The Big Lie About Nuclear Waste
What if we could actually USE nuclear waste?
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Watch Johnny’s explainer on nuclear power here - and subscribe to his channel! https://youtu.be/QzTgZ6kOEM8
Nuclear waste is scary. Maybe you’ve seen it as glowing green goop in The Simpsons, or as a radioactive threat on the news. Either way, you likely know it has been a major block to the use and improvement of nuclear power. Over the last few decades, experts, politicians and the public have had heated debates over what to do with this radioactive material created by nuclear power plants.
But what if there were a way to not just store nuclear waste, but actually USE it?
This video is about the effort to make electricity out of nuclear waste. Really. It turns out, we developed the tools to do this decades ago. This story is about a technology we left behind and the people who want to bring it back.
For this video, I had the privilege of visiting one of the largest and oldest research centers in the US, the Argonne National Laboratory. I’m incredibly grateful to the researchers and staff I met there, and for their time in showing me their work. I also had the opportunity to speak with representatives from Oklo, a company working on new forms of nuclear power, including recycling nuclear waste as fuel. One of the best parts of making Huge If True is meeting and learning from people pushing what we can do in the hopes of improving the world for everyone else.
00:00 Nuclear waste isn’t what I thought
02:21 How I got obsessed
03:27 How much energy is in nuclear waste?
05:31 Thank you Storyblocks!
06:20 How do you get electricity?
06:50 What is uranium?
07:28 How does a nuclear reaction work?
08:05 Why is nuclear waste dangerous?
08:40 What do we do with nuclear waste?
09:35 How do you make electricity from nuclear waste?
11:21 Why doesn’t the US reuse nuclear fuel?
12:20 Is recycling waste feasible?
13:41 What is Huge If True?
07:09 The number refers to the total number of nucleons (either a proton or a neutron) in the atom, not the neutrons alone. A U-235 atom contains 92 protons and 143 neutrons (an atomic mass of 235). The U-238 atom also has 92 protons but has 146 neutrons (an atomic mass of 238). I should have said these *differ* by the number of neutrons in the atom. Thanks to the commenters who pointed this out!
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Cleo Abram is an Emmy-nominated independent video journalist. On her show, Huge If True, Cleo explores complex technology topics with rigor and optimism, helping her audience understand the world around them and see positive futures they can help build. Before going independent, Cleo was a video producer for Vox. She wrote and directed the Coding and Diamonds episodes of Vox’s Netflix show, Explained. She produced videos for Vox’s popular YouTube channel, was the host and senior producer of Vox’s first ever daily show, Answered, and was co-host and producer of Vox’s YouTube Originals show, Glad You Asked.
Additional reading and watching:
- Johnny’s video on nuclear power: https://youtu.be/QzTgZ6kOEM8
- My previous video for Vox on nuclear reactors shutting down: https://youtu.be/KC7YD98HixM
- “The Nuclear Waste Problem” by Wendover Productions: https://youtu.be/uU3kLBo_ruo
- “Nuclear Waste: What Do We Do With It?” by Sabine Hossenfelder: https://youtu.be/aDUvCLAp0uU
- “What Happens to Nuclear Waste?” by The Infographics Show: https://youtu.be/imsRLscqTW0
- “Nuclear Waste Is Manageable. We Just Have To Do It.” by Joe Scott https://youtu.be/96et8ZGsxJY
- “Finland Might Have Solved Nuclear Power’s Biggest Problem” by The B1M: https://youtu.be/kYpiK3W-g_0
- “The energy in nuclear waste could power the U.S. for 100 years, but the technology was never commercialized” CNBC https://www.cnbc.com/2022/06/02/nuclear-waste-us-could-power-the-us-for-100-years.html
- “Nuclear Power Policy,” NRC 1977: https://www.nrc.gov/docs/ML1209/ML120960615.pdf
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Welcome to the joke down low:
Why did the light bulb fail his math quiz?
He wasn’t too bright.
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