On November 14, 1957, the United States dumped two hundred and thirteen tons of radioactive waste off the coast of New Jersey.
In a town in North St. Louis County, Missouri, improper storage of nuclear waste from the Manhattan Project led to most of its inhabitants ending up with at least one of twenty-one different forms of cancer.
When we think of nuclear waste disposal, we don’t usually give it a lot of thought. To us, this is an issue that couldn’t possibly be outside the control of our governments. What we don’t realize here is that when we look at nuclear waste disposal, we are looking at one of the most comically overlooked issues in human history.
Nuclear waste is tricky. The average used Uranium fuel rod has a half-life of about ten thousand years, and remains radioactive all throughout. What this means is that when you’re looking for a place to store all of this, you need to be certain of how said place is never going to be inhabited in any foreseeable future.
The United States is struggling with this issue. With an industry that produces more than two thousand tons of used nuclear fuel every year, it is of paramount importance that they find a final, accessible, and safe place to store all this waste.
And this is not all that difficult, either. In 1987, the American Congress passed a bill that stated Yucca Mountain — a set of desert mountains located more than a hundred miles east of Las Vegas – as being the final underground storage facility for radioactive waste. Shop was soon set up here, and storage was all set to begin when all progress came to an abrupt halt. With former Senator Harry Reed lobbying (with zero scientific basis) to prevent the mountains from becoming a storage facility, Project Yucca Mountain was met with significant disapproval from many Nevadans- all of which inevitably led to the project being shut down.
Eventually, all the nuclear waste in the US ended up staying where it used to be- open, dangerous, and almost all of it stacked poorly around densely populated areas. And while an argument here could be made that all of what was done on part of these Nevadans was for their own benefit, their lack of scientific rationality was all but visible.
Lack of storage for nuclear waste is a genuine dilemma for the United States, and its case study usually serves as one of the very few valid arguments against nuclear energy. The bigger problem here, though, is that this issue is extremely solvable and requires only some basic awareness on part of the public. And while it remains to be seen how America deals with this problem, there is a lesson to be learned here for us Indians; especially since we are ourselves headed in that same direction.
By Saksham Sinha