how to harness the powerful energy contained within an atom, we have been using it- for both positive and negative purposes. Today, after a little over half a century since we started using nuclear energy to generate electricity for our homes and developments, we are now realizing that our love affair with nuclear power may have actually been a bad idea after all. Although nuclear energy has proven to be very useful for us, there are a number of inherent risks and dangers associated with nuclear energy and the waste that is generated through its use.
Why nuclear waste is dangerous
- Nuclear waste remains radioactive for a very long time. It takes many years for nuclear waste to decompose. In fact, this decomposition process can take as long as hundreds of thousands of years¹,². Therefore, it is no short-term commitment to manage such waste, and this must be considered.
- There is currently no easy way to dispose of nuclear waste. Currently, humanity’s primary way of dealing with nuclear waste is simply to store it somewhere, and then we are supposed to “figure out what to do with it later.” Globally, there are very few permanent repositories for the long-term safe storage of nuclear waste. Right now, all that we can do is to effectively manage it until we can create effective long-term storage and disposal solutions¹,³.
- Nuclear waste can contaminate water and ecosystems. Radioactive contamination can easily spread throughout the environment and into various ecosystems. The air, land, and water can all become contaminated and harm humans and other lifeforms. In particular, radioactive pollution in water bodies can quickly reach potable water sources¹.
- Nuclear waste can cause harmful human health impacts. Radioactive substances are now known to be mutagenic and carcinogenic, and can lead to different types of cancer and other genetic health conditions³.
- Nuclear waste cleanup is very costly and dangerous. Because of the inherent hazardous nature of nuclear waste, it is very expensive to clean up, and can negatively impact the health of those who are involved in the cleanup¹.
- Dangerous accidents can occur while transporting nuclear waste. If an accident occurs while transporting nuclear waste to a storage facility, the resulting environmental contamination can be devastating to the surrounding ecosystems and life, as well as for any humans in close proximity to the source of the accident².
- Nuclear waste reprocessing leads to pollution and is vulnerable to attacks. While nuclear waste is reprocessed in some locations as a “waste solution,” such processing is very polluting and is one of the largest sources of human-generated radioactivity on the planet. Some of the radioactivity generated by the La Hague nuclear reprocessing facility in France has been found in the Arctic Circle³.
Such reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel rods to produce plutonium also creates a vulnerable situation where the plutonium could be stolen and used to make nuclear weapons or “dirty” radioactive bombs³.
Better alternatives exist today
Because of the many risks that are associated with nuclear waste, our efforts and funding are much better spent on clean and renewable forms of energy that do not pose such hazards to health and to the environment. As these technologies develop, the costs of renewable energy technologies continue to decrease, while the costs associated with nuclear power continue to increase, especially when all of the associated risks are considered³.