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  • Nuclear waste.

  • The worst type of garbage for raccoons to get into.

  • Now, it's a substance that we all know is dangerous

  • thanks to movies like this.

  • NARRATOR: They tormented him until he had a horrifying

  • accident and fell into a bag of nuclear waste.

  • Melvin became The Toxic Avenger,

  • the first superhero born out of nuclear waste.

  • -His face is so terrifying... -(SCREAMS)

  • NARRATOR: ...we can't show it to you now.

  • You'll have to see the movie for yourself.

  • Honestly, you really don't need to see the movie, 'cause...

  • his face isn't really that terrifying. This is it.

  • I mean it's bad, but its-- it's so ugly,

  • it's almost cute again.

  • It's like-- it's like someone melted a candle shaped

  • -like a pug. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHS)

  • But-- but 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.

  • ANCHOR: There are more than 71,000 tons of nuclear waste

  • stranded at the nation's 104 reactors.

  • Put all those spent fuel rods together,

  • and you get a pile as big as a football field

  • and more than 20 feet tall.

  • Or you could put them in a pile as big

  • as two football fields and ten feet tall

  • or half a football field and 40 feet tall.

  • Or 20 football fields, one foot tall.

  • The point is, we have a lot of nuclear waste and it's very fun

  • -to play with. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHS)

  • And look, that is just the waste from nuclear energy.

  • We also have more than 100 million gallons

  • of hazardous liquid waste from producing weapons.

  • And you may live closer to nuclear waste than you think.

  • One out of three Americas lives within 50 miles

  • of high level nuclear waste.

  • Some of which, like plutonium, is lethally dangerous,

  • and will be-- will be around for an incredibly long time.

  • NARRATOR: Even microscopic amounts of plutonium,

  • if ingested, are deadly.

  • One of the characteristics of it is it has

  • an extremely long half-life.

  • Plutonium 239, for example, has a half life

  • of about 24,000 years.

  • It's true, 24,000 years and that just scratches the surface.

  • It takes ten half-lives for plutonium to become harmless

  • so that's 240,000 years.

  • A unit of time more commonly known as one English patient.

  • (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)

  • And as any adult with an American girl doll collection

  • eventually finds out, if you wanna keep something

  • around for a disturbingly long time, you have got to find

  • an appropriate place to put it.

  • "I cannot live with your murder dolls anymore.

  • Felicity stares at me while I sleep!

  • She stares at me!"

  • -(AUDIENCE LAUGHS, CHEERS) -"She stares unblinking!"

  • And look,

  • I'm not the first person to make this point.

  • Look at this news report from 1990.

  • NARRATOR: Almost half a century

  • after nuclear power was harnessed,

  • there still is no agreement on where to store the waste.

  • "We have built the house," said one critic,

  • "and forgotten the toilets."

  • -(AUDIENCE LAUGHS) -A home...

  • with no toilets. Or as a realtor selling a Brooklyn loft

  • is calling it right now, "artisanal composting."

  • Wait.

  • You're suggesting that I shit in that potted plant

  • while you and I both know that I will do that

  • 'cause this is convenient to public transport,

  • and has both northern and eastern exposures.

  • (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)

  • But look, it-- it has been 27 years since that clip

  • and our country still doesn't have a nuclear toilet.

  • And that is our subject tonight.

  • Why do we not have a nuclear toilet?

  • And it's actually easy to understand how we got

  • into this situation. Because during World War Two,

  • we rushed to develop nuclear weapons because we were trying

  • to defeat the Nazis,

  • who, fun fact, pretty much all Americans agreed were bad

  • -at the time. -(AUDIENCE LAUGHS)

  • Anyway, the-- the thing is,

  • we didn't really have a plan on what to do

  • with all the radioactive byproducts that we produced.

  • And this initially led us

  • to some mind-blowingly stupid solutions.

  • For instance, for years, we actually did this...

  • MAN: They loaded the, uh,

  • radioactive waste and it was in barrels, 55 gallon barrels,

  • of, uh, radioactive waste with concrete poured over it.

  • It's funny, the ocean don't glow out there

  • outside of Red Bank, New Jersey. (CHUCKLES)

  • Really. 'Cause we dumped a lot of barrels out there.

  • -(AUDIENCE GASPS) -That is true.

  • We didn't just dump barrels of radioactive waste

  • in the ocean, we did it off the coast of New Jersey.

  • (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)

  • That is so horrifying!

  • I'm surprised that Jersey Shore was the title of a lighthearted

  • MTV series, and not the name of a harrowing documentary.

  • An entire generation of children was born without thumbs,

  • a phenomenon known to locals as...

  • -"The Situation." -(AUDIENCE LAUGHS)

  • And, incidentally,

  • not all of those barrels sank. In fact, in 1957,

  • when two barrels were caught floating off the shore,

  • naval aircraft were summoned to strafe them

  • with machine-gun fire until they sank.

  • That's right.

  • They shot barrels full of nuclear waste

  • with machine guns!

  • That's got to be one of the most terrifying sentences ever said

  • out loud, right after,

  • "Donald Trump is the president now,"

  • and, "Wait, wasn't Felicity on a different shelf

  • when we went to bed last night?

  • Oh, my God! Felicity is a waking nightmare!"

  • (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)

  • Oh!

  • Well, the truth is, tossing barrel-fulls 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.

  • A concept with a pretty clear flaw.

  • WOMAN: Unfortunately,

  • we don't have a great record

  • with getting rockets out into the atmosphere.

  • If any one of them blew up,

  • that would basically contaminate

  • a large portion of the Earth with radioactive material.

  • (STUDIO AUDIENCE LAUGHING)

  • WOMAN: So that's probably not a great idea.

  • -(AUDIENCE LAUGHS) -Yeah.

  • You're right. That's probably not a great idea.

  • I mean, a really great idea would be also filling

  • the rockets up with confetti, so at least that way

  • if there's a horrific accident, there's also a party!

  • (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)

  • Now, over the years, we have dumped nuclear waste all over

  • the country and in many places, there've been frightening leaks.

  • Take the Savannah River Site in South Carolina,

  • where waste from poorly-stored material leaked

  • into the ground water.

  • And just watch this alarmingly laid back man explain

  • the consequences of that.

  • MAN: There are radioactive alligators on the site.

  • (STUDIO AUDIENCE LAUGHS)

  • MAN: Radioactive materials are in the sediments.

  • -(ALLIGATOR HISSING) -(CLANGING)

  • MAN: It's gonna go up the food chain and...

  • there's gonna be radioactive alligators.

  • -(AUDIENCE LAUGHS) -Yeah.

  • Radioactive alligators!

  • They even have names,

  • Tritagator and Dioxinator,

  • after two of the wastes that poisoned them.

  • And that's actually very clever,

  • because if I had to give them names,

  • I don't know, I'd probably have gone with something like,

  • (SCREAMS) "Holy Shit! A Fucking Radioactive Alligator!"

  • And, "Oh No, Fuck Me, There's Another One!

  • What Nightmare Hath God Wrought?"

  • And it's not just reptiles who've been impacted

  • by nuclear waste. Researchers are now studying

  • an area in North St. Louis County, Missouri,

  • where tons of waste from the Manhattan project was

  • improperly stored, some near a creek

  • that winds through residential communities,

  • and people who live there have noticed some alarming trends.

  • JENELL WRIGHT: I got on Facebook in order to reconnect

  • with people from high school...

  • And we all immediately started noticing that so many

  • of us were sick. We've discovered that

  • the Department of Veterans Affairs

  • officially recognizes around 21 cancers associated with exposure

  • to ionizing radiation, and compared that list

  • to what we had.

  • We had all of those cancers, every single one.

  • That is an incredibly depressing thing to discover

  • on Facebook and it's-- it's hard to know how to respond.

  • I mean, you definitely don't want to use

  • the "like" button, because...

  • then it looks like you really like the fact

  • they just got cancer.

  • Now, there is that new sad emoji,

  • which would really be perfect

  • if you hadn't already cheapened it by using it to respond

  • to the news that Chris Pratt and Anna Faris were separating.

  • I mean, it is sad. It is sad. But it is not "21-cancer" sad.

  • It's "nine-cancer" sad. Tops.

  • The point is, thankfully, 60 years ago,

  • our government and the scientific consensus

  • came up with a solution.

  • In 1957, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report

  • urging the creation of a permanent storage facility

  • deep underground. Basically, a nuclear toilet.

  • And while we did build a repository

  • for lower-level waste in New Mexico,

  • we still haven't built one

  • for the most dangerous, high-level waste.

  • And, as a result, it's essentially been left

  • wherever it was made. Which is not good,

  • because those facilities were not built

  • with the idea that they would be storing waste indefinitely.

  • So, to continue the toilet metaphor,

  • we've basically been shitting in bags,

  • leaving them all over the house,

  • and praying that they don't leak.

  • (AUDIENCE LAUGHS)

  • And the most frightening example of this is

  • the Hanford Site in Washington state,

  • which created two third of the plutonium

  • in the US arsenal and is currently storing

  • 56 million gallons of highly toxic

  • and radioactive waste underground.

  • And over the years,

  • there have been so many issues at Hanford,

  • that they've achieved a dubious honor,

  • as one local new-station reported,

  • with an almost prideful tone.

  • ANCHOR: The most contaminated place in the entire

  • Western Hemisphere isn't at a polluting factory

  • or an old chemical plant.

  • It's right here in Washington State.

  • (AUDIENCE LAUGHS) Oh!

  • "It's right here! We did it guys!

  • Washington State, home to the most contaminated place

  • in the Western Hemisphere,

  • thousands of acres of apple orchards,

  • and several of Ted Bundy's grizzliest murders. We did it!

  • Right here!"

  • There have been a string of problems at Hanford,

  • from explosions, to toxic vapor releases,

  • to over a million gallons of waste

  • leaking out of their tanks over the years.

  • It has been so bad, the government has had

  • to pay out nearly one and a half billion dollars

  • in compensation to thousands of workers for illnesses

  • stemming from exposure to radiation

  • and toxic chemicals there.

  • A local news station has done a series of reports

  • on Hanford, and after a tunnel collapse this May,

  • they found some of the infrastructure there is

  • almost comically badly put together.

  • ANCHOR: Mistakes during construction are factors

  • in the dangerous state of the tunnels.

  • They're 55 and 60 years old,

  • well beyond their expected life span.

  • In addition, wood beams holding up the tunnels are eroding,

  • and what corrodes timber beams? Radiation.

  • Yeah!

  • You can't build something out of wood and expect it

  • to last forever. You're supposed to have learned that