Brow Beat

John Oliver Gives You Something Else to Worry About This Week: Radioactive Alligators

As if there wasn’t already enough to worry about, it’s time to start getting concerned about radioactive alligators—at least according to John Oliver. On Sunday, the Last Week Tonight host broke down America’s nuclear waste problem: Even though one out of three Americans lives within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant, no one can seem to agree on where waste from those plants should be permanently stored.

Oliver blames the lack of a plan for nuclear storage on the rush to develop weapons during World War II, when we built what can only be compared to “a home with no toilets.” Since our nuclear waste has nowhere to go, for years it was just dumped into the oceans, where it sometimes drifted perilously close to shore, and there was even a genuine inquiry into whether we could just send the waste into outer space. Thankfully, that idea was abandoned, given the devastating consequences of a rocket loaded with radioactive waste blowing up before making it out of the atmosphere.

There remains the problem, though, of where we should put our nuclear waste. As early as 1957, scientists were already calling for a permanent storage facility on land, but plans to house the nation’s nuclear waste inside Yucca Mountain, Nevada, were met with opposition from the state, so waste has largely been left wherever it was created, with frightening results. Leaks at the Savannah River Site have led to actual radioactive alligators with clever names like Dioxinator instead of Oliver’s more appropriate “Ahhhh Holy Shit a Fucking Radioactive Alligator.” Meanwhile, residents of north St. Louis County, Missouri, where waste from the Manhattan Project has been stored near a creek, have experienced incredibly high cancer rates. “To continue the toilet metaphor,” said Oliver, “we’ve basically been shitting in bags, leaving them all over the house, and praying that they don’t leak.”

Nuclear power plants are all over the country, which makes even the slightest chance of a Fukushima-like accident even more worrisome. “We’ve already waited way too long to resolve this issue, and we are dancing with trouble here,” said Oliver. “So if anyone says the government can just continue to wait, they are, much like a house with no toilet, absolutely full of shit.”