Communism continued to collapse, most notably in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union began to unravel in August 1991, when Communist hardliners staged a coup. Soviet leaders were about to sign a new Union treaty that gave the Soviet republics more power. The hardliners ordered troops into Moscow and the Baltic Republics and took Soviet President Gorbachev prisoner at his vacation home in the Crimea. Boris Yeltsin, the democratically elected President of the Russian Republic, led the resistance to the coup and within three days the coup collapsed.October 1990
The hardliner coup only accelerated the process they were trying to stop. Within days, ten Soviet republics declared their independence from the Soviet Union. Soviet President Gorbachev resigned on August 24, ending 74 years of Communist rule. On August 29, the Soviet Parliament suspended the Communist Party. Russian President Boris Yeltsin emerged as the former Soviet Union's most important leader.
In March 1990, East Germany's first free elections set the stage for a speedier German reunification. In May, the two Germanys and the four countries (United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union) that had occupied Germany following World War II began talking about German reunification. On October 3, 1990, Germany was reunited as one country for the first time since the end of World War II. Former West German Chnacellor Helmut Kohl won an overwhelming victory on December 2 in the first Germany-wide elections since World War II.
The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe formally ended the Cold War and reduced Warsaw Pact and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) conventional forces. NATO and Warsaw Pact leaders signed the Conventional Forces in Europe Agreement and declared they were no longer enemies. A few months later the Warsaw Pact, the military alliance between the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries, was formally dismantled.
The United States and Soviet Union signed a historic agreement to cut back long-range nuclear weapons by more than 30% over the next seven years. In private meetings following the 17th Annual Economic Summit of the leaders of the seven major industrial democracies (often called the G-7 Summit), President Bush and Soviet President Gorbachev ironed out the remaining details of an arms control treaty. (Gorbachev surprised the G-7 leaders by arriving on the last day of the conference.) The leaders of Germany, Japan, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Canada met to discuss how best to stabilize the Soviet economy.
In July 1992, President Bush announced the United States would no longer produce plutonium or enriched uranium for nuclear warheads. The Hanford Site changed its mission from nuclear materials production to clean up of its facilities. The Hanford Site was built from 1943-45 in Richland, Washington by the Manhattan Project to produce plutonium [see 1943-45].
The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Land Withdrawal Act withdrew public lands for WIPP, a test repository for transuranic nuclear waste disposal in a salt deposit deep under the desert. Transuranic wastes are contaminated with radioactive elements heavier than uranium--such as plutonium--and take a very long time to decay. Most transuranic waste is contaminated rags, protective clothing, laboratory equipment, and tools. Numerous DOE sites generate transuranic waste, which is temporarily stored on site in metal drums or boxes in shallow trenches covered with soil or on above ground asphalt pads. WIPP, located in the desert near Carlsbad, New Mexico, will contain the transuranic waste 2,150 feet deep in a salt bed. Salt deposits have been proposed for this waste because they occur in areas where there's little earthquake activity and little to no groundwater.
take our virtual tour of the WIPP site
DOE's Office of Environmental Restoration and Waste Management (EM) and its predecessor agencies have decontaminated and dismantled over 90 contaminated facilities across the country. EM has cleaned up 11 of 43 sites under its Formerly Utilized Sites Remedial Action Program. Under its Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Program, EM has cleaned up 15 of 24 sites and 4,200 of 5,000 vicinity properties.
On September 13-15, 1993, Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary and Washington Governor Lowry hosted a two-day summit to make the Hanford Site a model for the cleanup and revitalization of similar defense-related sites across the country. Secretary O'Leary pledged, among other things, to declassify large amounts of information, reexamine policies regarding Indian nations, and explore funding for public participation.
DOE continues to clean up the contamination from the last 50 years of the nuclear age. This contamination is the price we pay today for maintaining a strong national defense. DOE is working with regulatory agencies and the public to develop the technology needed and to make the difficult choices associated with this national cleanup project.