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America's Nuclear Wastelands -- Politics, Accountability, and Cleanup

Washington State University Press (2008) Max Power

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This book is a fairly easy read and reasonably good, but far to tightly focused on Hanford defense industry waste rather than spent fuel from civilian plants. Written in 2008, it is now quite dated, as it was long before the 2011 Fukushima accident and San Onofre shut down.

The following book review is by Ace Hoffman:

America's Nuclear Wastelands certainly has an intriguing title, and a picture of several atomic bomb craters on the cover. The subtitle is "Politics, Accountability, and Cleanup" but while accountability is discussed several times in the book, liability isn't mentioned at all. It's mainly about politics, which the author thinks is the main reason nuclear waste is a problem at all.

Max Powers is a word twister. He uses inappropriate terms to make his points, like "low energy" for the alpha emissions from plutonium (pg.42), and "in concentrations large enough to harm people" (pg.9), which indicates he doesn't believe in the Linear, No Threshold ("LNT") theory of radiation damage, which has been accepted by the vast majority of unbiased scientists for years -- including the government's own Biological Effects of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR) committee -- as the best estimate. Further proof that he believes there is a threshold is his claim that Columbia River fish "no longer contain potentially dangerous levels of radioactivity" (pg 79). But perhaps the best proof is when he talks about "Hormesis" (though he doesn't use the term: "There are, however, scientists who argue that low doses have no effect, or even beneficial effects..." (pg28). Powers assumes the Hiroshima studies were accurate (pg26). Actually, they are an excellent case study -- in how to bias a study! (For example, babies who were born and died to Hiroshima survivors were simply not counted if they died before the age of five.)

It's interesting to note that the first time any activist is mentioned in Powers' book, he (the activist) is described as "accost[ing]" and "berating" the author. (The activist, from Idaho, had ample justification, since the author had, in official testimony at a hearing, just complimented the cleanup job the Idaho National Labs was doing. (A job which, a decade later (August, 2017), the LA Times said is still "causing the federal government deepening political, technical, legal and financial headaches.))

Powers' book does have some interesting facts: The government had estimated it would take over $200 billion and at least 70 years to clean up 113 nuclear radiological environmental wastelands. He listed more than half a dozen states which have been considered at some point for hosting a high-level nuclear waste dump: Kansas, Washington, Nevada, Louisiana, Mississippi, the Carolinas, "upper New England" (Vermont or Maine) and states in the midwest (pg54).

But mostly, he just sides with those who believe that the nuclear waste problem is "political" and that concerned citizens are overly-worried because they can't balance the threat from smoking cigarettes or driving cars against the threat from nuclear waste accidents. He says "Not In My Back Yard syndrome" (NIMBYism) isn't based on science (pg. 97), and doesn't realize it might also be based on past failures of cleanup agencies.

Powers calls the bribes that have been offered to local communities around proposed nuclear waste dumps "monetary awards" (pg. 100). He says that nuclear waste can be transported safely, but politics gets in the way (pg.110). He thinks the "wildlife refuge" they made out of Rocky Flats is a successful clean-up job (pgs70&71; pg 170). In reality, they wouldn't spend the money to make the area around the main complex clean enough to release it back to the public for unrestricted use, so they fenced it off, let mule deer propagate within, and called it a wildlife refuge. There is still a much more highly contaminated zone in the middle of the refuge.

Powers mentions, but does not discuss the problems with, rocketing nuclear waste to the sun, or dropping it in the deep blue sea near a subduction zone (pgs76&77). He calls Yucca Mountain a "carefully crafted process" (pg 99) and said it would be operating by 2019 (pg.42). He says the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) is a complete success (pgs 5&44 and elsewhere, though in his defence, his book was written before the explosion and plutonium release). Powers asserts that mixed-oxide ("MOX") fuel made from nuclear bombs would be a good way to get rid of the plutonium (pg65) (it hasn't worked out). He believes only about 50 people died because of Chernobyl, plus "heightened levels of leukemia" among cleanup workers and thyroid cancer in children (pg10), but doesn't provide estimates for either group.

He claims states have "significant" say over nuclear waste regulations, then admits they don't, then asserts they do again (pgs.33&34). Correct answer: They don't.

The book recommends "openness and trust" (pg158). It recommends "trust funds" be set up, but SCE has no plans to do that for the spent fuel [but SCE does have $4.4 billion in decommissioning trust funds that maybe usable for some of the spent fuel costs -- RCL]. It recommends...wait for it...TOURISM to pay for managing long-term stewardship of nuclear waste where possible, such as at Hanford, Washington (often cited by others as the most polluted place in America), his example being the B Reactor Museum there, which he endorsed and which has since opened.

The current estimated price tag for cleaning up Hanford is nearing $20 billion. By comparison, the budget for the entire Smithsonian complex of approximately 30 museums (which does not include the B Reactor Museum) is currently about $100 million/year.

Ace Hoffman
Carlsbad, California


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Title America's Nuclear Wastelands -- Politics, Accountability, and Cleanup
Publisher Washington State University Press
Author Max Power
Pub Date 2008
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Keywords Nuclear Waste
Related Keywords Energy Policy, Nuclear Energy, Shutdown Diablo, Shut San Onofre, Stop Nuke Dump
Media Type Book
Media Group News
Curator Rating Plain
Book ISBN 0874222958
Author Name Sortable Power, Max
Publish Status Published
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Topic revision: r1 - 04 Oct 2017, RaymondLutz
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