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Nuclear waste is created after nuclear fuel has been used. Though it appears to be the same as the fuel used in reactors, the components of nuclear waste are not same. Before nuclear fuel generates power, it is largely Uranium, Oxygen, and steel, but the atoms then split into distinct transition metal isotopes. Nuclear waste is sometimes referred to as spent fuel, and it can be extremely radioactive for many years. When it is immediately formed, the nuclear waste is very toxic that if someone stood close enough before it is shielded would get a lethal radioactive dose in a matter of seconds and even die within a few days. Governance, political economy and socionature are the three different approaches through which individuals can understand the relationship between the objects of the environment and the society. This paper is an explanation of what I have learnt about nuclear waste, which is one of the environmental objects, through different analytical approaches. Therefore, from this paper, the reader is able to learn concerning the multiple manners of viewing nuclear waste’s environmental implications and/or connections.
Socionature and Nuclear Waste’s Environmental Implications
There are different ways through which nature is social. First, nature’s knowledge is consistently modulated with the knower’s biases. Secondly, although nature knowledge is social, nature’s social dimensions are not reducible to understanding alone. Thirdly, nature is physically reconstituted by societies intentionally and unintentionally to the extent of internalizing nature into processes of the societies. Robbins (2012, p.xiii) has shown how people in America interact with their Lawn as well as the difficulties they have to encounter to maintain the relatinship. In learning about nuclear waste as an environmental object, it becomes evident that economic processes and expansion are the causes of the related issues. In an attempt to address air pollution and the emissions of greenhouse gases that come from burning of energy sources such as fossil fuels, nuclear power has been envisioned to be the solution. Scientists have shown the beneficial effects of nuclear power over other power sources both economically and environmentally. However, nuclear energy has its negative implications on the environment because of its association with nuclear waste that is lethal. Rosa et al. (2010, p.762) says that there is a re-emergence of nuclear power as a main part of energy selection of many countries, but it is also associated with different challenges that must be addressed including the issue of nuclear waste. Therefore, from the socionature perspective, the nuclear waste and the humans affect one another. On one hand, the humans influence the materials that create nuclear waste, while on the other hand, the nuclear waste impacts humans. According to Greenpeace.org (2016, p.1), the production of nuclear waste occurs at all stages of the nuclear fuel cycle, and much of it stays hazardous for a very long time, thereby leaving a lethal legacy to the coming generations. This article continues to show that even with decommissioning of nuclear facilities, large quantities of radioactive wastes will be generated, and this will need monitoring and protection of most of the nuclear sites in the world for centuries following their closure. Statistics show that in 2000, 220,000 tons of fuel was spend globally and the increase is about 10,000 tons every year. Therefore, although billions of dollars are spent in different disposal options, the governments and the nuclear sector have not been successful in coming up with a reasonable and sustainable solution.
In practice, the fuel that has been spent is unshielded, but stored under water for some years to decay the radiation to levels that concrete can shield in storage casks. However, the disposal of the spent fuel or the nuclear waste has been a very hot topic. The socionature research shows new ways of living in the world and evading major human induced environmental crisis based on the non-dualistic approaches to development and science. Nature is dynamically physically made over by humans in the capitalist exploitation process. The nuclear waste as an environmental object is socially produced as people use the nuclear fuel on reactors. In turn, the environment is viewed as made, altered and destroyed exclusively by the humans. In order for the nuclear industries and governments to manage the negative consequences of nuclear waste on the environment, there must be an understanding of the manner in which the socionatural mechanisms have been implemented by humans and the manner of their evolvement. More significantly, it is worth noting that if the environment is a historical produce, the major political question becomes “one of who constructs what sort of environment for whom” (Cornut & Swyngedouw, 2000, p.39).
The Political Economy of Nuclear Waste
Although nuclear power may seem as a solution to the requirement of global energy, it is somehow seen as a temporary solution. The smaller quantities of nuclear waste from nuclear fuels have physical properties that constitute dangerous chemicals. Therefore, nuclear waste as an environmental object is associated with the notion of fear because of uncertainty. Nivola (2004, p.1) argues that the story of nuclear energy in the U.S. is complicated, and is perceived as exceptionally frustrating and troubled. He says that the main causes of these frustrations and troubles are more political than financial. Especially, the nuclear power promise in the nation has been dimmed basically by an unconventionally risk-averse public as well as the unusually hostile climate of regulations. The American citizens are afraid of the risks posed by nuclear waste following the 2014 incident in New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), which stemmed from the inaccurate utilization of cat litter brand that is used in the absorption of liquids in barrels as reported by different news companies like the Guardian. Since the mix was wrongly done, there was bursting of the barrel due to generation of gases, thereby causing a big leak that resulted in an approximated $240m costs as well as two years of work (Reuters (2015, p.1). However, the United States has a huge nuclear sector, which shows that the governmental institutions and policies both at local and national level have proven unreceptive to nuclear plants, as evidenced by a great majority of the nation’s states that have accommodated the plants. It can be argued that the country’s environmental protection and policy efforts at every level of the government have sustained these plants instead of hindering them through waste management requirements.
There is a contested facility in Nevada that is aimed to store the U.S’s nuclear waste according to DiChristopher (2017, p.1) and the current president, Donald Trump is requesting the approval of $120 m by the Congress in spending to revive the activity of licensing at the Yucca Mountain depository as well as reserve an interim storage platform. However, most Nevadans are opposing the plan despite the fact that this plan is intended to consolidate the nuclear waste load of the country. Politicians like Harry Reid has been using his political influence to block funding for the plan, while the current democratic senator Catherine Cortez has presented legislations that require states to provide approval to storing of high nuclear waste levels, which provided Nevada the capacity to decline to accept it. The plan has been opposed by various other politicians that believes that Washington has to recognize that the people of Nevada have decided that their location will not be the country’s nuclear waste dump site, and that the project has been ill-conceived from the time it was proposed, and has had so far spend billions of taxpayer money. Bipartisan Policy Center (2014, p.1) holds that ever since the civilian nuclear power program began in the U.S. in the 1950s, the government has ensured that all the used nuclear fuel has been disposed as per the 1982 law as well as the contracts between the nuclear power plant owners and the Government. However, the waste situation is currently not acceptable and there is an urgent need of a resolution that will need revised goals as well as new institutions.
Nuclear Waste Governance and Its Environmental Implications
Governance is a term that is used to refer to every governing process, whether by the government, network or market over different aspects in the society, whether through power, laws or norms. Governance can also be used as an approach to understanding the relationship between an environmental object like nuclear waste and the society. Brunnengraber, Di Nucci, Losada, Mez & Schreurs (2015, p.47) examined the national plans that are developed to address the storage and disposal of high-level radioactive waste. According to the authors, there are European and national regulations, choices of technology, safety criteria, systems for monitoring, schemes for compensation, structures for institutions as well as public involvement approaches. The Department of Energy of the United States has various objectives towards governing the nuclear waste (Cantlon, 1996, p.4). The first objective is to contain the nuclear waste in big waste packages for many years. The second objective is to maintain the radiation dose rate at any time under levels of regulatory concerns to any member of the general public. Some of the proposed regulatory and legislative changes have influenced the nuclear waste program of the U.S. from its inception. For example, due to the historical hardships and delays in establishing health and safety standards, the Congress was prompted to address the problem in the 1992 Energy Policy Act, which created a process for setting a standard to guard public health and safety at the Yucca Mountain depository.
From this analysis of nuclear waste, which is considered as an environmental object, it is clear that socionature reveals a significant dynamic that political economy or governance does not show. In addition, from the analysis, it is evident that each of the analytical categories suggests implications of the object on the environment in a different manner thus aiding in comprehensive understand of the relationship between nuclear waste and the society from different perspectives. However, it is important to note that the analytical categories work together to provide an interesting story about the environmental implications of nuclear waste than the ordinary narrative could give. From the socionature perspective, it has become understandable that the environment and humans affect one another. In this particular case involving the study of nuclear waste, humans affects the environment through the industries by generating the object that in turn affects them due to its physical structure that contains radioactive elements that are lethal. Analysis using the political economy approach, it has been made clear how the government is distributing its wealth towards the management of nuclear waste, while governance has shown the governing processes of nuclear waste.
Bipartisan Policy Center. (2014). Storage and Disposal of Nuclear Waste Must Be Separated from the Economic and Political Debates. Retrieved online on 30th March, 2017 from https://bipartisanpolicy.org/blog/storage-and-disposal-nuclear-waste-must-be-separated-economic-and-political-debates/
Brunnengraber, A., Di Nucci, M. R., Losada, A. M. I., Mez, L., & Schreurs, M. A. (Eds.). (2015). Nuclear Waste Governance: An International Comparison. Springer.
Cantlon, J. E. (1996). Nuclear waste management in the United States: The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board's perspective (No. PB--99-116329/XAB). Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board.
Cornut, P., & Swyngedouw, E. (2000). Approaching the society-nature dialectic: a plea for a geographical study of the environment. Belgeo. Revue belge de géographie, (1-2-3-4), 37-46.
DiChristopher, T. (2017). The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump, a political hot potato, is back. Retrieved online on 30th March, 2017 from http://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/16/the-yucca-mountain-nuclear-waste-dump-a-political-hot-potato-is-back.html
Greenpeace.org. (2016). Nuclear waste. http://www.greenpeace.org/international/en/campaigns/nuclear/waste/
Nivola, P. S. (2004). The Political Economy of Nuclear Energy in the United States. Brookings Institution.
Reuters (2015). Cat litter blamed for $240m radiation leak at New Mexico nuclear waste dump. Retrieved online on 30th March, 2017 from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/mar/27/cat-litter-blamed-for-240m-radiation-leak-at-new-mexico-nuclear-waste-dump
Robbins, P. (2012). Lawn people: How grasses, weeds, and chemicals make us who we are. Temple University Press.
Rosa, E. A., Tuler, S. P., Fischhoff, B., Webler, T., Friedman, S. M., Sclove, R. E., ... & Leschine, T. M. (2010). Nuclear waste: knowledge waste?. Science, 329(5993), 762-763.
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