NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

How to Get Nuclear Waste to Yucca Mountain

February 8, 2002

The White House will soon forward to Congress the Energy Department's choice of Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the site for storing the nation's nuclear waste. Then Congress, the courts and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission will begin trying to figure out just how to do it.

  • The draft environmental impact statement predicts that burying the waste at Yucca Mountain would kill several people through cancer -- which takes several decades to develop through low radiation doses.
  • But leaving the fuel where it is -- generally at reactor sites -- will do the same.
  • The estimate is hypothetical, based on the assumption -- scientifically unproven -- that every dose of radiation, no matter how small, raises the risk of cancer.
  • Still, backers of Yucca Mountain will seek to prove that the site offers the safest way to isolate the waste for the 10,000 years required by law.

DOE officials contend that Yucca Mountain is dry and that the soil does not conduct radio isotopes well, which will minimize run-off. But they made the same arguments about the soil at the Hanford nuclear site in Washington state -- where contaminated water is now moving toward the Columbia River.

It appears the process at Yucca will begin before scientists and engineers have all the bugs worked out. That's because officials hope to begin storing waste there by 2010.

Source: Matthew L. Wald, "At Last, a Plan (Or Half of One) For Nuclear Waste," New York Times, February 8, 2002.  


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