Publication Laka-library:
Burying uncertainty - Risk and the Case Against Geological Disposal of Nuclear Waste

AuthorShrader-Frechette
Date1993
Classification 3.01.4.10/28 (UNITED STATES - WASTE - GENERAL)
Remarks Shrader-Frechette looks at current U.S. government policy regarding the nation's high-level radioactive waste both scientifically and ethically.
What should be done with our nation's high-level radioactive waste, which will remain hazardous for thousands of years? This is one of the most pressing problems faced by the nuclear power industry, and current U.S. government policy is to bury "radwastes" in specially designed deep repositories.
K. S. Shrader-Frechette argues that this policy is profoundly misguided on both scientific and ethical grounds. Scientifically—because we cannot trust the precision of 10,000-year predictions that promise containment of the waste. Ethically—because geological disposal ignores the rights of present and future generations to equal treatment, due process, and free informed consent.
Shrader-Frechette focuses her argument on the world's first proposed high-level radioactive waste facility at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Analyzing a mass of technical literature, she demonstrates the weaknesses in the professional risk-assessors' arguments that claim the site is sufficiently safe for such a plan. We should postpone the question of geological disposal for at least a century and use monitored, retrievable, above-ground storage of the waste until then. Her message regarding radwaste is clear: what you can't see can hurt you.
Front

From the publication:

       Preface

More than three hundred years ago, John Milton wrote that "books 
are not absolutely dead things," but "contain a potency of life in them 
to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are." I hope that 
this book has such potency, the potential to help change things. I 
hope that it helps us all—citizens of the world, guardians of the fu- 
ture, and stewards of the planet—to reexamine our current policy of 
permanent geological disposal of high-level radioactive waste. My the- 
sis is that, because the scientific uncertainties are so great and the ethi- 
cal burdens so severe, we ought to delay our decision about perma- 
nent geological disposal in order to determine whether the future will 
be able to give us better scientific and ethical guarantees of contain- 
ment. As Thomas Jefferson put it, in a letter to George Washington: 
"Delay is preferable to error."
 Because I am committed to the belief that philosophy ought to en- 
compass more than autopsies on dead theories, I attempt to show that 
we ought to use philosophy of science, epistemology, and ethics to 
help shape contemporary science, public policy, and democratic thought 
regarding radioactive waste. If we do not, the penalty will be poorer 
science, weaker public policy, and less effective democracy.
 Despite our societal failure to deal adequately with the problem of 
nuclear waste, there are a number of excellent discussions of the diffi- 
culties surrounding high-level radioactive waste. Among the many 
superb volumes are the Blowers, Lowry, and Solomon analysis, The
International Politics of Nuclear Waste (1991); the Carter study, 
Nuclear Imperatives and Public Trust (1987); the Dunlap, Kraft, and 
Rosa collection, The Public and Nuclear Waste (1993); the Freuden- 
burg and Rosa anthology, Public Reactions to Nuclear Power (1984); 
the Kasperson collection, Equity Issues in Radioactive Waste Manage- 
ment (1983); the Lenssen essay, "Nuclear Waste" (1992); the Moni- 
tored Retrievable Storage Review Commission's study, Nuclear Waste 
(1989); and the many studies of the U.S. National Academy of Sci- 
ences/National Research Council, including Social and Economic As- 
pects of Radioactive Waste Disposal (1984), Rethinking High-Level 
Radioactive Waste Disposal (1990), and Ground Water at Yucca Moun- 
tain (1992).
 Given the many excellent analyses in whose debt I remain, why is 
yet another book on nuclear waste needed? One reason is that virtu- 
ally all the earlier works deal either with the technical aspects or with 
the political difficulties associated with radioactive waste disposal. The 
technical volumes usually do not address adequately the epistemologi- 
cal and methodological problems associated with quantitative risk as- 
sessment and repository siting. Except for several of the equity issues, 
the political books usually do not assess, in any detailed way, the great 
variety of ethical presuppositions built into alternative scenarios for 
dealing with high-level radioactive waste. This volume is a first, and 
very modest, step toward a more comprehensive analysis of the waste 
problem.
 Another reason for the book is that there is no study that examines 
existing, state-of-the-art scientific, ethical, and political justifications 
for siting a current high-level radwaste repository. This work focuses, 
in part, on the proposed Yucca Mountain (Nevada) facility, designed 
to be the world's first permanent repository for high-level, commercial 
radioactive waste. My argument is, in part, that there are serious 
doubts about the scientific and ethical problems latent in the very best 
risk studies of the allegedly best sites for high-level repository sites 
(such as Yucca Mountain); therefore, there ought to be serious doubts 
that we are ready for permanent geological disposal, if indeed we shall 
ever be. Delay is preferable to error.

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