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Richard Rhodes on: The Arms Race Legacy
Richard Rhodes Q: Let's talk about the cost of the arms race in concrete terms, in dollars and cents. Give us a sort of big-picture sense of how we paid for all this.

RR: In 1995, the U.S. national debt amounted to some $3 trillion. That is approximately what the arms race cost us, for nuclear weapons and the systems to deliver them. So it wasn't the welfare state that put us in such a terrible hole financially. It was the nuclear arms race. What did we get for that in return? Well, our country wasn't destroyed--if it would have been. Could we have spent less and had the same result? I think anyone at all rational would say, "Yes, of course we could have." It wasn't just deterrence. It was also the aggrandizement of national power. The waste. The waste.

I spoke with a member of the board in Washington that's responsible for cleaning up the military's nuclear waste from all the factories that made all the bombs. He said, "It was as if we nuked ourselves." Hanford and all those tanks of material that's leaking into the soil. Americans worry about nuclear power primarily these days, because they think the waste is a problem. It's not the waste from out nuclear power reactors. That's all sitting in swimming pools at the reactors, nice and confined. It's the enormous waste all over the country from building bombs, where the military was always able to tell itself, "We'll worry about that later. There's a war on." And it's even worse in Russia. They estimate officially, by their government estimates, that 40 percent of the Soviet land mass is seriously polluted with radioactive and other military wastes.

That's the legacy that's left behind from all of this.

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