Skip to comments.Put waste at Yucca Mountain Safer to store nuclear trash in Nevada
Posted on 07/08/2002 12:35:41 PM PDT by Temple Owl
Put waste at Yucca Mountain Safer to store nuclear trash in Nevada than at 131 sites across the nation
July 7, 2002
By BARCLAY G. JONES
Now it's up to the U.S. Senate to put an end to the decades-old nuclear waste saga. It needs to override Nevada's veto of President Bush's selection of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste disposal site. A few weeks ago, the House of Representatives voted in support of using the Yucca Mountain site by an overwhelming margin.
The geologic repository that would be built there for spent fuel from nuclear power plants and for highly radioactive defense waste would be the first such facility anywhere in the world. Billions have been spent on evaluation of the Yucca Mountain site, and it has been determined to be geologically stable and very well suited for this purpose.
Transporting the material to Yucca Mountain, a site far removed from any population centers, makes a lot more sense than continuing to store it indefinitely at 131 sites in 39 states. The material would be far safer at Yucca, stored in chambers thousands of feet beneath volcanic rock and protected by tight security at nearby Nellis Air Force Range, than spread across the country at scores of reactor sites and nuclear weapons facilities.
America has the technology - and, more importantly, the experience - to ship the material to Nevada safely. We've been moving highly radioactive material around this country for 40 years, whether it's spent fuel from nuclear plants or high-level radioactive waste from nuclear-powered submarines. In fact, there have been more than 3,000 shipments of spent fuel since the early 1960s, without a single accident that caused a release of radiation.
It's not by chance that the shipment of spent fuel has an unblemished safety record. Casks used for carrying the material - which is produced in the generation of electricity - are thick cylinders with tons of shielding material to prevent the release of any radiation. Those designed for truck transportation weigh between 25 and 40 tons. Railroad casks weigh up to 120 tons and are built to take the toughest punishment.
They must be safe before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will certify and license their designs. A series of rigorous tests demonstrates their invulnerability to impact at high speeds, extremely hot fires, submersion or a possible puncture. The casks have not failed.
Although spent fuel has been stored safely in steel-lined water pools and dry casks at nuclear plants for many years, long-term storage has become unacceptably risky, especially in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. There are too many storage sites, maintained by different power companies. Besides, many of the waste facilities are near the Great Lakes, rivers or the ocean, each one compounding the risk.
Nevertheless, some politicians and pundits claim it would be safer to leave the spent fuel and high-level nuclear waste where it is. Can they be serious? Is it really safer to store 72,000 metric tons of the material at widely dispersed sites than at one underground repository? Nearly 6,000 metric tons of spent fuel are stored at nuclear plants in Illinois. The risk of terrorism makes a central and secure repository all the more urgent.
The issue is critical because storage capacity for the waste from nuclear energy and weapons has become increasingly limited. The Bush administration's energy plan, released in April, demonstrated strong support for the use of nuclear power as a supplement to more traditional fuel sources. Thus, the amount of spent fuel in this country could increase considerably in the not too distant future, and the opening of a repository has become a top priority for the federal government.
The primary concern of those who oppose the plan to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain is that radiation could seep through groundwater and into the above-ground environment. Yes, the probability of some water moving through the arid repository is real, but the area receives only seven inches of rainfall each year and most of that evaporates and runs off the desert slope. Scientists say that only one-sixth of an inch will trickle through the cracks in the volcanic rock, and most tunnel placements will be engineered to avoid the known faults, which are the largest paths for water to travel.
It is hard to imagine that the trivial amount of water the Nevada desert sees could move much material anywhere. To further protect the containers in the event this minute amount of water reaches the repository, titanium drip shields will protect the containers by funneling the drops of water to the tunnel floor.
With the repository more than 1,000 feet below ground, yet still about 800 feet above the region's aquifer, seepage of any significant amount of material is just about incomprehensible. Besides, groundwater at Yucca Mountain flows into Death Valley, which is a "closed" basin that does not flow into any river or ocean and is isolated from the aquifer used by Las Vegas 100 miles away.
The Energy Department's analysis demonstrates that annual radiation exposure to citizens closest to Yucca Mountain will be equivalent to eating a dozen bananas. The engineered precautions of the Yucca Mountain project, together with the geology itself, provide numerous barriers between the radioactive material and the environment.
Precisely this approach is necessary if the idea of permanent disposal of nuclear waste from the nation's civilian and military reactors is to be realized. The future demands something different than neglect. The Senate should vote to approve the repository at Yucca Mountain without delay.
Barclay G. Jones is a professor in the Department of Nuclear, Plasma and Radiological Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
You got the sarcasm, right?
Im curious if youve heard the radio ad campaign for moving waste to Yuca Mt. WPHT and KYW have aired lately. It makes some good, logical points, but tries to hammer the argument home with the statement (move the waste to Yuca) where it belongs. Yet they never go on to say exactly why its Nevadas problem. Sure, I dont want the waste here, (in fact, Im not so sure I really wanted the Nuclear plants in the first place) but Id like something a little stronger to help convince Nevada that they should take it.
This author falls a little too short as well. I was most disappointed when I read his qualifications at the end. It seems that more assurances than talk about significant seepage being incomprehensible could have been presented.
I dont pretend to be an expert on ground water movement or especially on nuclear waste, but Im starting to smell a little sand bagging here.
I do like your idea of sending it to the House of Saud though. It could make a lovely Ramadan gift.
Guns Before Butter.
The fall back argument for all the anti nuclear types is "oh yeah, well what are you going to do with all the radioactive toxic wastes?"
If the waste problem is solved the most damaging of the thousands cuts death will be healed, and the nuclear power industry can resume development.
A little Nookie never hurt any one"