On Sunday night's segment of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver had quite a bit to cover. Aside from Steve Bannon's much-anticipated exit from the White House and Trump's doubling down on the claim that both sides are to blame for the violence in Charlottesville, Oliver focused on nuclear waste — and his conclusion isn't settling. The host explained that the dangerous substance could be lurking closer to home than you'd like.
"It's a substance we all know is dangerous," Oliver said. " ... The point here is, nuclear waste, the radioactive and toxic byproducts from making nuclear energy and weapons is a serious health hazard, and America has a lot of it." In fact, Oliver says that there are over 71,000 tons of nuclear waste from nuclear reactors and over 100 million gallons of "hazardous liquid waste" from weapons production. Oliver continued:
And you may live closer to nuclear waste than you think. One out of three Americans lives within 50 miles of high-level nuclear waste, some of which, like Plutonium, is lethally dangerous and will be around for an incredibly long time.
And by "an incredibly long time," he means it will be harmful for hundreds of thousands of years due to its unusually long half-life.
To make matters worse, America has no single designated area to dispose of or store nuclear waste — a lack of a "nuclear toilet" as Oliver would call it. "Why do we not have a nuclear toilet?" he asks. According to Oliver, the problem began during the World War II era when the United States started producing nuclear weapons. In fact, one U.S. Navy veteran recalls dumping barrels of excess nuclear waste into the ocean during the late 1950s on the coast of New Jersey. He says he's surprised the ocean doesn't glow.
And when some of those barrels rose to the top of the surface, naval aircrafts were instructed to shoot them with machine guns until they sank once again. If you're thinking that's perhaps the worst solution imaginable, you're not wrong. But it's not the only bad plan.
The truth is, tossing barrels full of nuclear waste into the ocean and shooting them with machine guns is actually preferable to at least one genuine other idea that was thankfully rejected and that was blasting it into space.
As Oliver emphasized, people who live near areas where nuclear storage techniques have failed are paying the consequences — and sometimes it can cost them their lives. Exposure to ionizing radiation is linked to over 20 different types of cancer, and that's just one of the many reasons the United States needs to reconsider the importance of a "nuclear toilet" before it's too late.