This was one of the biggest issues about nuclear power for me personally, before I started reading up more about it. Nuclear waste was a disaster waiting to happen. How could we justify producing any amount of energy if – bear with me – that meant risking that large areas of the earth become barren wastelands, should anything go wrong?
This, in reality, is the image that most people have. I won’t scoff at it, because I once held it myself. The feeling is, that should anything go wrong with nuclear waste, the problems would be on the scale of making entire countries, perhaps even continents, uninhabitable.
I remember a line from a song from the popular Finnish band Ultra Bra, which I used to sing to myself as a teenager. Rough translation: “I was eight years old, looking / for a remote place in the map / that would avoid the fallout.” (As it happens, the band’s lyrics writer became a politician for the Finnish Green Party, opposing nuclear power.) Whether that suggested fallout was to be from nuclear war or nuclear power gone bad, I didn’t much differentiate that in my mind – everything filed under the world ‘nuclear’ was ‘dystopian world’ -level dangerous stuff. Right?
I thought that nuclear power, because of the existence of immeasurably long-lived radioactive waste, simply had risks way above and beyond any other energy form. In this light it was entirely reasonable to reject nuclear power, period. The thinking behind it is quite startling when you spell it out loud:
We don’t need to look at the data on the risks of nuclear waste. We just ‘know’ already.