4. The Problem of Nuclear Waste

Chapter 7: No More Victims
Part 1: The Future of Nuclear Power

In addition to the dubious safety and high price of nuclear power, a major cause for concern is the problem of how to dispose of waste from nuclear power plants. Most of the used fuel produced at nuclear power plants in Japan is sent to Britain and France, where it is reprocessed and sent back to be used again. However, along with the reusable fuel comes highly concentrated, highly radioactive waste material, for which no satisfactory method of disposal has yet been found. There is one fuel reprocessing plant operating in Japan, but due to various technical problems its output is only a fraction of what was originally anticipated. Others have been planned but have been delayed due to concerted public opposition.

As Japan's record in the field shows, the development of fuel reprocessing facilities is not as advanced as other aspects of nuclear technology. The United States has already closed one of its reprocessing plants, and has moved out of the field. Only facilities in Britain, France, Germany, and Japan remain. In Chapter 5 we reported on the high incidence of leukemia near the British nuclear waste disposal facility at Sellafield. This tragedy is not only the responsibility of Britain, but of all the countries who ease their worries about dangerous nuclear waste by sending it abroad for disposal.

Advocates of atomic energy claim that one of its major advantages is that nuclear fuel can be recycled. This, however, ignores the fact that a safe and reliable method of carrying out this recycling process is not yet available. Even supposing that an effective way of reprocessing spent nuclear fuel were to be developed, the problem still remains of how to dispose of highly radioactive concentrated waste, an unavoidable byproduct of the recycling process. The use of atomic energy has been described quite accurately as the equivalent of living in an apartment without a toilet.

In the United States, for example, the DOE's plan to reprocess spent nuclear fuel at an experimental plant at Carlsbad, New Mexico, was canceled when the state government banned the import of radioactive waste. As a result, several tons of highly radioactive waste have become stranded as the facility would have taken waste not only from nuclear power plants but also from weapons facilities.

Atomic energy has been lauded by some as the answer to protecting our environment from further damage. However, it seems hardly realistic to believe that nuclear power will save the earth from further destruction when we are faced with a future of ever-increasing piles of abandoned waste.