Overall, the nuclear weapons industry is disproportionately harming people of color and Indigenous communities. Washington residents see that happening in their own communities; from the production and possession, to the cleanup of nuclear weapons.
Get to know the communities affected by the nuclear weapons industry in Washington State.
Spokane Tribe of Indians
Located near Spokane, WA, Midnite Mine (a former uranium mine for nuclear weapons) produced elevated levels of radioactivity, and heavy metals mobilized in acid mine drainage pose a potential threat to human health and the environment. The Spokane Tribe of Indians were heavily impacted by the adverse health effects caused by Midnite Mine. Despite closing in 1981, clean-up of the mine did not begin until 2017, allowing waste to pollute the area for 36 years. Though a compensation program exists for the health impacts on workers, they have not received adequate compensation to address the health and environmental damages.
Downwinders are populations affected by radioactive fallout, due to sites engaged in the production of nuclear weapons and/or nuclear power. Hanford released radioactive materials into the air, water and soil - releases which largely resulted from the site’s routine operation. Some were due to accidents, others from intentional releases. Waste at Hanford is stored in 177 underground tanks, 67 of which have leaked over 1 million gallons of waste into the surrounding soil and water over the years. Workers at Hanford are at risk of exposure to radioactive material. Recently, 42 workers were exposed to plutonium, which lodges in the body and will continue to emit radiation for the rest of these workers' lives.
Indigenous Peoples displaced by Hanford
Several Indigenous tribes resided in close proximity to the Hanford site. The site had been used for thousands of years by the Wanapum People year-round, and during the winter by the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Colville, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation, and the Nez Perce. They were all displaced and given no compensation. Many were exposed to radioactive contamination due to living downwind of Hanford or ingesting food or water that flowed downstream. Native American communities have disproportionately felt the impacts of this contamination, as many depend on the Columbia River for their customary diets.
The Marshallese Community
The Marshall Islands were testing grounds for 67 atmospheric nuclear tests conducted by the U.S. Department of Energy from 1946-1958. The Castle Bravo test in 1954 was the most powerful US bomb ever tested, 1000 times more powerful than the bomb dropped in Hiroshima. These islands and many inhabitants were contaminated by nuclear fallout, and many who were living on the islands at the time of testing are still suffering from a highly increased incidents of cancer and birth defects. About 2,400 - 3,000 Marshallese currently reside in Washington (mostly in Spokane).
Hibakusha translates to "explosion-affected people"; who are survivors of of the atomic explosions at Hiroshima or Nagasaki in 1945. The Japanese government has recognized about 650,000 people as hibakusha. As of March 31, 2017, 164,621 were still alive, mostly in Japan. In Washington State, groups like the Seattle Hiroshima Club and From Hiroshima to Hope commemorate the victims and survivors of the nuclear bombs in Japan.
Hibakusha groups in Washington: