Yucca Mountain: One big hole

Truth stranger than fiction in $75 million effort to waste Nevada

By
ABBY JOHNSON

Published in the
Nevada Appeal
April 30, 1997


 
The tunnel boring machine at Yucca Mountain found the light at the end of the tunnel last week.
After two and a half years and at least $75 million, the five-mile tunnel is now completed, but nuclear waste decision makers are no more enlightened than ever about the management of nuclear waste.
For Nevada and the nuclear waste issue, truth is stranger than fiction.
The truth is that a majority of the U.S. senators think it is a good idea to ship mass quantities of one of the earth's deadliest substances through 43 states to the country's fastest growing state to park it indefinitely.
The truth is that the parking spot is in a state that is the third most seismically active, after California and Alaska.
The truth is that since 1976, there have been 621 seismic events of magnitude greater than 2.5 within a 50-mile radius of Yucca Mountain, which straddles the western boundary of the Nevada Test Site. (This excludes reported underground nuclear weapons tests at the Nevada Test Site.)
The truth is that in order for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to license an above-ground "temporary" storage facility for spent fuel from nuclear power plants, the agency would have to change its own rules due to the number of earthquakes in the area.
The truth is that in the nation's Capitol, Nevada has an image problem: gambling, prostitution, wasteland. A recent nuclear power industry ad touted the Nevada storage site as, "Bone dry. Oppressively hot. Uninhabited. A perfect retirement spot for nuclear waste."
The truth is that the more scientists learn about Yucca Mountain, the less confidence they have that it will do the job of containing the radioactive waste for at least 10,000 years. because of the way the water moves within and through the faulted block of volcanic rock.
The truth is that the Nuclear power industry is telling Congress that if they vote to send the waste to Nevada, they are doing what's right for the environment.
The truth is that the 109 nuclear power plants won't be free of the waste if it is shipped out here; they'll just have room to produce more. The sites themselves will continue to be de facto nuclear waste storage sites for the unforeseeable future.
The truth is that the Department of Energy is proposing to ship the waste through fixed-price market driven and privately financed contracts.
The waste would be shipped by the lowest bidders, who are responsible for the safe delivery of the toxic cargo.
The Department of Energy plans to divide the country into four regions; it is likely that local emergency responders along the way will have to deal with up to four contractors as haulers.
The truth is the Department of Energy is counting on these low bid contractors to plan the routing, provide security, communicate with state and local governments, and transfer the stuff from one mode of transport to another.
The truth is that in the event of an emergency, the trucking contractor's job will be to notify the authorities, while state and local agencies will be responsible for emergency response.
The truth is that the emergency response alert was sounded last week when Gov. Miller proclaimed April 20-27 as Nevada Earthquake Preparedness and Mitigation Week, raising public awareness about what can be done here in Nevada to prepare for an earthquake and how to minimize the effects from an earthquake.
The truth is that the best way to mitigate the effects of earthquakes in Nevada is by not bringing nuclear waste to Nevada. What a strange and fantastic idea.

Abby Johnson moved to Carson City in 1980 to fight deployment of the MX missile in Nevada. She directed Citizen Alert, has managed the state's Community Development Block Grant Program serving rural Nevada, and is presently a consultant on community development, grant management and nuclear waste issues. She was a Governor's appointee to the state Welfare Board from 1990-93, is a member of the League of Women Voters, and worked actively in the last election for the passage of the school bond.
She is married and has one elementary school-age child.


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