Decades before clickbait was a thing, antinuclear rhetoric was on its way to become the ultimate clickbait. Just throw the words nuclear, cancer, waste or radiation into a title and you’re bound to get thousands of hits.
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, or SONGS, has been inundated with this stuff for a long time. But the intensity seems to be growing, even eight years after the nuclear power plant shut down. The recent focus has been on the spent nuclear fuel, better referred to as slightly used nuclear fuel.
This fuel has been out of the reactor for between 8 and 27 years. The really hot stuff decays away before 5 years while the spent fuel is still in pools of water. The half-life of the remaining hot stuff, Cs-137 and Sr-90, is only 30 years, so these are a lot cooler than when they were in the reactor. After 200 years, the fuel isn’t very radioactive at all since all the hot gamma-emitters are gone.
Yet contrary to anywhere else in the world, the fear seems to have grown in southern California regarding this shuttered reactor and its old fuel.
This fear is unfounded. No one has ever been harmed by commercial nuclear waste. No deaths, no cancers, nothing. Ever. We’re in the middle of a global pandemic, social unrest and the beginnings of a depression, and these folks are concerned about old nuclear fuel?
One of the problems with this issue is that the public wants some reassurance that things are fine, that they don’t have to worry about something like this nuclear waste. Ever.
But the hurdle is that scientists and regulators must be technically correct and non-judgmental when they discuss scientific issues like this. We usually aren’t allowed to say zero. Instead, we use terms like virtually nothing, not statistically different from zero, or vanishingly small. We understand that in the scheme of things, values that can be described like this do not warrant any further worry.
So as a scientist who has worked on nuclear waste for 35 years, has handled and experimented on this waste, measured these systems to get exact numbers, designed disposal systems, was an author of the Yucca Mountain License Application, monitored the waste, have lived beside nuclear waste for these last 35 years, have had my children and grandchildren live next to nuclear waste – I can tell you without reservation that you have nothing to worry about from the nuclear waste at San Onofre.
Compared to all other risks that you face in Southern California, the risk from nuclear waste at SONGS is vanishingly small.
Read More: Nuclear Waste Is The Ultimate Clickbait – Just Ask SONGS