Radiation safety expert debunks three myths about nuclear waste

July 20, 2021, 7:00AMRadwaste Solutions
Photo: University of Manchester (U.K.)

Nuclear waste should not be used as an excuse for trying to shut down nuclear reactors, says radiation safety expert Andrew Karam in his recent article for the American Council on Science and Health titled, “Let’s Talk about Radioactive Waste."

Karam, who claims to have generated “tens of thousands of cubic feet of radioactive waste” during his career as a radiation safety professional, a scientist, a professor, and a consultant, in the article addresses three stubborn myths about the material.

Myth no. 1: He starts with the common misconception that nuclear waste is going to be dangerously radioactive for millennia by clarifying that the radioactive danger is largely gone in a century.

Myth no. 2: Karam next addresses the “fact” that we don’t have enough space to dispose of all the nuclear waste that our reactors produce. Using Ohio in the 1990s as an example, Karam illustrates that there were plenty of locations that met the state’s siting criteria for safe storage. The problem was that nobody wanted to have a radioactive waste repository within miles of where they lived. Ohioans also objected to the volume of truck traffic that would carry the waste, but Karam found that, on average, only a few trucks per week came to the site. He adds that radiation dose rates from the site to cars, pedestrians, and neighbors would be less than what a person would get from a single X-ray.

Myth no. 3: Saving the “biggie” for last, Karam disputes the claims that the material cannot be safely stored for millennia. He cites the French geologists in Africa who discovered the fossil of Oklo, the natural nuclear reactor that was two billion years old. Further studies revealed that “virtually all fission products had remained in place” for that entire time, showing that waste can be stored safely.

They said it: “There are problems involved in nuclear waste disposal—but they’re political and social problems, not scientific or technical ones,” Karam writes.

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