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  • Keep Yucca Mountain on the Table

    Nevada’s attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto penned an op-ed in the Las Vegas Sun over the weekend, calling the geologic repository Yucca Mountain “unworkable” as a long-term solution to store our nation’s nuclear waste. She claims the administration has scientific and technological reasons to permanently shut down Yucca. But instead supporting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s responsibility to determine if that’s the case, she focuses on questionable arguments to instill fear in Nevadans.

    The first claim is that Yucca is unstable, a hotbed for seismic activity that could disrupt the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel. But the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM) concludes upon careful study that “Experience with earthquakes throughout the world has shown that underground structures can withstand the ground motion generated by earthquakes. And, in actual tests at the Nevada Test Site, mine tunnels have withstood ground motion from underground nuclear explosions that are greater than any ground motion anticipated at or near Yucca Mountain. Repository facilities at the surface also can be designed to safely withstand earthquake effects. Information from historical and contemporary earthquake catalogues from the Southern Great Basin Seismic Network was used to analyze the potential for earthquakes at Yucca Mountain. It also appears that the potential for earthquake damage to an underground repository is very slight.”

    Many of her other arguments are not specific to Yucca Mountain but questions about the containers and drip shields used to further bolster safety. Such man-made devices will likely be necessary for any geologic repository and are not a result of what Mastro calls Yucca’s “fundamental inadequacies.”

    She claims the reason Yucca Mountain was chosen in the first place was purely political and without scientific grounds. Yet OCRWM maintains that the “Natural features of the mountain — including its geology, climate, distance above the water table, and isolation — make Yucca Mountain a suitable location for a repository. These features, combined with engineered barriers — including the solid nature of the waste, robust waste packages, and other features within the mountain — provide assurance that the nuclear materials will be safely isolated from the environment.”

    Mastro makes her support known for the president’s blue ribbon commission on nuclear waste, emphasizing the need for a beyond-Yucca approach. But this “ignore Yucca” approach is not the right one for the Commission. Indeed, the Commission’s findings would be far more credible if it considers Yucca and explains why it should or should not be part of the nation’s waste management strategy.

    “It’s time to focus on the science,” says Mastro. She ignores the fact that Yucca is “the most studied real estate on the planet” and that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing an application that is “more than 8,600 pages in length, integrates the results of more than two decades of scientific and engineering work at Yucca Mountain.”

    Let the NRC focus on the science. Both support and opposition for Yucca Mountain are confident that the science is on their side. Why not let a non-partisan, technically knowledgeable agency whose job it is to make such determinations be the decider?

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    8 Responses to Keep Yucca Mountain on the Table

    1. west_rhino, SC says:

      Suppose the NRC suspended all licensesure for use of isotopes and radiation generating devices in Nevada until this is resolved. It seems pretty blatant political backhandedness that keeps much of the high level, vitrified material stuck in SC and TN, both "red states". Harry Reid has ridden the pork surrounding DOE salaries, perhaps in the range of billions during his senate tenure and those jobs belong elsewhere if Yucca Mountain is not to open.

      Perhaps one might look behind the interests that own politicians in Nevada for a few clues, not that the MSM really is willing to point an investigative reporter in that direction.

    2. Nevada Smith says:

      Boy, Nicolas, do you have it wrong. The issue of Yucca Mountain's suitability as a geologic repository location ceased to be the focus of DOE efforts after 1987 when Congress, in its infinite wisdom, selected the Nevada site as the ONLY one to be "studied". That 1987 legislation was pure, unadulterated politics, with Sen. Bennet Johnston (LA) leading the charge (LA at the time had a potentially attractive salt dome site), with the strong backing of Jim Wright (WA – House Speaker) and Tom Folley (WA – House Majority Leader at the time), both of whom represented states with likely sites. NIMBY at it's most outrageous.

      From 1987 on, DOE's focus was not on whether the geology at the site made it acceptable as a repository, but rather on how to make the site work in spite of all the known flaws.

      Now, if you were looking for a suitable place to entomb thousands of tons of extremely toxic material that must be isolated from the human and natural environment for hundreds of thousands of years, would you even consider a location that was prone to earthquakes; that shows evidence of geologically recent volcanic activity; that has host rock so fractured and porous it allows rapid water movement through it; that contains large quantities of highly corrosive groundwater (no, the site is not 'dry', but over 90% saturated) and an oxidizing envornment capable of corroding even the most exotic canister materials DOE can come up with? And those are just the more serious flaws DOE itself admits characterize the site.

      Sure, mines can be constructed in earthquake areas and underground shaking can be managed. But that's not the issue. Rather, it's what repeated seismic activity is doing to the subsurface by fracturing the rock and creating even faster pathways for corrosive water to impact the waste. It's the rockfall in the tunnels that can damage disposal packages and lead to even earlier releases of radioactive material. It's the interaction between seismic activity and potential valcanic activity and the possibility that volcanism risks at the site are increased.

      Yucca Mountain is decidedly not what the National Acamedy of Sciences had in mind when it recommended deep geologic disposal for spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste back in the 70s.

      The notion that the NRC will be an impartial arbiter with regard to the suitibility of Yucca as a repository is naive at best. NRC staff have been working hand in hand with DOE for more than two decades helping DOE develop the license application that NRC would be passing judgment on. So much for impartiality and a review based on scientific merits.

      Yucca should have been scrapped decades ago, but hardball politics and a gravy train of funds for big time DOE contractors has kept it alive until now. In the words of P.J. O'Rourke, the mystery of government is not how Washington works, but how to make it stop. The only way the nation and nuke industry are going to move forward with sound and viable solutions for the nuclear waste problem is for the country to put Yucca behind us once and for all, like the President and current Energy Secretary are trying to do with the Blue Ribbon Commission.

    3. Skeptic, CA says:

      Not to worry that "the Commission’s findings would be far more credible if it considers Yucca and explains why it should or should not be part of the nation’s waste management strategy." Congress will make that choice, when it decides whether to change the Nuclear Waste Policy Act based on the Commission's recommendations, or to leave the current law in place (which selects Yucca Mountain).

    4. Dr. Jacob D Paz says:

      Dear Mr. Noris:

      Attached is my comments to your comment which I found very interesting. However, the YMP License Application is incomplete see attache my scientific and legal comments..

      On February 23rd and 26th, 2010, the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects website reported the following: Hanford, Washington area businesses, Aiken County, South Carolina, and the Tri-City State of Washington leaders officially filed lawsuits against President Obama and Secretary of Energy Chu for scrapping plans to build the Yucca Mountain Project (YMP) Nuclear Waste Facility in the U.S. Court of Appeals, Washington, D.C. The S.C. the lawsuit is seeking to stay the removal of the Yucca Mountain License Application. The Aiken County lawsuit alleged that withdrawal of the license application violated the Nuclear Waste Act of 1982 and its Amendments. Additionally, it may also violate the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969.

      The Tri-city lawsuit stated that the termination of the YMP license application could pose health risks to their community. My contention is that the Department of Energy – Yucca Mountain Project license application is incomplete since it failed to address health and safety risk issues associated with metals and radionuclide exposure through groundwater as is mandated under the NEPA Act and its subsequent regulations. The NEPA Act clearly mandated regulatory agencies to prepare a detailed statement on significant environmental impact (EIS) of major federal actions, and to include reasonable alternative actions.

      Next, a YMP official in the Las Vegas Review Journal in 2004 stated that “to calculate health risks from the combined effects of heavy metals and radioactive materials when there is no requirement to do so would be ‘like challenging the speed limit.’”

      The DOE position is in conflict with the NEPA Acts of 1969 since DOE failed to properly discuss the potential/probable significant environmental impact of radionuclide and heavy metals on the human environment in the EIS. In addition, the 40 Code of Federal Regulation 1502.22, “Cumulative Effects,” stated that “when an agency is evaluating reasonably and foreseeable significant adverse effects on the human environment in the environmental impact statement and there is incomplete information, the agency shall always make it clear that such information is lacking.”

      Furthermore, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a letter dated March 30, 2009 stated that with regards to my concerns about interaction between chemicals and radionuclides at Yucca Mountain, “the DOE’s EIS the NRC staff agree that analysis did not provide an adequate discussion of the cumulative amounts of radiological and non-radiological contaminated that may enter groundwater over time, this contaminated would behave in the aquifer and related environment. We have found that this failure to adequately characterize potential contaminates releases to the groundwater and surface discharge renders that the portion of the EIS is inadequate. DOE’s discussion of these impacts in the EIS’s is not consistence with the NRC’s regulations for completeness and adequacy of discussion of environmental consequences of proposed action.”

      The importance of this letter that is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission directed the YMP to submit a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement “to ensure that the 2002 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the Supplement EIS are adequate.”

      The DOE is required to comply with regulations, Section 10 CFR 63.10 (a) and (b), which require the DOE to submit a complete and accurate license application; and Section 63.10 b) which requires the DOE to report any significant implications for public health and safety. The DOE license application failed to notify the Commission of information that the applicant or licensee has identified as having a significant implication for public safety.

      Therefore, it is my opinion that the President of United States and the Secretary of Energy are within their rights to withdraw the license application as incomplete.

      Yours,

      Dr. Jacob D Paz

    5. pro-nuke, Las Vegas, says:

      Your commentary is right on target. It's the NRC's job to determine whether or not the Yucca Mountain license application, and its supporting technical basis, demonstrate the safety of the proposed repository, and the NRC staff have the requisite expertise to make such a determination. To the best of my knowledge, neither Nevada's Attorney General, Senator Reid nor President Obama have the necessary technical expertise to determine whether or not Yucca Mountain is a suitable site for the repository. On the other hand, the Secretary of Energy, Dr. Steven Chu, is a Nobel Prize winning physicist, so he is qualified to determine whether the site is technical suitable. But this raises some questions about Dr. Chu's credibility on the matter of Yucca Mountain. First, a significant part of the scientific underpinning in the Yucca Mountain license application that, as Energy Secretary, he wants to withdraw was developed by scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory during Dr. Chu's tenure at this laboratory's director. Does this mean, that in his capacity as LBNL's Director, he endorsed his staff performing less-than-high-quality work? Second, in August 2008, two months after the license application had been submitted to the NRC and less that six months before becoming Energy Secretary, Dr. Chu — together with the Directors of nine other national laboratories — signed a letter to the then Energy Secretary promoting nuclear energy that clearly endorsed the licensing of the Yucca Mountain repository. Does this means that in less than six months there were new and signficantly enough technical and scientifc developments to force Dr. Chu to reverse his position with regard to Yucca Mountain? I am an engineer with a doctorate degree knowledgeable of the Yucca Mountain Project, and I am not aware of any such development.

    6. rxc says:

      The Yucca Mountain "Nuclear Waste Repository" is a joke and a collosal waste of our money. When you read the actual licensing documents, you see that they do not intend to seal the repository until about 200 years after the last emplacement of "waste". This is because the people who are fomenting this boondoggle realize that the waste will still have a lot energy in it, and our descendents might want to take it out of the mountain, reprocess it, and put it back into some reactors to make more power.

      YM is just a political program to somehow convince people that there is a "solution" to the nuclear waste "problem". But there is no need for a solution because there is no real problem. Nuclear fuel should be re-processed and the fissionable material should be fed back into reactors, as is done by the French, the British, the Russians, and the Japanese. This technology was invented here in the US, but is not used because Jimmy Carter convinced us that we had to stop, so that other non-nuclear countries would not develop nukear weapons.

      Hmmm… Didn't stop the Indians, or the Pakastanis, or the South Africans, or the North Koreans, or the Iraqis, or the Iranians… So why are we continuing with this charade?

    7. Dr. Jacob D Paz says:

      Dear Mr. Loris,

      I have read your article dated April/21/2010 here is my scientific opinion as to way DOE can withdraw the YMP License Application.

      On February 23rd and 26th, 2010, the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects website reported the following: Hanford, Washington area businesses, Aiken County, South Carolina, and the Tri-City State of Washington leaders officially filed lawsuits against President Obama and Secretary of Energy Chu for scrapping plans to build the Yucca Mountain Project (YMP) Nuclear Waste Facility in the U.S. Court of Appeals, Washington, D.C. The S.C. the lawsuit is seeking to stay the removal of the Yucca Mountain License Application. The Aiken County lawsuit alleged that withdrawal of the license application violated the Nuclear Waste Act of 1982 and its Amendments. Additionally, it may also violate the National Environment Policy Act (NEPA) of 1969.

      The Tri-city lawsuit stated that the termination of the YMP license application could pose health risks to their community. My contention is that the Department of Energy – Yucca Mountain Project license application is incomplete since it failed to address health and safety risk issues associated with metals and radionuclide exposure through groundwater as is mandated under the NEPA Act and its subsequent regulations. The NEPA Act clearly mandated regulatory agencies to prepare a detailed statement on significant environmental impact (EIS) of major federal actions, and to include reasonable alternative actions.

      Next, a YMP official in the Las Vegas Review Journal in 2004 stated that “to calculate health risks from the combined effects of heavy metals and radioactive materials when there is no requirement to do so would be ‘like challenging the speed limit.’”

      The DOE position is in conflict with the NEPA Acts of 1969 since DOE failed to properly discuss the potential/probable significant environmental impact of radionuclide and heavy metals on the human environment in the EIS. In addition, the 40 Code of Federal Regulation 1502.22, “Cumulative Effects,” stated that “when an agency is evaluating reasonably and foreseeable significant adverse effects on the human environment in the environmental impact statement and there is incomplete information, the agency shall always make it clear that such information is lacking.”

      Furthermore, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in a letter dated March 30, 2009 stated that with regards to my concerns about interaction between chemicals and radionuclides at Yucca Mountain, “the DOE’s EIS the NRC staff agree that analysis did not provide an adequate discussion of the cumulative amounts of radiological and non-radiological contaminated that may enter groundwater over time, this contaminated would behave in the aquifer and related environment. We have found that this failure to adequately characterize potential contaminates releases to the groundwater and surface discharge renders that the portion of the EIS is inadequate. DOE’s discussion of these impacts in the EIS’s is not consistence with the NRC’s regulations for completeness and adequacy of discussion of environmental consequences of proposed action.” The importance of this letter that is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission directed the YMP to submit a supplemental Environmental Impact Statement “to ensure that the 2002 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and the Supplement EIS are adequate.”

      The DOE is required to comply with regulations, Section 10 CFR 63.10 (a) and (b), which require the DOE to submit a complete and accurate license application; and Section 63.10 b) which requires the DOE to report any significant implications for public health and safety. The DOE license application failed to notify the Commission of information that the applicant or licensee has identified as having a significant implication for public safety. Therefore, it is my opinion that the President of United States and the Secretary of Energy are within their rights to withdraw the license application as incomplete.

      Yours,

      Dr. Jacob D Paz

    8. Yucca Insider, Las V says:

      It's funny how mere assertions without proof or qualification or situation in context have come to be synonymous with truth in the minds of some people.

      For example, the following: Yucca Mountain is allegedly….

      * Prone to earthquakes;

      * Shows evidence of geologically recent volcanic activity;

      * Has host rock so fractured and porous it allows rapid water movement through it;

      * Contains large quantities of highly corrosive groundwater (no, the site is not ‘dry’, but over 90% saturated);

      * Has an oxidizing envornment capable of corroding even the most exotic canister materials.

      Every one of these statements sounds plausible until you delve into the numbers and situate such claims in a relative context.

      For example, you can claim that the rock is "highly" fractured and porous, and make it sound less than suitable. But then, if you cite some simple realities like the annual rainfall for the three projected climate states, the amount of infiltration that gets past the surficial attributes (e.g., evapotranspiration and runoff), the amount that gets into the unsaturated zone, the amount that is trapped by the capillary barrier effect, and on and on — such unsubstantiated claims and the implications they invite fall apart.

      Moreover, they fall apart when you compare the associated features, events, and processes relative to another setting. For example, is situating a repository below a water table in a reducing environment absolutely better than situating a repository above a water table in an oxidizing environment? Depends, doesn't it, on the risks associated with doing so. If the water table in the first scenario supplies water to a large population center, but the water table in the second scenario dead ends in Death Valley and is used by virtually no one, the risk equation might favor the latter scenario, for in both cases there will be probabilistic risk analyses and degrees of uncertainty.

      When offered "soundbite" criticisms and unsubstantiated generalizations about the Yucca Mountain Project, it is usually better to trust the independent panels of leading seismologists and volcanologists, for example, who (in the Probabilistic Seismic Hazard Analysis and the Probabilistic Volcanic Hazard Analysis, respectively) meticulously quantified the risk of such hazards and concluded that they were negligible. Likewise with the many experts who closely studied the myriad hypothetical implications of seismic and volcanic events (e.g., rockfall, dike intrusion into the repository, ashfall, etc.). Likewise with the many experts who have carefully studied groundwater flow and hydrology at the site. Likewise with the corrosion scientists and safety experts who have evaluated the various waste canisters and casks.

      To do otherwise is to basically concede that the weight of scientific evidence counts for nothing, and that one need merely assert something to be convincing, especially to oneself.

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