Mason Valley News

October 12, 2001

Concerned citizens question representatives about te safety of Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository

By Kay Jenney
Staff Writer

Yerington citizens, had the opportunity last Friday to meet with both proponents and adversaries of the proposed federal nuclear waste depository at Yucca Mountain.

The U.S. Energy Department has scheduled public field hearings in each county in Nevada (and one California county) to receive input to the proposed Yucca Mountain Project and a second public hearing in Lyon County is scheduled for today (Friday) from 3-8 p.m. at the Lyon County Administrative Complex.

Environmental scientist Kurt Rauenstruach said the Yucca Mountain site would most likely have to be monitored for three to 500 years and that early radiation detection systems, would be in place to monitor well water. He said that eventually the outer casting -- titanium drip shield -- would corrode by water dripping on it. Rauenstruach said everything must be handled remotely; that no human being could go inside due not only to the radioactivity, but also the intense thermal heat generated.

Rauenstruach said the design was created for the nuclear waste to stay there forever, but that Congress had been looking at the possibility of a process not yet developed to negate the levels of radiation, so the engineering may be redesigned so the waste could be retrieved at some point in the future.

Resident Sue Porter asked what could be done with the waste, if someone should be able to get hold of a truck a carrying radioactive nuclear waste.

Rauenstruach said first of all anyone who handled the stuff would die from the radiation, and even if some were stolen, it could not be used for energy or weapons.

"All they could do is blow it up and spread the radiation," said Rauenstruach.

He noted there are no rail routes. that go directly to the site, but there is an ongoing study of three possible rail routes.

"If they choose rail transportation, it's a few years away for the decision," Rauenstruach said. He explained that federal regulations say the fastest route, which is a highway, should be used but the states have the authority to change that after submitting a safety analysis.

Rauenstruach added that the State of Nevada has not entered into any discussion about possible compensation for allowing the site; in the state.

The State of Nevada Governor's Office Agency for Nuclear Projects opposes the Yucca Mountain site because of scientific uncertainties and its position that it is unsafe. They say the dump must last for 10,000 years,. twice as long as mankind's recorded history. The State said in its brochure available at the hearing says that accidents happen and that 69.4% of those polled are against the project.

Scientists for the U.S. Department of Energy think the nuclear repository will work. They say based on observance of fossilled remains of uranium ore, they believe that rock and soil is the best substance to isolate the radioactive waste. They also say that people live with radiation contamination every day and the US average dose is 360 millirems per year and exposure is not expected to increase to persons near the repository for the first 10,000 years. Millirems are extremely tiny amounts of energy absorbed by tissues in the body.

The public comment period on the project has been extended until Oct. 19 to allow for comments from these public hearings to be included.

Yucca Mountain is a six-mile long, 1,200 foot high, flat-topped volcanic ridge about 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The U.S. Department of Energy has been studying Yucca Mountain scientifically for many years to determine if it's a suitable place to build a geologic repository for the nation's commercial and defense spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. It is the only site being studied for a nuclear waste dump.

Additional information on these public hearing sessions and the Civilian Radioactive Waste Management program may be obtained at the Yucca Mountain web site at www.ymp.gov or by calling 1-800-967-3477.