posted: February 4, 1998

Why Does the State Oppose Yucca Mountain?

Yucca Mountain 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 plans to turn Yucca Mountain into the nation's first high-level nuclear waste repository, if a study finds the site safe.

If the plan proceeds, 77,000 tons of hazardous radioactive materials from the 110 U.S. commercial nuclear power plants — 90 percent of which are east of the Mississippi River — and the government's nuclear weapons complex will be entombed at Yucca Mountain. The wastes need to be contained for at least 10,000 years because of the extreme hazards to public health and the environment associated with these radioactive materials.

The Yucca Mountain controversy involves fundamental issues of a state's right to determine its economic and environmental future and to consent or object to federal projects within its borders.

Why You Should Be Involved:

Scientific uncertainties.

Many studies by federal government scientists and independent contractors suggest that Yucca Mountain is unsafe for holding nuclear waste and keeping it out of the environment. In fact, State of Nevada scientists believe that the site, under the DOE's own guidelines, should already have been disqualified.

Nuclear waste.

Radiation from nuclear waste proposed for Yucca Mountain burial is so intense that anyone with direct contact would receive a fatal dose instantly. Spent nuclear fuel contains tons of plutonium, an extremely toxic byproduct with a half-life of 24,000 years. One-billionth of an ounce, if ingested, can cause cancer or genetic defects.

Politics and economics. Many feel these influences are too great to allow for an objective evaluation of the site. Dump proponents and the nuclear power industry are eager to get the site approved despite significant environmental and health and safety problems. Should the site not work out, the nuclear industry believes it would be set back decades in its goal to build new nuclear power plants.

10,000 years.

Since a dump like this that must last for 10,000 years — almost twice as long as mankind's recorded history — has never been built anywhere in the world, proponents believe that Nevadans should rely on DOE safety evaluations and predictions that it will leak no more than permitted by regulations. The DOE's track record in handling nuclear materials, however, is extremely poor.

The State's Position:

State leaders believe the current high-level nuclear waste dump program is fatally flawed, and because of this have found it necessary to oppose the use of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository for a variety of reasons:

Who Opposes Yucca Mountain:

 Independent public opinion polls during the past decade have consistently indicated that more than two-thirds of all Nevadans do not want a nuclear waste dump in their state, and believe that the State of Nevada should do everything in its power to stop it.

Nevada's governor and its entire congressional delegation as well as numerous governments and organizations have expressed opposition to the proposed nuclear waste dump through resolutions and other explicit statements of policy:


Who we are:

In response to growing public and legislative concern about the proposed high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, the 1985 Nevada Legislature transformed the Nuclear Waste Project Office, which was established in 1983 as part of the Governor's Office, into an independent Agency for Nuclear Projects. It is funded by a direct appropriation from the U.S. Congress.

What we do:

The office acts as the state's "watchdog" to oversee the DOE's proposed repository activities at Yucca Mountain. The office's technical and planning research divisions have published 117 reports in more than 125 volumes covering some 30,000 pages.

The office evaluates, monitors, and investigates DOE's Yucca Mountain work, employing researchers and scientists from the University of Nevada System and research and scientific institutions from across the nation.

Research covers such areas as the environment, the physical, chemical, volcanic, seismological, mineral and groundwater properties of Yucca Mountain (and includes a team of scientists at the site itself), the DOE's track record in nuclear materials handling and trustworthiness, transportation risk assessment, and socioeconomic research details the effects of the proposed dump on the economy and society of southern Nevada and the state.

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