Spent nuclear fuel rods: what a laugh

December 26, 2002

Whenever I’m feeling down and need to put a smile on my face, I reach for the latest edition of Nuclear Energy Insight, published monthly by the Nuclear Energy Institute of Washington, D.C. for people needing a good laugh.

The 8-page publications draw readers into a veritable Twilight Zone of Nuclear Reality, with Simpsons­-esque headlines like, “Record Numbers Say Nuclear Plants Are Safe,” “Americans Confident About Nuclear Plant Safety,” “Public Acceptance of Irradiation on the Rise,” “Data Show Nuclear Energy is Largest Factor in Carbon Emission Reductions,” “Nuclear Technology Helps Combat Malnutrition in Latin American Children,” and “Nuclear Plants Are Havens for Environmental Protection, Conservation.”

But what else can the pro-nuclear lobbyists say? “Hey, At Least We Haven’t Had a Chernobyl. Yet.”

Two stories in particular provided me with great mirth and merriment. One was titled, “Going Bananas: Radiation Is as Much a Part of Life as This Yellow Fruit.” Beside a shiny graphic of a bunch of bananas, we are informed that if you live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant, you’ll receive as much radiation in a year as you would if you were to eat one banana during that year. That’s because almost everything in our world – the air we breathe, the food we eat, even our own bodies – contains some radioactivity.

Note to self: give up breathing.

For example, if you live in an area that may be along a proposed transportation route for used nuclear fuel shipments, you’d have to give up eating bananas altogether – because you would receive no measurable radiation from these shipments.

Me understand now. Spent nuclear fuel good. Bananas bad.

If you ate one banana a month, you would receive the same amount of radiation as you would in a year if you lived near the proposed federal repository for used nuclear fuel and U.S. defense nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

Let me get this straight: living next to a nuclear power plant is like eating a banana a year, while living next to Yucca Mountain is like eating a banana a month. Hmm. That means…wait, I have to mull this one over. Hold on…OK, I got it. I’m going to have to give up one banana a year if I go live in Seabrook, and 12 bananas a year if I move to Nevada.

To simplify the complex issue of radiation…

Yeah, it’d be nice if they simplified it. All this talk about bananas is confusing. And making me hungry.

To simplify the complex issue of radiation, living near a nuclear power plant or a used nuclear fuel repository is as safe as eating a banana.

And that’s supposed to comfort me? Those things are loaded with radiation! I’d as sooner do laps in a reactor’s cooling tank.

That was fun. I’m smiling already. Ready for the second story? This one is called “Château Olkiluoto.”

Finland’s Olkiluoto nuclear power plant on the southwestern coast of the country is growing grapes. That may not sound unusual, but it is. Grapes don’t grow naturally in Finland, because of the cold climate.

Gee, so where do the freakishly unnatural wonders of nuclear energy come in?

But these grapes are expected to thrive – thanks to the heated waste water from the [nuclear power] plant.

Yay for heated waste water! Yay!

The water, which isn’t radioactive, is being pumped through a network of underground pipes beneath the grapevines, warming the earth and the vine roots, before flowing out to the sea. If the experiment is successful, the plant could be producing between 500 and 800 gallons of wine within a few years.[1] Cheers!

All raise a glass of Château Meltdown – it’ll put a rosy glow in your cheeks. But if the Finns really want to impress me, they’d start growing bananas. Wait – what am I saying? Those things are lethal.

You’re grinning now, aren’t you? As much as I’d love to take credit for your enjoyment, I must tip my hat to the skilled staff at Nuclear Energy Insight for their inspiring articles. So keep writing, boys and girls, for laughter is the best medicine. Next to spent nuclear fuel rods, that is.

[1] And I’m sure it’ll be served at all Nuclear Energy Institute mixers.

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