Yucca Mountain is a ridge line composed of tuff (compressed volcanic ash) in Nevada, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, not far from the California border. The site has been targeted for development as a burial site for the nation’s most highly radioactive waste since the 1980’s, but it has been vigorously opposed by people in all 50 states.
Yucca Mountain is the homeland of the Western Shoshone and Paiute Indian tribes. The Treaty of Ruby Valley, signed in 1863, allowed white settlers on their land for travel, mining, and military purposes during the transcontinental railroad planning phase in exchange for monetary compensation. It guaranteed the Western Shoshone nation continued rights over the land. Despite the Treaty, the United States still refuses to recognize the sovereignty of Western Shoshone or the cultural and historical value of this land.
Over the years, the United States has failed to recognize their constant disruption of this region as a violation of rights or the treaty. Starting in 1951 and ending in 1962, the United States government preformed one hundred nuclear tests, causing countless cases of radiation poisoning and cancer of both the people and the land. Although the radiation caused effects for Nevadans in general, a disproportionate amount of them were Native American (Etchegaray 3).
In 1982, Congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act directing the US Department of Energy to site two permanent repositories (one in the eastern US and one in the west) for high level radioactive waste from nuclear power reactors and weapons in the US. In 1987, Congress amended that law eliminating the second site and choosing Yucca Mountain as the only site to be considered for the commercial permanent repository for the nations’ high level radioactive waste.
Over the next fourteen years, the United States government spent nearly 7 billion dollars characterizing Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository designated to hold the radioactive waste for the next ten thousand years.
The United States government and nuclear industry fail to acknowledge, although proven through extensive research, that Yucca Mountain is (and has always been) geologically unsuitable for nuclear waste isolation.
Earthquake fault lines have created rock fractures in the Mountain, carving fast flow pathways for high-level nuclear waste release; evidence of volcanoes (magma pockets) also makes the site unworkable.
The State of Nevada has also fought long and hard against the Yucca proposal—rejecting it at every turn. Nevada’s Senator Harry Reid gained seniority and became the Senate Majority Leader in 2007 (until 2015) which allowed him to block further federal funding for this site.
Construction of the site halted in 2009, when President Obama de-funded the project, and no radioactive waste has been sent to the site. Waste generators are no closer to a real solution than in 1960 when the first reactor started generating waste. The Department of Energy’s Strategy for the Management and Disposal of Used Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste calls for a national repository by 2048; but, so far there have been no proposals that are technically, scientifically, and morally sound.
The Trump administration has decided to revive the plan by dedicating $120 million of its budget to the failed plan. The licensing of Yucca Mountain as a deep geological waste repository would set in motion unprecedented numbers of high-level radioactive waste shipments on roads, rails, and waterways through 45 states and the District of Columbia, including hundreds and thousands of cities, towns, and communities.
The United States government, specifically the Department of Energy, has put all its high-level nuclear waste “eggs” in one basket and now faces the consequences of their actions with extreme insistence that this site remains the only feasible option as long-lasting high-level waste continues to accumulate at nuclear reactor sites across the country.