Nuclear energy has always been promoted to the public in fraudulent ways. At the outset, it was claimed that it would be “too cheap to meter,” a claim that was far from true even without taking into account large government subsidies provided to the nuclear industry. Later, and still today, nuclear energy is promoted as being “clean, safe and environmentally friendly.” This claim should have been definitively laid to rest with the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant accident.
Now the proponents of nuclear energy are pushing for long-term storage of highly radioactive nuclear wastes at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The $7 billion that the Department of Energy (DoE) has spent on researching the suitability of Yucca Mountain, Nevada as a radioactive waste storage site has only served to prove that the volatile Yucca Mountain itself is a terrible place to dump the 77,000 tons of nuclear waste that has been building up at nuclear power plants. It is a shortsighted and dangerous scheme that would endanger tens of millions of Americans now and for generations to come.
There are many sound reasons to oppose the Department of Energy’s plan to transport nuclear wastes from throughout the country to Yucca Mountain. Here are our top ten.
1. Accomplishes No Reasonable Objective. Yucca Mountain does not eliminate on-site storage of nuclear waste. After Yucca Mountain is full, there will still be 44,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste stored on-site at reactors throughout the country. There will also be 77,000 tons of such waste moving around the US over the next 30 years, traveling from one of 131 sites an average of 2000 miles per shipment to Yucca Mountain. If the purpose of the Yucca Mountain project is to consolidate the wastes, that goal will clearly not be achieved.
2. Provides Minimal Protection. Yucca Mountain itself only provides a small portion of the “protection” that the proposed site promises. The casks that hold the waste are the actual protection, so why Yucca Mountain at all?
3. Creates More Nuclear Waste. Shipping the waste off-site will allow for the nuclear reactors to continue creating more waste long after the contracts for those sites were set to expire, thus continuing the cycle of producing extremely dangerous waste that no one knows how to safely dispose of. The nuclear industry has economic incentives for moving the waste off-site from the reactors.
4. Adverse Effects on Future Generations. The project is a distinct danger to defenseless citizens — not just in this generation, but thousands of generations to come will be affected by this decision. Plutonium-239, for example, has a half-life of 24,400 years, which means that the wastes will remain lethal for some 240,000 years.
5. Earthquake Danger. Yucca Mountain is directly above an active magma pocket and is the third most seismically active area in the United States, with over 600 earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or greater on the Richter scale in the last 25 years alone. One such earthquake did over a million dollars worth of damage to the US Department of Energy’s own testing facility! The most recent earthquake on July 14, 2002 had a magnitude of 4.4.
6. Fifty Million People Endangered. Routes will move through 734 counties across the United States. The high-level radioactive waste contained in the casks will endanger 50 million innocent people who live within 3 miles of the proposed shipment routes. Hospitals, schools, businesses, emergency personnel, commuters, travelers, and passers-by will also cross paths with the shipments that will move through the country at an average rate exceeding six shipments per day. Community health facilities are not adequately prepared or equipped to deal with mass exposure to radioactive matter. To find out how close your residence or place of work is to the proposed routes, enter your address at www.mapscience.org.
7. Terrorist Attacks. The proposed shipments to Yucca Mountain would move along predictable routes through 44 states, and many major metropolitan areas such as Atlanta (daily shipments), Chicago (every 15 hours), Denver (every 13 hours), and Salt Lake City (every 7 hours). They would provide tempting targets for terrorists.
8. Costly Accidents and Limited Liability. For each spill that may occur (one out of every 300 shipments is expected to have an accident) the cost of the clean-up is estimated conservatively at $6 billion dollars. Thanks to Congress passing and repeatedly renewing the Price-Anderson Act, the nuclear industry’s liability is limited. Taxpayers will pay the bill for accidents even if they occur on reactor property.
9. Adverse Impact on Water Sources. Yucca Mountain sits above the only source of drinking water for the residents of Amargosa Valley. The aquifer below Yucca Mountain provides water to Nevada’s largest dairy farm, which supplies milk to some 30 million people on the west coast.
10. Violates Treaties. Yucca Mountain is located on Native American land, belonging to the Western Shoshone by the treaty of Ruby Valley. The Western Shoshone National Council has declared this land a nuclear free zone and demanded an end to nuclear testing and the dumping of nuclear wastes on their land.
It defies reason to expect that radioactive wastes will sit for tens of thousands of years undisturbed by unpredictable nature, by vengeful terrorists, or by human or technological errors in the design of the containment structure itself. The problem of what to do with high-level radioactive wastes warrants additional consideration and resources, including investigation of alternatives to Yucca Mountain. As an interim solution, the wastes should be converted to dry-cask storage and remain on-site where they were created.
1. Jaya Tiwari, “Time Running Out: Senate to Vote on Future of Yucca Mountain Project Soon,” Physicians for Social Responsibility Security Program Activist Update, (June 2002).
2. Western Shoshone National Council, “US Senate Vote Violates Treaty and Tribe’s Basic Human Rights,”(July 2002).
3. State of Nevada-Nuclear Projects Agency, Nuclear Neighborhoods.
4. The Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, Office of the Governor, “A Mountain of Trouble: A Nation At Risk,” Volume 1, (February 2002).
5. Michael E. Long, “Half Life, The Lethal Legacy of America’s Nuclear Waste,” National Geographic, (July 2002).
6. Richard Wiles & James R. Cox, “What If…A Nuclear Waste Accident Scenario in Los Angeles, CA,” Environmental Working Groups, (June 27, 2002).
David Krieger is president of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. Marissa Zubia is the coordinator of the Foundation’s Renewable Energy Project. For further information, visit the Foundation’s website at http://www.wagingpeace.org.