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Equity and nuclear waste disposal

Abstract

Following the recommendations of the US National Academy of Sciences and the mandates of the 1987 Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act, the US Department of Energy has proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada as the site of the world's first permanent repository for high-level nuclear waste. The main justification for permanent disposal (as opposed to above-ground storage) is that it guarantees safety by means of waste isolation. This essay argues, however, that considerations of equity (safer for whom?) undercut the safety rationale. The article surveys some prima facie arguments for equity in the distribution of radwaste risks and then evaluates four objections that are based, respectively, on practicality, compensation for risks, scepticism about duties to future generations, and the uranium criterion. The conclusion is that, at least under existing regulations and policies, permanent waste disposal is highly questionable, in part, because it fails to distribute risk equitably or to compensate, in full, for this inequity.

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Shrader-Frechette, K. Equity and nuclear waste disposal. J Agric Environ Ethics 7, 133–156 (1994). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF02349034

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Keywords

  • compensation
  • equity
  • future generations
  • nuclear waste
  • policy
  • risk
  • Yucca Mountain