Nuclear Waste

a gift for our great-great-great-great-great grandchildren

No degree of prosperity could justify the accumulation of large amounts of highly toxic substances which nobody knows how to make safe and which remain an incalculable danger to the whole of creation for historical or even geological ages. To do such a thing is a transgression against life itself, a transgression infinitely more serious than any crime perpetrated by man. The idea that a civilization could sustain itself on such a transgression is an ethical, spiritual, and metaphysical monstrosity. It means conducting the economical affairs of man as if people did not matter at all.
-- E. F. Schumacher “Small is Beautiful”


When nuclear weaponry and power reactors are finally abolished, the legacy of nuclear wastes will remain a life-threatening problem. Preventing these wastes from rendering the Earth uninhabitable will require an international effort on the scale of the current nuclear arms race, except it would focus people' energies for positive, not negative reasons. Here in the U.S., the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the agency that supposedly regulates nuclear power, could be transformed into a Nuclear Waste Commission and / or made part a vastly increased Environmental Protection Agency. Effectively dealing with this problem would probably require reversing the budgets of the Pentagon and the EPA. This Commission would be responsible for inventing a permanent solution to the nuclear waste problem and would be prohibited from promoting any "Atoms for Peace" type program. Regardless of one's feelings for or against nuclear technology, such a Commission will be needed to protect future generations from the scourge of nuclear wastes. The decision making process and priorities at EPA will also have to be reformed, since many EPA administrators collaborate with companies they supposedly regulate. Mohandas Gandhi was once asked what he thought of "Western Civilization" and his reply was that "it would be a good idea." Having a real Environmental Protection Agency that phases out toxic pollution as part of the needed shift to a sustainable society would be a good idea.

There have been intermittent suggestions that the EPA should be boosted in bureaucratic importance, becoming a cabinet level agency. The mainstream publication Science editorialized in 1990 that "EPA's change in status [to a cabinet level agency] should be approved only on condition that improvements in its procedures be made." (Science, February 16, 1990, p. 777)

Nuclear production must be stopped to implement these changes. Amory Lovins, co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Institute, warned in 1989 that "Until we get the bombs out of DOE, we'll never be able to get them to focus on the climate-related [environmental] problems."
quoted in Dick Russell, “Hothouse Politics of Greenhouse Effect,” In These Times, February 25–21, 1989, p. 10



Admiral Hyman Rickover, the pioneer of the nuclear powered submarine program (which served as a prototype of nuclear power reactors), eventually had second thoughts. He told the Congress in 1982 that

"I think from a long-range standpoint--I'm talking about humanity--the most important thing we could do is start by having an international meeting where we first outlaw nuclear weapons and then we outlaw nuclear reactors, too.
"Until about two billion years ago it was impossible to have any life on Earth. That is, there was so much radiation on Earth you couldn't have any life … Gradually, about two billion years ago, the amount of radiation on this planet and probably in the entire system became reduced. That made it possible for some form of life to begin and it started in the seas .... when we use nuclear weapons or nuclear power we are creating something which nature has been eliminating. Now that is the philosophical aspect, whether it's nuclear power or using radiation for medical purposes or whatever. Of course, some radiation is not bad because it doesn't last long or has little effect on the surroundings, but every time you produce radiation, you produce something that has a certain half-life, in some cases for billions of years. I think the human race is going to wreck itself, and it's important that we get control of this horrible force and try to eliminate it.”
from a hearing held in the Joint Economic Committee, January 28, 1982

Dr. Alice Stewart: "single-celled organisms could not exist until background radiation fell to present levels millennia ago. And it requires just as delicate an environment for us to survive. Yet today, in the arrogance of humankind, we are raising the levels of background radiation and setting back the evolutionary clock."



Babysitting the Nukes: the task for future generations



Hanford and the next Missoula Flood



Genetic Pollution is worse than Genocide



EROEI for nuclear power


"Keep them confused about Fission and Fusion"


natural radionuclides: nothing you can do about it


fission products: the hottest parts of nuclear wastes


transuranics: synthetic elements beyond uranium


activation products: neutron irradiation in reactors


Diet for the Atomic Age: eating in a toxic world


bioaccumulation: a reason to eat low on the food chain