Last Week Tonight Reminds Us That We’re Surrounded by Nuclear Waste


Last Week Tonight does a good job of letting us know about things that we probably should be concerned about.

This week, the show reminded us that we have a nuclear waste problem, and it could take out major cities if the worst were to happen.

I grew up next to a nuclear power plant, so it never seemed all that weird to me. I didn’t realize until high school that some people might be freaked out by all the “Nuclear Evacuation Route” signs that dotted all our highways.

I also didn’t think much at all about the spent fuel rods that are produced in that plant and those like it across the country. Obviously, we don’t need the Toxic Avenger movie to know that nuclear waste is not great. So what happens to all of it?

Well, there’s more than 71,000 tons of nuclear waste, and it’s just kind of hanging out at the 104 reactors we have in the US (which aren’t exactly designed or equipped to handle it long-term).

According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, it could cover a football field stacked 20 feet tall. We also have quite a lot of waste from producing weapons.

So maybe you don’t live by a nuclear plant like I did as a kid. Still, John Oliver points out that, according to a report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, 1 in 3 people are living within 50 miles of nuclear waste.

The solution seems easy. We have to find somewhere to put this stuff. Like those creepy collectible dolls that stare into your soul, it needs to be contained (Oliver uses the American Doll Felicity throughout this segment to great comedic effect, but you could sub in any one of them – except for Molly. Molly was the best).

The US hasn’t had a great track record with disposing of the waste. For one, we dumped barrels of it off the coast of New Jersey and shot some of them with machine guns when they didn’t sink. Sounds safe!

More from Show Snob

We also can’t shoot the waste into space – it would probably explode before it got out of our atmosphere, and even if we did make it, wouldn’t we be making some aliens mad somewhere? I’m not sure what their opinions on pollution are.

As it is, we’ve got some radioactive alligators and people getting sick from radiation exposure. Further, if we had a major accident like the one in Fukushima, it could be devastating. Basically, in order to keep this from getting worse, we need a nuclear toilet.

The US did designate a nuclear waste site at Yucca Mountain in the 80s, and we’ve spent millions getting it ready. It’s been studied exhaustively. However, Nevada Senator Harry Reid and others have worked to keep it from becoming active, and it still isn’t being used as a waste disposal site.

What’s maybe most crazy about this story is that Oliver notes the segment is beat-for-beat similar to a report produced in the 1970s. We’ve known about this problem since then, planned to take care of it by the 80s, and yet…we are still just hangin’ out with a lot of nuclear waste.

Though Last Week Tonight doesn’t suggest a perfect solution, Oliver is clear that we should probably put safe nuclear waste disposal on our list of priorities, especially since it’s gotten pushed further down the list for 30+ years now.

Next: John Oliver rips Donald Trump’s tapes confession on Last Week Tonight

Check out the full episode this week for Oliver’s thoughts on Steve Bannon’s exit from the White House, Trump’s responses to Charlottesville, local news anchors telling you not to stare at the sun, and some delightful statements from potential jurors excused from the Martin Shkreli trial.