The 1980s
Mikhail Gorbachev became the Secretary General (and later President) of the Soviet Union in March 1985, drastically changing the character of Soviet leadership. Gorbachev started a group of domestic policies call glasnost, which means openness in Russian. He began to reform the Soviet economy by introducing elements of a free market system, such as competition, to make it more efficient. Glasnost also loosened the Soviet government's grip on its citizens' private and cultural life. Dissidents, such as Andrei Sacharov, were released.
TimelineOctober 1980
The West Valley Demonstration Project Act of 1980 directed DOE to construct a high-level nuclear waste solidification demonstration at the West Valley Plant in New York. The only commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in the United States to be operated, the West Valley Plant recovered uranium and plutonium from spent nuclear fuel from 1966-1972 and produced nearly 600,000 gallons of high-level nuclear waste that was stored at the plant. The vitrification facility, which immobilizes liquid and sludge-type waste by dissolving it in molten glass, is scheduled to begin operation in 1996 and to complete operation in 1998. The second phase of the demonstration, decontamination and decommissioning, will continue after the vitrification phase is complete. Two other commercial reprocessing plants, one in Morris, Illinois and one in Barnwell, South Carolina, have never been operated.

TimelineNovember 1980
Single-shell nuclear waste storage tanks at the Hanford Plant in Washington no longer receive waste. The liquid waste is being transferred to newer design double-shell tanks.

TimelineDecember 1980
The Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act was passed making states responsible for the disposal of their own low-level nuclear waste, such as from hospitals and industry. Contaminated with small amounts of radioactivity, low-level wastes come from uranium enrichment, reactors, medical diagnostic procedures, and research and development projects. The waste is usually made of contaminated rags, paper, filters, tools, equipment, and protective clothing. Low-level wastes are a problem mainly because of their huge volume. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that there will be about one billion cubic feet of low-level wastes in the Unites States by the year 2000.

The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (also known as Superfund) was passed in response to the discovery in the late 1970's of a large number of abandoned, leaking hazardous waste dumps. Under Superfund, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies hazardous sites, takes appropriate action, and sees that the responsible party pays for the cleanup. Superfund also established a Trust Fund to pay for cleanup. A site must be on the National Priorities List (NPL) to receive cleanup money from the Trust Fund. Kept by the EPA, the NPL is a list of the most serious uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous wastes sites in the country. EPA updates the NPL yearly.

The Shippingport nuclear powerplant, built in 1957  [see December 1957], was retired. Congress assigned the decontamination and decommissioning of this commercial reactor to DOE. This was the first complete decontamination and decommissioning of a reactor in the United States. The reactor vessel was shipped to a low-level waste disposal facility at the Hanford Site in Richland, Washington. The reactor site was cleaned and released for unrestricted use in November 1987. Government officials proclaimed the seven-acre site is suitable for picnicking or for a children's playground.

TimelineJanuary 1983
The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 is signed, authorizing the development of a high-level nuclear waste repository.
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President Ronald Reagan
TimelineMarch 1983
Reagan terms the Soviet Union the "evil empire" and announces the Strategic Defense Initiative (Star Wars), a satellite-based defense system that would destroy incoming missiles and warheads in space.
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TimelineSeptember 1983
Stanislav Petrov - World Hero: He averted a catastrophe that could have shaken the foundation of the Earth for many centuries to come - and the future of humanity forever.
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TimelineNovember 1983
On November 8, 1983, DOE began construction of the Defense Waste Processing Facility (DWPF) at the Savannah River Plant in South Carolina. DWPF is designed to make high-level nuclear waste into a glass-like substance, which will then be shipped to a repository deep within the Earth for permanent disposal. DWPF will mix borosilicate glass with the waste, heat it to 2000 degrees F, and pour the mixture into stainless steel canisters. The mixture will cool into solid glass that can be permanently stored in a repository. DWPF will immobilize the more than 34 million gallons of liquid high-level waste that have accumulated from producing defense-related nuclear materials. It's estimated that it will take 15 years for DWPF to process the backlog of waste. The technology used at DWPF was based in part on the West Valley Demonstration Project in New York  [see October 1980].

TimelineApril 1984
In LEAF (Legal Environmental Assistance Foundation) vs. Hodel, the court rules that DOE's Y-12 Plant in Oak Ridge, Tennessee is subject to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
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TimelineAugust 1985
Soviet President Gorbachev The Soviet Union announced a nuclear testing moratorium, or delay. The moratorium lasted from August 1985 to early 1987, when continued U.S. testing led Soviet President Gorbachev to end it.

TimelineJanuary 1986
Soviet President Gorbachev calls for disarmament by the year 2000.
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TimelineApril 1986
Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor meltdown and fire occur in the Soviet Union. Massive quantities of radioactive material are released.
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TimelineMarch 1987
In October 1986, U.S. President Reagan and Soviet President Gorbachev met in Reykjavik, Iceland to discuss nuclear arms control. Though this summit resulted in no formal agreements, the United States and the Soviet Union discussed reducing their strategic nuclear weapons by half over a five-year period and then eliminating all offensive nuclear weapons by 1997. Some issues, such as the fate of European shorter-range nuclear missiles, were left unresolved.

In March 1987, Soviet President Gorbachev proposed elimination of European short and intermediate range missiles. Later, NATO and West Germany supported Gorbachev's proposal, with some changes. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty was signed later that year  [see December 1987].

TimelineDecember 1987
Soviet President Gorbachev and President Reagan sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (NIF) Treaty, the first arms treaty signed by the superpowers calling for elimination of a whole class of weapons--intermediate range missiles.

Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act designates Yucca Mountain, Nevada, for scientific investigation as candidate site for the nation's first geological repository for high-level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel.
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Nuclear weapons productions facilities at the Rocky Flats Plant in Colorado and the Fernald Feed Materials Production Center in Ohio ceased production and changed their mission to cleaning up their facilities. Located 21 miles northwest of Denver, the Rocky Flats Plant was built in 1951 to produce plutonium triggers for nuclear weapons. The Fernald Feed Materials Production Center (now the Fernald Environmental Management Project) was built in 1951 to convert uranium feed materials into uranium metal for use in DOE reactors. Fernald is 20 miles northwest of Cincinnati.

TimelineNovember 1989
DOE changes its focus from nuclear materials production to one of environmental cleanup, openness to public input and overall accountability by forming the Office of Environmental Restoration and Waste Management.

The Berlin Wall is torn down. Many communist governments in Eastern Europe collapse.
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