Costs of Relocating Radioactive Waste

Congress had two alternatives in dealing with radioactive mill tailings sitting by the Colorado River near Moab. One alternative was to cap the tailings in place. This could result in poison seeping into the river and threatening drinking water. The second alternative was to relocate the tailings at a cost of $400 million. Congress chose the latter believing that the $400 million would be cheaper than paying for health problems and lawsuits that could result if the tailings were capped.

Many were worried that Congress would not relocate the tailings because of the high price tag and because Utah is a politically unimportant state. Money should never be the only deciding factor. If the tailings were capped, the monetary cost may have been less in the short-run but the cost to human health could have been detrimental.


kenny said...

I think that people often want to spend other people’s money on things that are not cost efficient. The media has a great way of exaggerating risk, and making us think that we will all die if we don’t do something. They are not donating their money to the cause. they believe others should pay the cost.

Dr. Tufte said...

-1 on Kenny's post for poor capitalization.

This is a pretty good exercise in cost-benefit analysis. Ultimately these wastes are going to be capped somewhere, and may ultimately impose costs from leakage in their ultimate location.

What they must have decided is that $400M was less than the amount they could save on potential claims by moving them elsewhere. So, in some sense it is a lower bound on the value of claims they expect to have paid out.