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What to do with radioactive waste?

By Kristin Scheer

While five of us from the KC area were at DC days recently, lobbying with the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability (ANA), we took up what they called a “thorny conversation.” What do we do with the radioactive waste we have already generated?

It is a thorny conversation because it is frequently asked, there are no good answers, and in our own community, we disagree about what the answer should be. Everyone agrees we need to stop making radioactive waste. But what of what has already been produced? And what of that yet to be produced between now and the eventual conclusion of this most dangerous and irresponsible practice?

What can be done? Geoff Fettus, a lawyer with the National Resources Defense Council, proposed a central collection repository. He said it would require true community consent. He said that does not mean buying off underserved Black or Brown or Indigenous communities with false promises of “good jobs” or needed “economic investment”—poor communities that are only convenient because they cannot afford to say no.

It would require a proper Environmental Impact Study that looked ONE MILLION YEARS into the future for an environment that could or might legitimately be stable enough to contain this most dangerous substance, which is destined to be a problem that far into the future.

No place has yet been established that can do it right. Every answer currently proposed impacts communities only convenient in their disadvantage and lack of political power to stop it.

We heard of some of the stunning accidents that have happened and will likely continue to happen, plaguing us into the future. We heard of children who have contracted cancer and communities that have and will continue to lose people. The radioactive waste problem is a reality we have embarked upon.

It was not an easy conversation to have, and no significant conclusions were made. But the “thorniness” of the issue was appreciated by all, and that in and of itself was impactful as we all headed back home to continue the work necessary to end this insanely irresponsible practice of producing a product destined to end life with no known way to protect life in a satisfactory way from its insidious toxicity.

—Kristin Scheer, an ecology activist, serves on the Board of PeaceWorks KC. © 2023, Kristin Scheer, Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 4.0 International License     

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