FOREVERMORE: Nuclear Waste in America by Donald L. & James B. Steele Barlett
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FOREVERMORE: Nuclear Waste in America

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A truckload of low-level radioactive waste from a West German military base trundles across the US without ever surfacing in Transportation Department, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, or state records. In California, statisticians fail to notice that rising recorded levels of low-level waste volume from 1979 to 1981 have been accompanied by declining recorded levels of radioactivity--a simple impossibility, and clear evidence of fraudulent or bungled record-keeping. In Washington, a House Armed Services subcommittee member and a Secretary of Energy cheerfully agree that commercial reactors probably produce something like. 1% of the nation's radwaste (rather than the actual 91%). These absurdities represent hardly a fraction of the lunacy, official and surreptitious, chronicled by the Philadelphia Inquirer team of Barlett and Steele--and despite massive wrestlings, they don't manage to impart ideally cogent shape to it. The book is mostly centered around two aspects of this insoluble problem: high-level waste (including the products of reprocessing) and the far more voluminous low-level waste. Each has been the subject of recent legislation: the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which spells out a perfectly implausible and impossible schedule for the construction of permanent high-level waste repositories; and the 1980 Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act, which triumphantly sanctions the sort of directionless state-to-state buck-passing that has grown with the bad press of leaking dumpsites. The authors are at their best in the painstaking accumulation of detail illustrating, not once but hundreds of times, that the pursuit of the atoms-for-peace chimera since the 50s and 60s has been equivalent to sending up an astronaut ""to circle the earth until NASA had worked out the technology to bring him down."" They are less good at unifying and ordering what they've got. Especially in a couple of chapters on a fast-talking waste-dump builder with irons in the fire from Washington state to South Carolina, one has the sense of reading a series of nail-the-villains articles rather than a book, an impression reinforced by Barlett and Steele's failure to set forth some basic technical concepts at the outset. The near-complete absence of documentation--no bibliography, no footnotes identifying sources for virtually any statement of fact--is extremely unfortunate. Still, this is an impressive effort: not just the first serious attempt to examine a mounting crisis but, despite its shortcomings, a forcefully intelligent indictment of a national policy failure.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1984
ISBN: 0393303071
Publisher: Norton