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Finding a Solution to Nuclear Waste: A Policy Analysis


The Fukushima disaster in March has brought to the forefront of public concerns the problem of nuclear waste.  Nuclear fuel used in reactors is radioactive at dangerous levels for up to 250,000 years, 25-50 times longer than human civilization has existed. Humanity has no experience planning for problems over that span of time.  In order for nuclear power to be safe and sustainable—if that is possible at all—humanity must develop a solution to the problem of safely dealing with those waste products. The U.S. alone is currently storing about 70,000 tons of nuclear waste products in 33 different states without having a coherent plan for how to deal with that waste (Savage, 2011). This paper discusses the feasibility of various solutions to the problem of dealing with that waste.

Important authors writing on the options for dealing with nuclear waste included Castaldo (2011), Elam and Sundqvist (2009), MacFarlane (2010, 2011),  McCombie (2009), and Yim and Murty (2000). Other authors addressing other aspects of the issue included  Goodell (2011),  Gunderson (2011), Lindemeyer (2009), Plumer (2010), Savage (2011), and Venables (2008).  In addition to these sources, documents from the General Accounting Office (2009, 2011), and news articles from News On Japan and Nuclear Waste News were helpful.

The structure of this paper is first to discuss the background of nuclear waste—what it is, and what the issues are in dealing with it. Next, various options for handling nuclear waste are presented, along with advantages and disadvantages.  The paper then addresses the impact of nuclear power and nuclear waste in terms of safety but also in terms of finances with respect to developing a safe, clean, and cost-effective source of electrical power.  Finally, a set of recommendations are presented, along with a justification for those recommendations. Although some attention is given to nuclear waste disposal in other nations, particularly when considering their solutions, the focus of this paper will be on the U.S., which currently had by far the most nuclear waste to deal with.