Why do respected reporters and editors so often use the word “dump” in mainstream news stories on any kind of radioactive waste, including spent fuel from civilian reactors? “Dump” appears in reports on the Yucca Mountain project, proposed interim storage sites and even low-level waste facilities in South Carolina, Utah and Washington. The word is endemic in the popular media. No one gives it a second thought. But does “dump” fairly characterize these sites? No.
Spent fuel and radioactive waste have some of the most extraordinarily exacting oversight of any regulated substance. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary the word “dump” means:
- to let fall in or as if in a heap or mass
- to get rid of unceremoniously or irresponsibly
- a disorderly, slovenly, or objectionable place
After an eye-opening dialogue with a well-regarded environmental journalist who has frequently used “dump” to characterize the Yucca Mountain Project and other radioactive-waste disposal sites we gained the startling insight that reporters and editors see neutral words like “repository” or “facility” as euphemisms in reporting on nuclear. In their minds, “dump” is an accurate word for Yucca Mountain, and “repository” is a soft-sell word that the nuclear industry and its regulators use to dupe the public about the true nature of the facility.According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary the word “repository” means:
- a place, room, or container where something is deposited or stored : depository
Check out these two pictures of nuclear waste storage facilities. The first is the spent fuel storage facility at Finland’s Olkiluoto nuclear power plant. The second is the low-and intermediate-level waste containers stacked in the rock cavern of Sweden’s repository. Hardly a depiction of irresponsibility or disorder, is it? These images argue, perhaps better than the written word, why “repository” more accurately characterizes the meticulously engineered facilities in which nuclear waste is managed all over the world.
Not only is radioactive waste not dumped into these facilities, it is carefully placed so that it can be later retrieved. In fact, in the U.S., federal law requires that the material be retrievable—and that the Department of Energy monitor the facility for 100 years after it is closed. Radioactive waste cannot be “dumped” and yet be retrievable.
Our interlocutor did know about the law, it turned out, but has discounted it when writing about waste disposal. We wonder if most journalists who use the word “dump” do this. Or whether most journalists covering nuclear even know about the law.
By the way, this journalist has covered nuclear for well over a decade for a general readership publication—and is also in involved in teaching other journalists how to cover nuclear.
This leads us to ask: if journalists for publications and programs read or heard by the general public are truth-seekers and myth-busters, why then do they insist on using inaccurate and biased language? And make excuses about why they should continue to do so, as this journalist did, even when the error is pointed out and a reasonable, accurate term is available?
Could it be that the very people the public most needs to clarify and explain complex issues of energy policy have another agenda?
On the Net - news stories that illustrate our point