Monday, January 24, 2000
If science rules, then Yucca Mountain fails
Bob Thomas' discussion of the federal government's proposal to dispose of highlevel radioactive waste in Nevada in the Jan. 8 issue of the Appeal ("Science can solve our problems if we let it") badly misses the mark with respect to what is occurring at Yucca Mountain.
As the governor's representative on this issue, and someone who has been involved with Nevada's nuclear waste fight for almost 10 years, I know that "science" can do many things, but it cannot alter facts or, in the case of Yucca Mountain, turn a bad site into a good one. The cold, hard fact is that Yucca Mountain is an extremely poor site for disposing of highly radioactive waste that must be isolated from the environment for hundreds of thousands of years.
Yes, Mr. Thomas, Nevada would welcome a situation where science was allowed to make decisions regarding the storage and disposal of highly radioactive wastes. Gov. Guinn is working with Secretary of Energy Richardson to try and bring that about. The stumbling block is the fact that, if science is in, Yucca Mountain is out.
Nevada has been demanding for years that the selection and evaluation of a site for a nuclear waste repository be based solely on scientific criteria. Unfortunately, in the real world in which we live not Mr. Thomas' idealized version it is politics, not science, that has driven the Yucca Mountain program almost from the beginning.
It was known that as far back as the early 1980s, that Yucca Mountain had serious flaws with respect to its ability to isolate radioactive wastes. The site is highly fractured and prone to earthquakes. New evidence suggests an increased risk for renewed volcanism and an even higher earthquake risk due to the stretching and expanding of the earth under the mountain.
It is no wonder that 70 percent of Nevadans oppose the Yucca Mountain project, and that opposition has remained constant over the past 15 years. One independent researcher hired to conduct surveys on the issue by the state's largest newspaper called the public's response to the proposed repository "the closest thing to a consensus you're likely to see" on a public policy issue.