Public Health Hazards at Nuclear Weapons Facilities

  • Date: Jan 01 1989
  • Policy Number: 8917

Key Words: Nuclear Weapons, Energy, Environmental Health

The American Public Health Association,

Recognizing that our primary objective is the elimination of nuclear weapon production; yet

Noting recent revelations of hazards to public health at nuclear weapons facilities including releases of radionuclides and other toxic substances into the air, water, and soil;1 plants run without adequate worker protection or safety precautions;2 toxic and radioactive waste accumulation in thousands of dump sites;3 and hazardous materials transported through major American cities;4 and

Noting epidemiologic studies indicating that workers at the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina had an increased death rate from leukemia, multiple myeloma, and lymph cancers;5 that children of workers from Hanford, Washington had an excess of congenital malformations6 and that the Hanford facility has released over the years 530,000 curies of radioactive iodine, plus ruthenium, cesium, and other radionuclides, contaminating pastures, cropland, forests, and gardens up to hundreds of miles away and exposing an estimated 20,000 children to radionuclide-contaminated milk;7 and evidence that populations in the southwestern United States have suffered an excess of leukemia in association with nuclear weapons testing;8 and

Recognizing the efforts of medical and public health professionals and local citizens around Department of Energy (DoE) facilities in California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Missouri, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and other locations to gain release of classified information about the health risks and safety records of nuclear facilities in their areas and to secure rapid clean-up of contaminated sites;1 and

Supporting the absolute right of the American people to have all the facts about health, safety, and environmental nuclear weapons production risks so as to exercise political judgment about clean-up of these facilities, compensation for damage, and proposed replacement facilities; and

Learning that nuclear weapons facilities are considering the disposal of nuclear and mixed waste (hazardous or toxic mixed with radioactive waste) by incineration, and that at least one permit for such an incinerator has already been filed; and

Believing that a public health threat is posed by the US nuclear weapons production facilities operated by the Department of Energy; and

Believing that the risks associated with nuclear weapons production constitute, in themselves, a cost of the nuclear arms race and a threat to national security, and that real "national security" must be based on the health of our people, who must not be harmed in the name of their own protection; and

Knowing that this concern lies within the mission of the American Public Health Association;13 therefore

  1. Calls for the establishment of a National Review Commission on Nuclear Weapons Production and Public Health, established by Congress, to conduct an assessment of the medical, public health, occupational, and environmental health consequences of the DoE's operation of the entire US nuclear weapons production, testing and research industry, to hold public hearings, review the DoE's own records, hear and critically examine testimony both from DoE and from competent medical, environmental and occupational health and epidemiological experts;
  2. Calls for a redefinition of the mandate for the recently created Nuclear Defense Safety Board, enabling it to function for the long term as a totally independent agency holding DoE nuclear weapons production, testing, and research facilities accountable to rigorous public health and safety standards, with the authority independently to shut down any facility or operation that is not, in its judgment, in compliance;
  3. Supports the expressed contention of the Department of Energy, which has accumulated radiation exposure, morbidity, and mortality data on nearly 600,000 nuclear plant workers over 40 years, to make these databases available to all qualified external researchers following the accepted procedures of scientific and medical investigations;
  4. Further supports the establishment of the recently chartered secretarial panel to evaluate the health and epidemiological activities for the Department of Energy;
  5. Recommends the immediate review by independent authorities of the adequacy of emergency evacuation, triage, decontamination, and treatment plans for population surrounding DoE facilities to assure that they are adequate for response to full-scale accidents involving substantial populations;
  6. Recommends extending the one-year Congressional ban on incineration until convincing evidence has been submitted to public review that such incineration can be done without risk to the public's health;
  7. Promotes the development of technologies and the establishment of integrated standards for radioactive and mixed waste incinerator which protects the health and welfare of the public;
  8. Recommends independent oversight of DoE nuclear weapons activities affecting public health, occupational safety, and environmental protection by other government agencies charged with those duties;
  9. Urges Congress and the Administration to mandate that the nuclear weapons facilities of the DoE be opened to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) so that nuclear workers may enjoy the same protection as other workers, and that the emissions of radionuclides from these facilities may be monitored at the source by agencies with a public health mission;
  10. Urges Congress and the Administration to initiate and support health studies of workers and nearby populations, in part through the Centers for Disease Control, independent of the DoE, its related agencies, and their corporate contractors;
  11. Encourages Congress and the Administration to fund and support environmental assessments of the contamination of the working environment and the air, soil, and water near DoE nuclear weapons facilities, independent of DoE and nuclear industry influence;
  12. Recommends that responsibility for research into environmental assessments and the health of workers and nearby populations be reassigned to the US Department of Health and Human Services and funds be reallocated accordingly; and
  13. Calls for Congressional establishment of a dedicated fund, separate from and in addition to existing Superfunds, for site clean-ups at all DoE installations and corrective actions to upgrade currently dangerous installations.


  1. US Senate: Nuclear Protections and Safety Act of 1987. Report of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate, Report #100-173, 100th Congress, 1st Session, September 24, 1987. Washington, DC: US Govt Printing Office, 1987.
  2. US Congress: Safety in the DoE Workplace. Hearings before the Education and Labor Subcommittee on Health and Safety, Committee on Education and Labor, United States House of Representatives, May 10 and 17, 1989 (in press).
  3. DoE Environment, Safety and Health. Washington, DC: Office of Environmental Audit, US Department of Energy, September 1988.
  4. Deadly Defense. New York: Radioactive Waste Campaign, 1988.
  5. Asgle DL, Wilkinson GS: Mortality among Workers at Nuclear Fuel Production Facility. (USDoE Contracted Study). J Occup Health 1988.
  6. Gilbert ES, Seven LE: Prevalence at Birth of Congenital Malformation in Communities near the Hanford Site, 1987 (a DoE-Contracted Study).
  7. US Government Accounting Office: Radioactive Iodine Releases at Hanford. Washington, DC: GAO, 1988.
  8. Johnson CJ: Cancer incidence in an area of radioactive fallout downwind from the Nevada test site. JAMA 1984;251:230-236.
  9. American Public Health Association, Policy Statement No. 8124: Nuclear Accident Liability. APHA Public Policy Statements, 1948 to present, cumulative. Washington, DC: APHA, current volume.
  10. Op Cit. APHA Policy Statement No. 8117: Nuclear War and Nuclear Weapons.
  11. Op Cit. APHA Policy Statement No. 7909: Nuclear Power.
  12. Op Cit. APHA Policy Statement No. 7843(PP): The Public Health Impact of Energy Policy.
  13. American Public Health Association, Late Breaker Resolution LB-4 (1988): Department of Energy Nuclear Weapons Facilities Protection of Workers and Nearby Populations. Am J Public Health 1989;79:366.

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