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I Grew Up in a Nuclear Wasteland, the Most Toxic Environment in the U.S.

We don’t even know how to dispose of nuclear waste and yet, the U.S. Air Force recently awarded a $13.3 Billion contract to create a new, ‘super duper’ nuclear missile.

Rebecca Romanelli
Sep 29 · 8 min read
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Maria Oswalt/unsplash

My brief Op-Ed published in The Seattle Times September 29, 2017. https-//

“Our nation faces major security challenges, including a global pandemic that has killed almost 200,000 Americans, and we shouldn’t spend our limited resources on new nuclear weapons that we don’t need and make us less safe. The highest probability of starting a nuclear war is a mistaken launch caused by a false alarm and a rushed decision to launch nuclear-armed ICBM’s.” Wed. Sept. 9th, 2020 The Seattle Times. William Perry, defense secretary during the Clinton Administration.

Two atomic bombs, Fat Man, dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, August 6th, 1945 and three days later, Little Boy on Nagasaki, killed up to 226,000 people.

Atomic weapons eliminate many humans in the drop zone by instantly vaporizing them. These weapons also slowly, one cancer at a time, kill many of the workers manufacturing them.

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Frederic Paulussen/unsplash

The plutonium separation process at Hanford, only 35 miles upstream from Richland, continually released radioactive isotopes into the air, carrying it downwind into parts of Idaho, Montana, Oregon and British Columbia. Downwinders, with Richland first up on the frontline, were exposed to radionuclides.

Radiation was in the water we drank from the river, the irrigation for fruits and vegetables in our gardens, as well as the meat and dairy products we consumed from cows grazing on contaminated fields.

The Columbia River merges powerfully with the Pacific Ocean, less than 150 miles away. The egregious contamination which occurred at Hanford for years, traveled worldwide.

The Hanford Reach, as it has been renamed, is the most contaminated environment in the U.S. and the fifth most toxic area in the world. Fifty six million gallons of radioactive waste are leaking into the ground.

Life threatening dangers were kept secret in government classified documents until the early 60's. Disturbed physicists, scientists, engineers (my father)and physicians, fueled public outrage over the rapid increase of grave health issues.

They formed a downwinder group and forced a declassification of environmental records. The Washington State Department of Health collaborated with the citizen-led Hanford Health Information Network and conducted a neutral study.

Their data concluded downwinders were exposed to elevated doses of radiation, placing them at increased risk for various cancers. This was not news to me or anyone else in our community, but it was the valid proof needed to move on with their class action suit against the government.

Workers at the Hanford Plant, where the reactors were located, were the human expendables. They were being diagnosed with various cancers, the most prevalent being cancer of the thyroid. This sensitive gland is a whistle blower when our immune system becomes overloaded. Source: Hanford Site-Wikipedia

When I returned to Richland for my 50th high school reunion a couple years ago, I found many of my fellow graduates were in the downwinder study, or their families had joined because their beloved had passed.

In 2000, the Department of Energy selected Bechtel to engineer, build and commission a complex to address the threat of leaking tank waste. Too many five legged bunnies hopping around the desert. Bad press.

Their projected process involved blending radioactive waste with glass forming materials such as silica. The molten material would be poured into stainless steel cannisters to cool and solidify into a glass or vitrified form.

This waste would supposedly remain stable and impervious to the environment, so the radioactivity could safely dissipate over hundreds to thousands of years. That’s right, hundreds to thousands of years.

Translate this to never dissipating, or who knows?

As the project commenced, watchdogs at Hanford and investigative journalists from The Seattle Times began blowing whistles as fast and furious as the 60’s exposure of government coverups.

Bechtel’s neat and tidy proposal of a solution to atomic waste was way off the mark. The facility they’re constructing is now capable of blowing itself up from ‘unintended’ nuclear reactions. Tick, tick. Source: The Seattle Times, November 17, 2017. ‘Nuclear safety board warns of trouble ahead at Hanford, but could lose role under Trump.’

When nuclear accidents occur, people may feel a moment of relief they live far away from the recent disasters at Chernobyl and Fukushima.

This is magical thinking.

When a nuclear meltdown takes place anywhere on Earth, the effects are worldwide. Radioactive material washed up on Washington state beaches, months after a tsunami triggered explosions at the Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Japan.

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Dan Meyers/unsplash

The Chernobyl disaster was due to human errors, creating a chain reaction in the graphite reactor core. Large amounts of radioactive material were released into the atmosphere and carried by air currents as the partial meltdown continued to wreak havoc. Radioactive clouds moved through western Europe and continued onward.

Nuclear waste does not disappear from our Earth atmosphere via an atmospheric wormhole into the cosmos. It sticks around forever, contributing to global warming and causing harmful mutations in susceptible humans and wildlife.

I’ve been grateful to experience good health, but it’s due to personal diligence, hearty Italian ancestry and an environmentally aware mother.

I focused on holistic health after realizing how many toxins I had been exposed to in developmental years. I studied herbs which help purify our lymphatic system. I undertook nine day, herbal cleansing fasts, twice a year for ten years.

Since I grew up on DDT and radiation, I committed to organic food. I became a yoga teacher and created daily habits to stay physically strong and spiritually balanced. I ended up developing healthy lifelong practices as preventive measures.

How is it that nine countries feel entitled to cause irreversible harm to our planet and people? This is unacceptable.

All it takes is one hotheaded mistake or human error to launch WW111.

Once a missile is fired, there will be numerous weapons launched to intercept it. Our skies will be filled with streaming nuclear warhead missiles, if we survive to see it.

In case you’re building an underground villa, forget about it. As mentioned above, radiation leaches into the ground, water and food supply. You won’t be able to hole up anywhere on earth. You’re better off preparing for your mission to Mars.

Upon accepting his Certificate of Appreciation, post WW11, the ‘father’ of the atomic bomb, nuclear physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, had this to say:

“The peoples of this world must unite or they will perish. This war, that has ravaged so much of the earth, has written these words. The atomic bomb has spelled them out for all men to understand. Other men have spoken them, in other times, of other wars, of other weapons. They have not prevailed. There are some, misled by a false sense of human history, who hold that they will not prevail today. It is not for us to believe that. By our works we are committed, to a united world, before this common peril, in law, and in humanity.”

The peoples of this world must unite? What if we can’t even unite and cooperate in a pandemic?

I haven’t heard any public figure, other than Stephen Colbert, mention the new push for nuclear weapons. He’s as mystified as I am about the lack of public concern. Are we so burned out by the virus and doom scrolling, we have no band width for annihilation?

“I have built a nuclear, a weapon, I have built a weapon system that nobody’s ever had in this country before. We have stuff that you haven’t even seen or heard about. We have stuff that Putin and Xi have never heard about before. There’s nobody. What we have is incredible.” President Trump in an interview with Bob Woodward for his latest book, ‘Rage.’

Not only has President Trump never built a nuclear weapon, he has surely, never been to a highly contaminated nuclear site.

Please take my brief survey requesting your position on nuclear weapons:

Do you support the manufacturing of intercontinental ballistic missiles and a complete replacement of the nuclear force? This includes a new fleet of Navy ballistic-missile submarines, a new nuclear-capable Air Force bomber, a new air-launched nuclear cruise missile, and a new command and control system. Total bill expected to be $1.2 trillion. Source: The Seattle Times, Nation and World, Sept, 9th, 2020.

  1. Hell yes! We need to stay abreast in the arms race. Yeah, yeah, children in our rich country go to bed hungry. If we don’t build those weapons, ‘they’ will come for us! A trillion dollars or so means tweaking our $738 billion defense budget but hey, we all have to make sacrifices. Nuke them first!
  2. Are you of sound mind? Federal funds need to be channeled toward the basic needs of humanity. Starting with universal health care in a pandemic. We need to breathe in order to tackle the arms issue. I’m with you friends! Ban Nuclear weapons!
  3. I’m too exhausted to even consider the nuclear, mushroom cloud of misery. Count me, passed out on the couch binging Netflix. Sorry
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Chris Farr/unsplash

I take no pleasure in providing this gruesome information. I want to believe there can be a ripple effect in sharing stories that might make a difference, one person at a time.

This is serious and deadly business taking place. If you can’t tolerate the truth, be ready to deal with the consequences of donning blinders, like the locals in my hometown.

Worldwide unity is required for the abolishment of new nuclear weapons. All nuclear nations need to accept responsibility for the mess they’ve created and start the challenging process of cleaning it up.

I am deeply concerned for up and coming generations. They don’t deserve this extra burden in their questionable future. They will be the ones suffering the folly of politicians without a moral compass.

We could experience a turn around if we collectively hold world ‘leaders’ accountable. Our consensual agreement to survive and thrive offers a doorway into realizing our interconnection and the power of our united voice.

Thank you for reading. I know this material is hard to bear.


ILLUMINATION-Curated hosts outstanding stories of advanced writers over 100 topics.

Rebecca Romanelli

Written by

Constantly curious life long learner. Dedicated to an open mind and the joy of nature.


Outstanding stories objectively and diligently selected by 40+ senior editors on ILLUMINATION

Rebecca Romanelli

Written by

Constantly curious life long learner. Dedicated to an open mind and the joy of nature.


Outstanding stories objectively and diligently selected by 40+ senior editors on ILLUMINATION

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