FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Nuclear Waste Peddlers Still Pushing Yucca Mt. Dump

by

Some Congressional Reps — carrying bags of money from the nuclear industry — want to resurrect the cancelled Yucca Mountain dump project for high-level radioactive waste, 90 miles from Las Vegas. I’ve presented Yucca’s shortcomings here before, but Congress needs a refresher and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is taking public comments on Yucca’s Draft Supplemental EIS until Nov. 20.

The 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act set strict licensing standards that must be met for such a site. Yucca Mt.’s geology repeatedly failed to meet these legal requirements, so the specs were repeatedly weakened. In 2010, the Obama Administration killed the project, because it could no longer be defended on scientific grounds. The list of reasons to disqualify Yucca is long, and it helps explains the White House action.

EPA standards would allow radiation releases from the site to cause up to 1,000 cancer deaths over 10,000 years. Whether or not this “license to kill” limit could ever be met or enforced is a matter of unresolved scientific dispute.

In 2014, former Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) chair Allison Mcfarlane warned that there were “more than 300 ‘contentions’ challenging the [license] application.” Each of these roadblocks must still be overcome before licensing.

In 2007, the Bow Ridge earthquake fault was found to be well east of where scientists had estimated. This blunder was announced by the chief of the US Geological Survey’s Yucca Mt. Project Branch and its discovery means designers must entirely remake their plans. The fault passes directly under a site where thousands of tons of waste would be kept for decades while it cools — before being entombed inside the mountain. Five years earlier, a 4.4 magnitude earthquake struck 12 miles from Yucca Mt. an omen of potentially catastrophic damage to the above-ground storage facilities. US Rep. Shelley Berkley said, “If anyone ever wondered about the wisdom of locating an underground radioactive dump site on an active fault line, this shows why.” In 1998, the site was found to be 10 times more prone to earthquakes or lava flows than earlier estimated.

Proof that the mountain is periodically flooded came in 1999, in the form of Zircon crystals found deep inside. “Crystals do not form without complete immersion in water,” said Jerry Szymanski, formerly the DOE’s top geologist at Yucca. “Hot under-ground water has invaded the mountain and might again in the time when radioactive waste would still be extremely dangerous. The results would be catastrophic.” This finding was disregarded by the DOE.

In 1997, DOE researchers announced that rain water had seeped 800 feet into the repository from the top of Yucca Mt. in a mere 40 years. The DOE had claimed that it would take hundreds or thousands of years. The 1982 federal guidelines require that the existence of fast-flowing water would disqualify the site, which was eyed for yet another 13 years.

In 1995, Charles Bowman and Francesco Venneri at the Los Alamos National Laboratory warned that the waste might explode, spreading thousands of tons of radioactive materials to the groundwater or the winds, or both. The physicists said staggering dangers would arise thousands of years from now—after steel waste containers dissolve. DOE geologist Jerry Szymanski said, “You’re talking about an unimaginable catastrophe.”

DOE scientists have admitted that waste canisters will corrode away long before the radiation hazards do so. Much of the 70,000 tons of waste slated for a dump “remains radioactive for millions of years” (New York Times, Jan. 17, 1989) and “would be hazardous for millions of years” (NYT, Feb.12, 1989). Because of the time scale, “testing of the whole project is impossible,” according to Dr. R. Darryl Banks, a biophysicist at World Resources Institute, because it “would require a time machine.”

The National Research Council said in 1990 that the DOE’s Yucca Mt. plan is “bound to fail,” because the law demands a level of safety that science cannot guarantee.

In 1999, the DOE admitted that leaving the waste in storage at reactor sites is as safe as moving it to Yucca, as long as it’s repackaged every 100 years. Given Yucca’s unsuitability and the enormous risks of moving this most radioactive of wastes, better to store it where it’s produced for now. There are good alternatives to the faulty, shaky Yucca Mt. sieve. Storing the waste at reactor sites will give the experts time to consider them.

John LaForge is a Co-director of Nukewatch, a peace and environmental justice group in Wisconsin, and edits its newsletter.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 30, 2017
William R. Polk
What Must be Done in the Time of Trump
Howard Lisnoff
Enough of Russia! There’s an Epidemic of Despair in the US
Ralph Nader
Crash of Trumpcare Opens Door to Full Medicare for All
Carol Polsgrove
Gorsuch and the Power of the Executive: Behind the Congressional Stage, a Legal Drama Unfolds
Michael J. Sainato
Fox News Should Finally Dump Bill O’Reilly
Kenneth Surin
Former NC Governor Pat McCory’s Job Search Not Going Well
Binoy Kampmark
The Price of Liberation: Slaughtering Civilians in Mosul
Bruce Lesnick
Good Morning America!
William Binney and Ray McGovern
The Surveillance State Behind Russia-gate: Will Trump Take on the Spooks?
Jill Richardson
Gutting Climate Protections Won’t Bring Back Coal Jobs
Robert Pillsbury
Maybe It’s Time for Russia to Send Us a Wake-Up Call
Prudence Crowther
Swamp Rats Sue Trump
March 29, 2017
Jeffrey Sommers
Donald Trump and Steve Bannon: Real Threats More Serious Than Fake News Trafficked by Media
David Kowalski
Does Washington Want to Start a New War in the Balkans?
Patrick Cockburn
Bloodbath in West Mosul: Civilians Being Shot by Both ISIS and Iraqi Troops
Ron Forthofer
War and Propaganda
Matthew Stevenson
Letter From Phnom Penh
James Bovard
Peanuts Prove Congress is Incorrigible
Thomas Knapp
Presidential Golf Breaks: Good For America
Binoy Kampmark
Disaster as Joy: Cyclone Debbie Strikes
Peter Tatchell
Human Rights are Animal Rights!
George Wuerthner
Livestock Grazing vs. the Sage Grouse
Jesse Jackson
Trump Should Form a Bipartisan Coalition to Get Real Reforms
Thomas Mountain
Rwanda Indicts French Generals for 1994 Genocide
Clancy Sigal
President of Pain
Andrew Stewart
President Gina Raimondo?
Lawrence Wittner
Can Our Social Institutions Catch Up with Advances in Science and Technology?
March 28, 2017
Mike Whitney
Ending Syria’s Nightmare will Take Pressure From Below 
Mark Kernan
Memory Against Forgetting: the Resonance of Bloody Sunday
John McMurtry
Fake News: the Unravelling of US Empire From Within
Ron Jacobs
Mad Dog, Meet Eris, Queen of Strife
Michael J. Sainato
State Dept. Condemns Attacks on Russian Peaceful Protests, Ignores Those in America
Ted Rall
Five Things the Democrats Could Do to Save Their Party (But Probably Won’t)
Linn Washington Jr.
Judge Neil Gorsuch’s Hiring Practices: Privilege or Prejudice?
Philippe Marlière
Benoît Hamon, the Socialist Presidential Hopeful, is Good News for the French Left
Norman Pollack
Political Cannibalism: Eating America’s Vitals
Bruce Mastron
Obamacare? Trumpcare? Why Not Cubacare?
David Macaray
Hollywood Screen and TV Writers Call for Strike Vote
Christian Sorensen
We’ve Let Capitalism Kill the Planet
Rodolfo Acuna
What We Don’t Want to Know
Binoy Kampmark
The Futility of the Electronics Ban
Andrew Moss
Why ICE Raids Imperil Us All
March 27, 2017
Robert Hunziker
A Record-Setting Climate Going Bonkers
Frank Stricker
Why $15 an Hour Should be the Absolute Minimum Minimum Wage
Melvin Goodman
The Disappearance of Bipartisanship on the Intelligence Committees
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail