FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Nuclear Waste Peddlers Still Pushing Yucca Mt. Dump

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.

More articles by:

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

December 18, 2018
Charles Pierson
Where No Corn Has Grown Before: Better Living Through Climate Change?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
The Waters of American Democracy
Patrick Cockburn
Will Anger in Washington Over the Murder of Khashoggi End the War in Yemen?
George Ochenski
Trump is on the Ropes, But the Pillage of Natural Resources Continues
Farzana Versey
Tribals, Missionaries and Hindutva
Robert Hunziker
Is COP24 One More Big Bust?
David Macaray
The Truth About Nursing Homes
Nino Pagliccia
Have the Russian Military Aircrafts in Venezuela Breached the Door to “America’s Backyard”?
Paul Edwards
Make America Grate Again
David Rosnick
The Impact of OPEC on Climate Change
Binoy Kampmark
The Kosovo Blunder: Moving Towards a Standing Army
Andrew Stewart
Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence
December 17, 2018
Susan Abulhawa
Marc Lamont Hill’s Detractors are the True Anti-Semites
Jake Palmer
Viktor Orban, Trump and the Populist Battle Over Public Space
Martha Rosenberg
Big Pharma Fights Proposal to Keep It From Looting Medicare
David Rosen
December 17th: International Day to End Violence against Sex Workers
Binoy Kampmark
The Case that Dare Not Speak Its Name: the Conviction of Cardinal Pell
Dave Lindorff
Making Trump and Other Climate Criminals Pay
Bill Martin
Seeing Yellow
Julian Vigo
The World Google Controls and Surveillance Capitalism
ANIS SHIVANI
What is Neoliberalism?
James Haught
Evangelicals Vote, “Nones” Falter
Vacy Vlanza
The Australian Prime Minister’s Rapture for Jerusalem
Martin Billheimer
Late Year’s Hits for the Hanging Sock
Weekend Edition
December 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
A Tale of Two Cities
Peter Linebaugh
The Significance of The Common Wind
Bruce E. Levine
The Ketamine Chorus: NYT Trumpets New Anti-Suicide Drug
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Fathers and Sons, Bushes and Bin Ladens
Kathy Deacon
Coffee, Social Stratification and the Retail Sector in a Small Maritime Village
Nick Pemberton
Praise For America’s Second Leading Intellectual
Robert Hunziker
The Yellow Vest Insurgency – What’s Next?
Patrick Cockburn
The Yemeni Dead: Six Times Higher Than Previously Reported
Nick Alexandrov
George H. W. Bush: Another Eulogy
Brian Cloughley
Principles and Morality Versus Cash and Profit? No Contest
Michael F. Duggan
Climate Change and the Limits of Reason
Victor Grossman
Sighs of Relief in Germany
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Robert Fantina
What Does Beto Have Against the Palestinians?
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Sartre, Said, Chomsky and the Meaning of the Public Intellectual
Andrew Glikson
Crimes Against the Earth
Robert Fisk
The Parasitic Relationship Between Power and the American Media
Stephen Cooper
When Will Journalism Grapple With the Ethics of Interviewing Mentally Ill Arrestees?
Jill Richardson
A War on Science, Morals and Law
Ron Jacobs
A Propagandist of Privatization
Evaggelos Vallianatos
It’s Not Easy Being Greek
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail