Nuclear Waste Disposal At Yucca Mountain: Right or Wrong?


As the United States\' nuclear waste buildup becomes larger, the need for
a permanent storage facility becomes more urgent. One proposed site is in the
Yucca Mountains of Nevada. This makes many Nevadans uneasy, as visions of
three-legged babies and phosphorescent people come to mind. This is an
unfounded worry, as many reasons prove. In fact, the Yucca Mountains provide an
ideal site for a permanent underground nuclear waste facility in the U.S.
While the Yucca Mountains are the best site we have found as of yet,
this procedure will cost a huge amount of taxpayer dollars. The Department of
Energy (DOE) estimates the total cost of its high-level waste management program
at $25-35 billion. Completing the scientific investigation and licensing of the
Yucca Mountain site is expected to cost $6-7 billion alone. At the end of 1993,
total nuclear waste fund expenditures through the end of the year were nearly
3.7 billion. Very little of this money comes from individual investors. If a
retrievable facility (one where the casks of spent fuel can be retrieved later)
is built, this will be a good deal more. Other disposal types, such as sub-
seabed and space disposal may prove to be cheaper at a later time.
This is a cause for concern, but there are a greater amount of reasons
to further and eventually finish the Yucca Mountain Project. One is the desert
climate naturally occurring in the western United States. The weather is dry
and warm and their are very few natural disasters, such as earthquakes. Also,
this part of the nation has a lower water table than the rest of the country.
This reduces the risk of water contamination in case of a breach.
This is only one safety cushion that the proposed site provides. There
are several more. All of these factors add up to a relatively stable
environment. But will it be stable enough? If a permanent site is constructed,
it will have to remain stable for 10,000 years. This is a very long time,
considering the United States has only existed for a little over 200. During
this period, if a breach occurs, the western United States\' water supply could
become contaminated, and cost the federal government even more to clean. The
question is whether or not the United States want to spend money now or later.
The safety of highly dangerous materials is a matter of national security. If a
breach were to occur and contaminate the western section of America, it would be
more devastating than a nuclear bomb. That is why the Yucca Mountains are being
speculatively chosen for this purpose. Throughout the United States, no better
area has been found.
Safety of this hazardous material is not only crucial in it\'s final
resting place. Security en route to the site is also of utmost importance. If
this site is chosen, a safe transportation method will be needed to move the
radioactive materials to the Yucca mountains. Vehicles, that will only be used
once, will have to be custom built for safety and security, as will containers
for the spent fuel rods. This would also be, however unlikely, a prime target
for a terrorist attack. There would be no way to hide a biohazard convoy, so
extra security measures must be taken. All of these measures add up to extra
costs, obviously. And as the nation waits, the costs multiply.
But expenses are second only to safety of the facility and speed in
which it is constructed. At the present moment, all of the United State\'s
nuclear waste is held in above-ground pools and airtight casks, inside the
country\'s many commercial power plants. This is all right for now, but how much
longer will there be enough space to hold thousands of metric tons of
radioactive materials? And the longer these materials sit above ground, the
greater the odds of a catastrophe. These hazardous materials must be placed and
stored in a stable environment soon, where the risk is significantly lower.
While these methods may prove better and cheaper in the future, we need
a place to put the huge accumulated amount of spent fuel rods and radioactive
materials. Subterranean storage is the most viable method that technology will
allow. The aforementioned Yucca mountains provide all the desirable features for
this method. The mountains were formed by a volcanic eruption and the rock
surrounding the site is a type called volcanic tuff. It is a very stable kind
of rock, and often encases salt beds, which are ideal for nuclear containment.
These