The problem of the disposal of radioactive waste from reactors is one of the chief obstacles to increased reliance on nuclear power. In this paper, Dr. Bernard L. Cohen,
a physicist at the University of Pittsburgh, examines the problem and compares two strategies for disposing of “radwaste” from spent fuel.
The current government solution to radwaste disposal is to place it in high-tech underground storage chambers designed to prevent or greatly delay contact with
groundwater, which is the main source of leakage outside the containment site. Aside from the cost and scientific uncertainties involved, this strategy is encumbered by
political resistance in host communities. Dr. Cohen proposes using “Nature’s solution” to contain spent fuel by burying it without elaborate artificial encapsulation, just as
naturally-occurring radioactive materials are found in the ground. Using standard risk-assessment methodologies, he concludes that burying reprocessed radwaste
simply and securely deep underground would cause much less than one death per year in the U.S., less than 0.01% of the number now caused by wastes from coal-burning electricity generation.