The U.S. military first sponsored ecological research during World War II to monitor the release of radioactive effluent into waterways from plutonium production. The Atomic Energy Commission later expanded these investigations to include studies of radioactive fallout at the Nevada and Marshall Island test sites, particularly after the Fukuryu Maru (Lucky Dragon) accident in 1954. The public outcry against nuclear testing from this accident, which contaminated nearby inhabited islands with radioactive fallout, resulted in a considerable influx of funding for environmental science at the Atomic Energy Commission. Many biologists who conducted these studies on nuclear fallout and waste for the Atomic Energy Commission began to develop concerns about radioactive pollution in the environment from the long-term, cumulative effects of nuclear waste disposal, the use of atomic bombs for construction projects, and the potential ecological devastation wrought by nuclear war. Their new environmental awareness prompted many Atomic Energy Commission ecologists to try to draw congressional attention to the dangers that nuclear technology posed to the environment. It also spurred reforms in the education and training of ecologists to meet the challenges of the atomic age through the new subfield of “radioecology” as well as research into problems of environmental pollution more broadly.

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