Saturday, June 28, 2008

Yucca Mountain Discussion: Background Information

Yucca Mountain is the planned site of a massive nuclear waste dump. It is located in Nevada, approximately 100 miles Northwest of Las Vegas. Though you may not often hear about it in the news (especially if you live outside of Nevada), Yucca Mountain has been a hot topic in Congress for twenty-six years. The Las Vegas Review Journal provides excellent updated coverage of the Yucca Mountain Project. It is a very involved situation, but basically, the U.S. Department of Energy plans to use the site to bury at least seventy-seven thousand tons of radioactive waste. According to the LVRJ, the road to Yucca began in 1982 with the passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, which called for the construction of a national nuclear waste storage facility. In 1987, it was decided that Yucca Mountain would be the site of this facility. (You can see a timeline of milestones here.)
In 2002, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham recommended Yucca as the disposal site for "the nation's most lethal nuclear waste." President Bush promptly approved the recommendation. Originally the repository was due to be complete by 1998, but forseeing an inability to meet that dealine, the government moved the completion date to 2010. Recently, even the 2010 deadline has been deemed unlikely to happen, as the license to build the facility has not been approved yet. At this point, the Energy Department has just submitted their application for a license to physically build the Yucca facility.
Prior to 2001, the Dept. of Energy had to prove that Yucca Mountain itself could safely contain radioactive waste; in 2001, they were given permission to use storage containers to contain the waste. There has been additional controversy over the issue of the containers themselves, such as their durability and how likely they are to corrode, what might happen in the event of an earthquake, etc. Needless to say, severe doubt has been cast upon the adequacy of these containers to prevent radioactive leakage. (The very idea that at any point, the government was going to consider storing the waste directly in the mountain without the use of sealed containers seems absurd to me.)
If the waste is not stored properly, there could be serious environmental implications and negative impacts on the people who live in the surrounding area. There are additional implications with regard to the transport of this waste to the site, and the risks posed to anyone within a certain distance of the transportation routes, which would run throughout the entire U.S. (I will be following up on the potential environmental and health effects as well as the transport issue in a later post.)

What is your position on Yucca; is this an issue of which you were previously aware?

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