Nuclear Waste Management Problem Remains

Yucca Mountain


Americans have good reason to be scared of nuclear power. After being pummeled for decades with images of nuclear war, nuclear winter, and now nuclear terrorism, it’s hard to stay calm about the subject. But according to a report published in Science, Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future spent so much time on fixing the country’s nuclear waste program that it completely neglected to deal with the public’s fears.

It’s a big problem–there are over 50 reactors currently under construction throughout the world and at least 100 are planned for the next decade. At the same time, 60,000 tons of nuclear waste has accumulated in the U.S. without a well-designed waste management program.

Sharon Friedman, director of the Science and Environmental Writing program at Lehigh University, explains the quandary to ScienceDaily:

“The issues around nuclear waste storage need to be evaluated in a
transparent and cooperative environment between technical experts and
the public,” says Friedman. “Communicating with people about risks from
radioactive waste is extremely difficult. You can’t see or smell
radiation, you don’t know what it will do to you, and dangers from
various exposure levels are hard to explain. All of this instills fear
in people and works against public acceptability of proposed solutions
for disposing of nuclear waste.”

So what can be done? The report suggests that communities should be more deeply involved in the waste site selection process. Risks, rewards, and general information about nuclear waste should also be more readily available. Otherwise we may end up repeating the Yucca Mountain debacle.


Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.