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Managing Nuclear Nonmanagement

December 9, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 49

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The editorial “Nuclear Pool Problems” makes the worthy point that the “management” of waste materials generated by nuclear power plants continues to be nonmanagement (C&EN, Oct. 28, page 3). The culture seems incapable of making decisions about an issue that demands a resolution.

What are the underlying causes of the failure to decide? Certainly any widely publicized power plant failure is a contributing factor. Another might be the mental association of nuclear weapons with nuclear power generation. After all, isn’t that the reason magnetic resonance imaging machines were never called nuclear magnetic resonance?

I suspect, however, that a deeper reason is the denial of reality. A common theme in articles opposing nuclear power is that nuclear power plants must all be shut down, and quickly, because we have not solved the nuclear waste management problem. The reasoning, however illogical, is that by stopping the operation of these plants the waste goes away.

But if every nuclear plant in the world were shuttered tomorrow, the waste management issue would remain and still need to be addressed. A universally accepted solution is about as likely as a world without sin. As students of science, however, we have a responsibility to help the public understand what must and can be done. Time, tide, and the deterioration of storage facilities wait for no one.

Michael Kerner
Lisle, Ill.


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