Chemistry professor and letter writer Jeff Bryan thinks we have an irrational fear of nuclear waste (Tuesday’s Tribune).

He says that high level reactor waste is similar to uranium that was first dug out of the ground. He neglects to mention that once uranium is mined, there are radioactive emissions that are released into the environment and pose serious health risks to those who mine it and those who live in communities surrounding those mines.

The first and most seriously affected victims of nuclear power in America are Native Americans, who have borne a disproportionate burden of the costs of nuclear power in terms of radiation exposure that has resulted in an epidemic of lung cancer and birth defects near uranium mines, mills and nuclear weapons test sites.

High-level radioactive wastes are one of the most hazardous substances ever generated by humankind. Bryan did not mention the most deadly of these substances, namely plutonium-239, which is not found in nature but is a byproduct of nuclear fission.

Without radiation shielding, it can deliver a lethal dose of gamma radiation in seconds or minutes, even decades after removal from nuclear reactors.

A microscopic speck of plutonium, if inhaled, could cause lung cancer. This radioactive substance will remain hazardous for hundreds of thousand of years.

No country in the world has yet built a permanent underground waste repository.

Al Gedicks is a professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

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