August 1995 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Among the commemorative efforts was Nuclear Wastelands, a book prepared by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War and the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. According to the book, the 200,000 people killed by the atom bombs were not the last victims of the nuclear age; the production of 70,000 nuclear warheads during the past half-century also took its toll.
For instance: Both the United States and the Soviet Union failed to ventilate their uranium mines and take other basic safety measures until the mid-1960s; thousands of uranium miners may have died as a result. The Soviet Union regularly dumped radioactive wastes and lost five entire nuclear reactors at sea. And in 1957 the explosion of a radioactive waste tank at Chelyabinsk contaminated more than 5,500 square miles of land. The American government, the book says, found out about the explosion two years later but kept quiet for fear of arousing opposition to its own nuclear weapons program.
Public outrage in 1995 focused on the French government, which chose to resume nuclear testing at two uninhabited South Pacific atolls. The photo shows the sea-surface splash made by the first explosion, at Mururoa on September 5. The eight tests planned by the French--their last, if the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty goes into effect as scheduled in 1996- -were all to take place in shafts drilled 1,800 feet or deeper into the atolls. Some geologists warned that cracks in the rock might allow radioactive compounds to leak into the ocean. But perhaps the most compelling objection to the tests was that they made the task of enacting a test ban and preventing another Hiroshima more difficult.