July 14, 1998
Yucca Mountain: When, not if . . .
It should come as no surprise that scientists studying Yucca Mountain have stopped trying to figure out whether it can safely store radioactive waste, but rather are spending their time engineering a way to make it safe.
Nevertheless, that admission by Department of Energy Project Director Lake Barrett in Sunday's edition for the Nevada Appeal should carry a degree of alarm for Nevada residents.
"We cannot provide assurance of complete nuclear radiation containment over hundreds of thousands of years," Barrett said, "We need to understand that, otherwise we could be saddled with unrealistic expectations; expectations that could result in rejection os an otherwise suitable site."
In other words, Barrett and the DOE have been handed an impossible job. Whatever they do, it is going to fail eventually. It's just a question of when.
For opponents of nuclear storage in Nevada, their hope is that the DOE fails immediately, In fact, they would argue DOE already has failed to show that Yucca Mountain is a reasonably safe place to store nuclear waste for the unforeseeable future.
That would mean spent fuel rods from around the country never would be shipped to Nevada
If Barrett and the DOE do their optimistic best, it will be thousands of years before a storage cask leaks, even longer before the radiation seeps into the water supply, and by then it will be harmless to humans.
Almost surely, that day would come after our lifetimes are over.
But if the worst happens, and it could, then the Yucca Mountain project has the potential to be a disaster for many generations.
We do not want nuclear waste to be shipped to Nevada. While it may seem inevitable, given the DOE's belief it can engineer around any problem that comes up, we still don't think it's worth jobs or money or any other form of federal mollification.
Perhaps, it's unrealistic for us to expect that nuclear waste will not be shipped from someone else's backyard to Nevada's backyard. It remains, however, a goal worth fighting for.
* * *