NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Wildlife Flourishes At Nuclear Weapons Sites

March 30, 2001

Many of the sites formerly used by the federal government for nuclear weapons development and production were contaminated with radioactivity due to a lack of proper storage facilities, and the practice of dumping nuclear wastes in streams or on the ground.

This complex of nuclear weapons sites includes 2.1 million acres of land. Many of these sites are quite large and access by humans has been restricted for 50 years. As a result, despite low-level radioactivity, wildlife is flourishing. For example,

  • Peregrine falcons and cerulean warblers are among the more than 40 endangered, threatened, rare or special-concern species at the Oak Ridge site, which has become the most important wildlife preservation area in Tennessee.
  • The last major spawning ground for salmon on the main stem of the Columbia River is a reach that flows across the Hanford site in Washington state.
  • More than 30 percent of Idaho's winter pronghorn sheep population can be found on the 890 square mile site of the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory on the Snake River.
  • And one of the largest contiguous tracts of wild area east of the Mississippi is the Savannah River site, which contains a 30,000 acre wetland and is home to more than 50 different mammal species, 100 varieties of freshwater fish, and over 200 species of birds.

Since biodiversity flourishes at the low-levels of radiation found at these sites, it is ironic that many environmentalists support scrubbing them so clean that radiation is no higher than natural background levels -- needlessly disrupting wildlife habitat.

Each year, the federal cleanup program spends 30 times the amount devoted to preserving endangered species and may take 75 years and an estimated $150 billion to complete.

Source: Robert H. Nelson, "From Waste to Wilderness: Maintaining Biodiversity on Nuclear-Bomb-Building Sites," April 2001, Competitive Enterprise Institute, 1001 Connecticut Avenue, N.W., Suite 1250, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 331-1010.


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