Yucca Mountain Deemed Safe Solution to Nuclear Nuisance

By William Van Ullen ’17

Since the discovery of nuclear reactions, nuclear waste disposal has been a major concern. Although nuclear power plants have provided the United States with energy for decades, the indispensable waste produced by them is still an issue.

The Yucca Mountain in Nevada has been a site considered for a permanent storage facility for nuclear waste.  The federal government has spent over $9 billion on the project. However, since being elected, President Obama, with the help of Senate majority leader Harry Reid, has effectively halted the project. Recently, the US Nuclear Regulatory Committee put out a report that may be the spark needed to restart the initiative.

Yucca Mountain became the chosen location for burying nuclear waste when the Nuclear Waste Policy Act was amended in 1987. By 1994, the Department of Energy was drilling into the mountain and in 1997 they were burying metal containers and heating them to study the effects nuclear waste would have on the surrounding area. Despite all the work done for the project, in 2004, the state of Nevada won a ruling in the federal Court of Appeals requiring the government to prove the waste would be safely contained for hundreds of thousands of years, instead of the 10,000 it was being planned for.

yucca mountain

 The biggest setback for the project came with the election of Barack Obama, who vowed to stop it as part of his platform. Together with Senator Harry Reid, Obama had managed to significantly decrease funding for the Yucca facility, preventing the Department of Energy from licensing it.

Currently, nuclear power plants are storing their waste on-site, but this is not meant to be a permanent solution. Storing the waste can be a dangerous and expensive task. An incident back in February at a New Mexico plant resulted in workers being exposed to radiation and a leak of radioactive waste into the environment. While this was a small accident, current estimates to reopen the waste repository by the Department of Energy are around $551 million.

The report released by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission confirmed Yucca Mountain’s suitability for storing nuclear waste. The facility met all of the requirements outlined by the Commission, which means that the project could potentially continue.

Nuclear power accounts for about 20% of electricity in the US, and approximately 31 states currently have reactors.  If the US strongly considers nuclear power as a major source of energy, something has to be done about waste disposal protocols. Yucca Mountain provides a solution to that problem – a solution that has already cost taxpayers billions.

Sources:

http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/fact-sheets/radwaste.html

http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/doc-collections/news/2014/14-069.pdf

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/17/us/calls-to-use-a-proposed-nuclear-site-now-deemed-safe.html

http://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/editorials/2014/10/31/congress-should-resume-funding-yucca-mountain-nuclear-waste-site/fyGJY1jC4nXmzkk3nyCrZP/story.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/30/us/in-us-cleanup-efforts-accident-at-nuclear-site-points-to-cost-of-lapses.html?ref=science

http://www.clarkcountynv.gov/depts/comprehensive_planning/nuclear_waste/pages/faq.aspx

http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/Country-Profiles/Countries-T-Z/USA–Nuclear-Power/

 

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