Our crappily stored radioactive waste is probably going to explode


Don’t get us wrong here: Nuclear power is a relatively safe, efficient, and remarkably clean alternative to filthy, planet-destroying coal. That is, if we’d finally figure out what to do with all that filthy, planet-destroying nuclear waste. Because what we’re doing with it right now is just slowly transforming the subterranean United States into one big atomic bomb that’s one major quake away from turning all our skin into a boiling liquid.

nuclear waste storage usa, nuclear waste storage usa problematic
A spent fuel pool at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station near San Clemente, Calif. via NRC.gov

When nuclear waste is removed from a power plant, it’s typically stored underwater in “cooling pools” until the government decides what to do with it. So depending on the government, that could take years or, you know, never happen. According to a group of concerned scientists from Princeton writing for Science journal, these cooling pool facilities are so densely packed with radioactive waste that they’re a time bomb for nationwide nuclear disaster, and the federal government has been covering up the risk in the name of fiscal conservatism.

According to the scientists, if some kind of catastrophe happened at any one of the dozens of reactor cooling pools across the country tomorrow – say, an earthquake, or a major fire, or even a deliberate terror attack – the resulting radiation storm would Chernobyl-ize an area twice the size of the state of New Jersey, kill around 8 million people, and cause $2 trillion in damages. We still lack a proper scale with which to properly measure nuclear disasters, but the scientists confidently tell us that, if a disaster strikes one of these facilities, we’re looking at “several” Fukushimas. For most people, no more than the one Fukushima we already got would be ideal.

Politicians. They’ll kill you faster than any natural disaster.

Of course, we have much better methods for the long-term storage of nuclear waste that don’t run the risk of turning the country into a Fallout sequel, but according to the scientists, the U.S. government has been downplaying the risk and dragging its feet on the matter. They’ve even been accused of letting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission massage the data to arrive at a low-risk conclusion. Why? Because it saves the government from having to spend money on keeping you and everyone you love safe from nuclear annihilation.

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