In the Shadow of the Bomb

Ever since the clandestine Manhattan Project began in 1942, when America's brightest scientists were recruited by the U.S. government to design and build the first nuclear bomb, the nation's nuclear weapons program has been cloaked in secrecy. And as the Iran-contra scandal reminded us, secrecy in the name of national security usually leads to wholesale deception of the American people.

The weapons industry recently found itself in the midst of a national scandal. A string of accidents and health and safety violations at the nation's four largest weapons plants has led to the shutdown of several reactors that produce raw materials for the bombs. Suddenly the national media had discovered what has been going on for years--the U. S. government, specifically the Department of Energy (DOE) which oversees the weapons production program, has been putting production and profit above human life and the environment, and has been lying about it.

Things really peaked when Secretary of Energy John S. Herrington admitted that DOE had known for decades about the release of thousands of tons of radioactive waste into the environment around the Feed Materials Production Center in Fernald, Ohio, and that it ignored repeated warnings about the health and safety risks at the plant. Herrington's confession was not part of any conversion experience; it was an attempt to remove any liability for environmental contamination from the Fernald plant's original operator, NLO Inc., which is facing a class-action suit filed in 1985 by more than 14,000 Fernald residents. The plant has been closed in recent months because of a strike by workers for better safety and health conditions and higher wages.

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