1. A brief history of “deep geologic disposal” in the USA:
Since the 1950’s, geologic disposal sites in the USA have been elusive, including an abandoned salt formation at Lyons, Kansas and dozens of sites in eastern and western states where popular and political pressure proved too much for the Dept. of Energy (DOE) to proceed. In 1987, Yucca Mountain, Nevada was singled out as the only site for further study not because of geologic suitability, but because of political vulnerability. Nevada has fought hard ever since to stop the dump targeted at Yucca Mountain.
2. Yucca’s unsuitable geology (earthquakes, volcanoes, water leakage):
Yucca is a major earthquake zone. Dozens of fault lines crisscross the area, with two directly intersecting the proposed dumpsite. Many hundreds of quakes have struck near Yucca in recent decades, damaging DOE facilities, derailing trains that could one day be used to haul nuclear waste, and threatening to collapse access and burial tunnels.
All that seismic activity has fractured and fissured Yucca’s rock, creating fast flow pathways for water infiltration. Water will eventually corrode waste burial containers, releasing deadly radioactivity into the underground drinking water supply used by a thriving farming community downstream.
Volcanism threatens the flooding of the proposed waste dump with superheated water and even lava, which would release massive amounts of deadly radioactivity into the surrounding environment.
Yucca’s geology is so bad that building a dump there would require complete abandonment of the original concept of deep geologic disposal. Engineered barriers would have to provide all the radiation containment, begging the question: why build the dump there at all?
3. Yucca’s unsuitable geography:
Yucca is near Las Vegas and not far from Los Angeles. It’s immediately next door to Nellis Air Force Base, the Nevada nuclear weapons test site, and mining operations, threatening accidental or intentional crashes or detonations involving DOE’s proposed surface facilities for handling and storing wastes. Yucca is on Western Shoshone Indian land, raising environmental justice objections to waste dumping there.
4. Changing the rules in the middle of the game: weakening environmental protection standards when Yucca fails to meet the original ones:
When Yucca has been unable, due to its poor geology, to live up to previously established federal safety regulations, they have simply been re-written or done away with altogether. Environmental Protection Agency regulations for repositories limiting releases of radioactive gases that Yucca could not meet were simply done away with for Yucca; re-written, Yucca-specific regulations allow for 18 kilometers of radiation contamination of groundwater, an unprecedented undermining of the Safe Drinking Water Act that threatens the farming community downstream that depends on Yucca’s aquifer. And less than a month before its official decision finding Yucca “suitable” for nuclear waste dumping, the Department of Energy simply eliminated a 17 year old site suitability regulation that stated if water could travel through a proposed repository and back out into the environment in less than a thousand years time, that site must be disqualified from any further consideration. DOE’s own studies have shown that Yucca cannot live up to that regulation, and over 200 public interest organizations petitioned DOE in 1998 to enforce its own regulations and disqualify Yucca. But DOE simply erased the regulation in 2001.
5. Politics trump science: corruption of the decision-making process:
Despite major conflicts of interest at the Yucca Mountain, nearly 300 technical studies being incomplete, and DOE’s “weak to moderate” scientific basis, the project won congressional and presidential approval despite Nevada’s objection. The nuclear power industry spent many tens of millions of dollars in the form of direct Capitol Hill lobbying, nationwide ad campaigns, and campaign contributions to federal office seekers to influence the Yucca votes. More recently, revelations that whistleblowers at the Yucca Mountain Project and in the waste shipping cask manufacturing industry have suffered severe harassment increase concerns about short cuts on safety.
6. Dangers of transportation: “mobile Chernobyls”:
Yucca’s opening would launch an unprecedented program of high-level radioactive waste transportation, many tens of thousands of truck, train and barge shipments on highways, rail lines, and waterways across 45 states. The shipping containers are not adequately safety tested and are vulnerable to severe accidents and terrorist attacks, risking the release of catastrophic amounts of radioactivity in major population centers along the transport routes. To avoid a popular uprising, government agencies and the nuclear power industry have kept the routes to be used secretive.
7. High Costs of Yucca Mountain:
$1.6 million per day is spent at the project, while little or nothing is spent to secure high-level radioactive waste against accidents or terrorist attacks at the reactors across the USA where it is currently stored in vulnerable indoor pools and outdoor dry storage casks. Yucca’s price tag would be from $60 to over $100 billion of ratepayer and taxpayer money. Given that “only” $7 billion has been spent thus far, it’s high time to cut the losses before they become so much worse!
8. Yucca as “secure centralized storage” to prevent terrorism is a myth:
Yucca cannot legally hold more than 63,000 tons of commercial high-level waste. Around 45,000 tons exist already. By 2011, 63,000 tons will exist, meaning Yucca would be full before it even opens. Ongoing operations after that means whatever gets shipped off to Yucca would be replaced with new waste on-site at reactors. Decades from now, we’d be right back where we started, with insecure storage across the USA.
9. Lawsuits, annual budget battles, and licensing present formidable hurdles for Yucca dump:
Yucca is far from a done deal. Nevada and environmental groups have numerous lawsuits against DOE, NRC, and EPA, any one of which could delay or defeat the dump. Dump proponents must secure Yucca’s budget every year in Congress against formidable opposition. And the NRC licensing process will take 3 to 5 years after DOE submits its operating license application, which itself could still take well over a year. Nevada, environmental groups, and residents along Yucca transport routes plan formal interventions against the licensing.
10. Yucca is merely an illusion of a solution used to excuse a Nuclear Power Relapse:
Yucca is no more than a PR tool for the nuclear power industry and its friends in government to try to claim that a solution for high-level radioactive waste has been found in an attempt to justify the building of new reactors and the ongoing operations at old reactors, all of which will double or triple the amount of high-level radioactive waste in the USA in future decades.
11. So what is the solution to the U.S. high-level radioactive waste problem?
Stop making it. Shut down nuclear reactors as soon as possible by promoting energy conservation, efficiency and renewable electricity sources such as solar and wind. For the waste that already exists, enter decision-making processes that are democratically based, socially acceptable and scientifically defensible. Wastes cannot be allowed to leak into drinking water supplies or oceans at the reactor sites where they are now. Neither can they be allowed to leak into water, soil, or air at proposed deep geologic repositories. Waste transport introduces new and additional risks, so must be limited and aimed to make the situation better, not worse as it would at Yucca. Isolation of the radioactivity from the biosphere for the duration of its hazard – hundreds of thousands of years – must be the goal.