Yucca Mountain: Home of Long Lost Nuclear Waste? Why The Middle of the Arizona Desert Makes Any Sense At All Is Anybody's Guess
Dear EarthTalk: Why do many people think Nevada’s Yucca Mountain is an unsafe place to store nuclear waste?
—Vinka Lasic, Cleveland, OH
Since the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Energy has been pushing to open Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste storage facility. In 2002, George W. Bush signed into law a plan to make the site the central repository for the spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste that is presently being held in separate locations throughout 43 U.S. states. Yucca Mountain is 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, and many environmentalists, area residents and local and state officials believe it is dangerously unsuitable for nuclear waste storage.
According to Judy Treichel, executive director of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, “There are numerous reasons to slow this thing down.” For one, independent and state-sponsored scientists have determined that Yucca Mountain is geologically active and is located near other active volcanoes. And, according to the Las Vegas- and Reno-based organization, Citizen Alert, the proposed site lies on 32 known fault lines and has a history of rising groundwater. If the facility were to get flooded, therefore, the groundwater could be contaminated with hazardous materials.
John Hadder, Citizen Alert’s northern Nevada coordinator, is concerned about dangers of transporting the nation’s nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain from so many distant locations where it now sits. The waste would arrive by truck, and six to seven shipments of the hazardous material would be made daily for the next 30 years. Such a transportation system has inherent dangers, such as spills due to accidents and the possibility of terrorist attacks, according to the National Safety Council. Citizen Alert also worries that the communities through which the vehicles pass would suffer economically if the plan goes through.
Most Nevadans, including area Native American communities, are dead set against their state becoming the nation’s nuclear waste repository. When George W. Bush became president in 2000, he said he would base his decision on whether or not to allow nuclear waste storage at the site based on “sound science.” Two years later, despite recommendations to the contrary from federal scientists and the General Accounting Office, and after heavy lobbying by the nuclear power industry, Bush approved the plan, much to the dismay of Nevada’s Congressional delegation.
Currently a handful of lawsuits challenging the plan are underway, and Nevadans are scrambling to propose alternative scenarios for handling nuclear waste. Meanwhile, Yucca Mountain could start accepting nuclear waste from across the country as soon as 2010.
CONTACTS: Citizen Alert, (702) 796-5662, www.citizenalert.org; Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, /www.nvantinuclear.org; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Yucca Mountain Information, www.epa.gov/radiation/yucca; National Safety Council, (630) 285-1121, www.nsc.org.