Threats of nuclear war are scary enough, but as John Oliver illustrated on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, the United States’ lack of a “nuclear toilet” – a central repository for nuclear waste – makes that idea much worse. The U.S. currently hosts enough nuclear energy waste to fill “one football field, 20 feet high.” For decades, those toxic materials have been stored at ill-equipped facilities and in some cases, dumped into the ocean. In either case, public contamination due to a leak is alarmingly high.
“One out of three Americans live within 50 miles of high-level nuclear waste,” Oliver explained. “Some of which, like plutonium, is lethally dangerous and will be around for an incredibly long time … “To continue the toilet metaphor, we’ve basically been shitting in bags, leaving them all over the house and praying that they don’t leak.”
Oliver noted some of the scarier examples of current nuclear storage sites. For example, one nuclear plant in California was built on a fault line, which the host joked sounds like the plot of a film “starring the Rock that you watch on a plane.” Another hazard is leakage: At one plant in South Carolina, waste leaked into the Savannah River, which resulted in the “radioactive alligators” Tritagator and Dioxinator, named after the chemicals that poisoned them, tritium and dioxin.
For decades, the government has grappled with how to solve this issue: One – thankfully rejected – proposal was to blast rockets of waste into the atmosphere. Another, more probable solution, is to create a permanent storage site at Yucca Mountain, located 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. But after facing backlash from many Nevadans fearing for their health, the project stalled.
“We are dancing with trouble here,” Oliver warned. “So if anyone says the government can just continue to wait, they are, much like a house with no toilet, absolutely full of shit.”