There are a number of highly polluted sites where the United States once built the worst weapons of war. On six of those sites, where the weapons were once built were some of the most lethal ever conceived by man, new inhabitants are beginning to thrive: animals like bears, ferrets, and endangered salmon. All find safe haven where humankind once threatened itself with extinction.
Mule Deer graze where the US once tested plutonium triggers, outside of Denver, Colo.
Amchitka Island, Alaska is now cut off from the rest of the world, now a part of the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. This island saw a number of nuclear explosions underground – where a large amount of radioactive material is still trapped. In Indiana, Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge was once Jefferson Proving Ground, where the Army fired off artillery for more than 50 years, including tons of depleted uranium rounds. In Colorado's Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, the Army once built chemical weapons in the areas where the bald eagle built its nests.
Some of the places that are now protected areas may still be heavily polluted, however. Experts say they're not all entirely safe for humans. This means some experts believe that 30 or so of the National Fish and Wildlife Service's more than 560 wildlife refuges have some history with nuclear and/or chemical weapons and haven't been entirely cleaned up.
It may take centuries for these areas to heal.
Animals used to just warn humans about sarin gas.
Government and private industry have spent around $57 billion on cleanup efforts for the top six most polluted areas, but there is still more to come – much more. Washington state's Hanford site was once the area where the United States produced plutonium for nuclear weapons. Cleaning up this mess could run the Department of Energy more than $330 billion for this one site alone.
Like Hanford's contaminated soil and water, there are more sites to be cleaned and protected. Johnson Atoll's coral reefs suffered under multiple atmospheric nuclear tests. What was once Rocky Flats, Colo. is now home to rare prairie grasses, endangered mice, and other species that once roamed freely across America. Cleaning up and protecting these site will ensure they may get another chance one day.
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