Nuclear Threats

PSR-LA’s founding mission of protecting public health from nuclear threats is as critical today as it was when we were founded over 40 years ago. In fact, many experts believe the risk is greater now than at any other time in our history. Nuclear power continues to be promoted as a solution to the climate crisis, despite its enormous public health and safety risks. Radioactive waste and contamination are exceedingly toxic to health and remain so for millennia, threatening communities and vital ecosystems throughout the country. The health and environmental impact of nuclear weapons production, testing and waste causes disproportionate harm to women, children and people of color.

PSR-LA’s Nuclear Threats program educates, engages, and mobilizes health professionals, frontline nuclear communities, and coalition partners to fight for a safe, healthy, and just future by working for nuclear weapons abolition, truly clean and sustainable energy, strong safety measures for radioactive waste, and the full cleanup of contaminated nuclear sites. Given the devastating force of nuclear weapons and the long-lived toxicity of radioactive waste, health protective nuclear policies are vitally important.

What are the problems?

  • Nuclear weapons are capable of causing death, injury and illness on a scale modern medicine cannot meet. There are approximately 13,100 nuclear weapons in the world today, thousands of which are ready for use at a moment’s notice. Equipment failure, accidents, and miscommunication have caused near-disasters in the past and remain a concern.
  • Nuclear weapons expenditures divert crucial resources away from human needs such as education, health, and the environment. The U.S. is planning to spend 1.7 trillion dollars over the next 30 years on new nuclear weapons systems, which makes us less safe by launching a new global arms race and creating more radioactive waste and contamination.
  • Nuclear energy is not clean or safe, posing serious risk to public health. There is no credible, long-term solution for storing the highly toxic radioactive waste produced by nuclear power. Nuclear reactors are also vulnerable to accidents, terrorist attacks, and natural disasters, all of which are expected to increase with climate change.
  • Radioactive contamination is dangerous to health and difficult to clean up. In LA’s own backyard, the Santa Susana Field Lab, site of a partial nuclear meltdown and other toxic accidents, spills, and releases, remains contaminated despite decades of community efforts for a full cleanup.
  • Protective radiation exposure policies are undermined by nuclear and defense industries and the government agencies that are captured by them.

How do these problems impact a person’s health?

  • As health professionals and advocates, we must act now to prevent what we cannot cure. There is no meaningful medical response to a nuclear attack. A single detonation could kill hundreds of thousands and deliver a debilitating economic blow. Even a limited nuclear war using less than half a percent of the world’s nuclear arsenals could result in the deaths of as many as 2 billion people.
  • Radioactive waste and contamination are uniquely harmful to human health. At very high doses, prompt death can result, such as was seen in the immediate aftermath of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Latent health effects from lower doses can cause health problems many years after exposure. If the radiation damages genetic material in reproductive cells, genetic defects can occur in subsequent generations. Exposure to radiation can cause cancer in solid organs (such as the lungs, the thyroid gland, breast, stomach, etc.) or in the blood or lymph systems (leukemias or lymphomas). Ionizing radiation can also contribute to risks of heart disease and other non-cancer ailments.
  • The National Academy of Sciences and all federal radiation protection agencies accept the principle that there is no safe level of radiation exposure. In other words, all doses of radiation, no matter how small, increase your risk of cancer to some degree, and that risk increases generally in a linear fashion with radiation dose. The National Academy of Sciences estimates that about 3% of us will get cancer from natural, background radiation. The issue therefore is trying to assure, to the maximum extent possible, that people are not exposed to additional, unnecessary, avoidable exposures, for example by contamination of soil, air, or water.
  • Some subgroups of the population are more susceptible to radiation-induced cancer than others. A child is more vulnerable than a young adult; an infant more at risk from the same dose than a child; and a fetus more readily harmed than all others. Women are at greater risk than men.

What are the solutions?

  • Abolish nuclear weapons. PSR-LA calls upon physicians, policymakers, and the public to support a verifiable agreement among nuclear weapons states to eliminate their arsenals, the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, compliance with international arms control treaties, and other safety measures such as removing weapons from high alert status.
  • Stop the new arms race. We must work together in partnership with public health and social justice organizations to prevent the development of new, enhanced weapons and delivery systems.
  • Phase out nuclear power. Clean, safe, and renewable energy should replace nuclear power. PSR-LA opposes the consolidated interim stage of radioactive waste and supports hardened on-site storage of radioactive waste until there is a proven scientifically sound long-term solution.
  • Fully clean up the Santa Susana Field Laboratory. The California Department of Toxic Substances Control must enforce the 2010 cleanup agreement it signed with the Department of Energy and NASA, and keep its commitment to require Boeing to fully clean up the site as well. Click here to learn more.
  • Protect public health. We need enduring protections from the health impacts of radiation, including the full cleanup of contaminated sites and strong radiation exposure policies.

Our Partnerships

Working in coalitions builds our power and influence through the diversity of sectors, expertise, skills, experience and strategic insights that our partners bring.

For our nuclear weapons abolition work, PSR-LA works with a broad coalition of local and national health, environmental, faith, peace, and justice organizations. We have a leading role in “Back from the Brink: Bringing Communities Together to Abolish Nuclear Weapons,” a national grassroots campaign to fundamentally change U.S. nuclear weapons policy. To date, over 50 U.S. municipalities and 6 state legislative bodies have adopted resolutions in support of the campaign, including the city of Los Angeles and the state of California. Locally we partner with the American Society of Hiroshima-Nagasaki A-Bomb Survivors, Veterans for Peace, Nuclear Free Schools, and Interfaith Communities United for Peace and Justice among others. PSR-LA also publishes an annual Community Cost Calculator to help communities and our partners calculate the full cost of nuclear weapons to their cities, counties, and states.. For FY 2021, Los Angeles County spent $2,292,473,636 on nuclear weapons programs, and the city of Los Angeles spent $938,153,039! We must change our national priorities and invest in community needs, not deadly weapons that must never be used.

PSR-LA has fought for the full cleanup of nuclear and chemical contamination at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, a former nuclear and rocket engine testing facility in the hills above the San Fernando Valley and Simi Valley, for over 30 years. Our partners in this work include: Committee to Bridge the Gap, the Rocketdyne Cleanup CoalitionParents vs SSFL, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. Over the years, we’ve helped stop the relicensing of its “Hot Lab” and the cessation of all nuclear activities at the site, and achieve health studies for workers and the offsite population as well as historic agreements to fully clean up the site. We’ve also stopped improper disposal of radioactive debris, the development of hiking trails near the site and plans for the City of Simi Valley to use groundwater for drinking water. We continue to engage health professionals in cleanup efforts and provide technical assistance and leadership development to community members. We also advocate for full cleanup with elected officials at the city, county, state, and federal levels. PSR-LA is featured in the multi-award winning documentary film “In the Dark of the Valley.”

PSR-LA is an active member of the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), a national network of organizations working to address issues of nuclear weapons production and waste cleanup. ANA works to hold the federal government accountable through citizen education, empowerment, and action. Formed by organizations from communities in the shadows of nuclear weapons facilities, ANA’s leaders are deeply rooted in communities directly affected by these policies, and brings this experience to bear in addressing issues of government spending; public accountability; nuclear nonproliferation; waste cleanup, treatment and disposition; and the health and safety of workers, the public and the environment. PSR-LA Associate Director Denise Duffield currently serves as President of ANA’s Board of Directors, and our Nuclear Threats Associate Alex Jasset serves on ANA’s DC Days Committee.

How to Get Involved

Sign up for our monthly e-newsletter, attend an upcoming PSR-LA event, follow us on social media, or become a member of PSR-LA today. If you’re a health professional, you can also participate in our Health Ambassador Program.