Over the years, I’ve generated tens of thousands of cubic feet of radioactive waste, managing the radioactive waste program at a large Midwestern university, and as the Radiation Safety Officer at a mid-sized university in the Northeast. None of this was glowing – in any color – and none of it looked much different from any of the other laboratory, medical, or remediation waste produced in so many places around the world every year.
Japan is planning to release tons of water from the Fukushima nuclear site into the Pacific Ocean – water contaminated with tritium, a radioactive form of hydrogen. This has led to protests by China, South Korea, Russia, and other nations; an outcry from a variety of environmental groups … not to mention seafood lovers concerned about the safety of their sushi. Given these concerns, it seems reasonable to dig into the subject a tad to see how serious a concern this is.
When it comes to energy and climate policy, there's little rationality to be found. Those who believe that climate change is an existential threat often reject nuclear power in favor of wind and solar, despite those options being insufficient to power the planet. That said, to embrace nuclear energy, we also must have a realistic solution to the problem of waste.
The anti-nuclear crowd uses an assortment of scare tactics to turn public opinion against the use of nuclear power. One of them is highlighting the risk of a serious accident, that might occur when spent nuclear fuel is transported to a disposal site. Is there any validity to this? A visit to the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History in Albuquerque, NM tells us there is not. (It's actually very safe.)
Despite a claim made by Congresswoman Susie Lee, Yucca Mountain is not a threat to Nevadans' health. Grandstanding and fearmongering by politicians is why America has an energy policy that's completely backward.