwing paragraph I took from one of those PDF’s on DuPont Deepwater Works in New Jersey. The background image of the main site is exactly this area.

This site handled (or was contaminated by) uranium oxide and uranium tetraflouride, according to government records. The government is in the process of cleaning up this site under the Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program.

So, the question is how many research assistants does it take to read all those documents. Apparently Jeremy Singer-Vine and John R. Emshwiller had a good number of them.

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