What are people’s concerns about nuclear waste?

In a Q&A session, I asked people for their concerns on nuclear waste, numbers at risk, year when this would occur, and where they had read about this concern.

Many were proxies for actual concerns: the government lies to us or the US government will likely collapse within hundreds of years and there is no way to protect the waste afterward.

Concerns ranged from nuclear waste transport (no scenarios as to what might happen, no numbers of affected) to hundreds of thousands of years from now all North Americans would have mutated to creatures with grimaces and distorted body shapes.

Other species as well?
Other species as well? Picture credit

Everyone present, everyone, described their concern coming from their own imagination.

When I began reading about nuclear power in 1995, I had preconceptions about the dangers of nuclear waste. Those who clearly knew what they were talking about did not think that nuclear waste was dangerous, and those who agreed with me provided no numbers and no scenarios, only that nuclear waste is highly radioactive for decades and radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years. I could not find any source for the numbers I worried about, or any other numbers that would make nuclear waste appear to be a serious concern.

I have seen this elsewhere. When California newspapers were full of stories about MTBE (a gasoline additive) polluting the water, I asked 10 people what harm came from MTBE. Eight told me cancer, and two birth defects. The actual known problem (pdf) is that for 15%?? of the population, MTBE makes the water unpalatable. In the absence of information, people fill in the blanks.

A second example I read somewhere or other: Mugabe rejected a US offer of food aid because it was transgenic. He told Zimbabweans that the food would make them sick, but not how. The most common concern? The donated food would cause AIDS.

I believe the group trying to explain their concerns about nuclear waste felt that the wide variety of concerns about nuclear waste reflected a number of paths to nuclear waste problems, rather than wild guesses to fill in the blanks.

Have any of you seen concrete numbers on nuclear waste: what harm would occur under what scenarios?

Comments are closed.