For millions of Americans, the science and safety of Yucca don't add up
By Mary Olson
Sunday, March 26, 2017 | 2 a.m.
For over 25 years, it has been my job at Nuclear Information and Resource Service to help people understand the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository project and the fact that it will not isolate the worst waste ever made.
Let's be clear.: As a radioactive waste dump, Yucca is a sieve. It would first leak radioactive gases to the air, then would release contaminants into the groundwater.
But Congress wrote the law to make sure that problem with leakage wouldn't get in the way of developing the project. It told federal agencies to write new rules, special for Yucca, based only on water. NIRS and Public Citizen won a lawsuit in 2004 that forced the Environmental Protection Agency to evaluate the performance of the proposed project at the time it is expected to start leaking, instead of after an arbitrary 1,000 or 10,000 years from now.
The projected leak rate from Yucca is so catastrophic that it required a work of science fiction to make the project look like it would meet the special water-only-standard: DOE theorizes that, 100 years out, the federal government would invest billions more dollars to install miles of titanium liners inside Yucca, using an unknown technology.
As a biologist, I know that Yucca Mountain is the wrong answer for nuclear waste when everyone agrees that the dump to be built there will leak. All of the federal agencies involved know that Yucca will leak: the Department of Energy, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and EPA. My goal as a life scientist is to keep radioactivity out of our environment.
So I cannot tell you the satisfaction I feel when I see photos of the DOE's tunnel into Yucca Mountain abandoned, being reclaimed by owls and coyotes. I salute the people of Nevada and the Western Shoshone Nation and other tribes who have fought long and hard to make Yucca a deserted site.
Everyone is safer because you have prevailed.
Now is the time to end this project, not restart it. If there will ever be a permanent site for the nation's stockpile of nuclear waste, it will only be possible after the failed Yucca plan is completely taken off the books.
It's also important to note that over the past 30 years, tens of thousands of people nationwide have stood with Nevadans to stop Yucca. Many say that when it comes to nuclear waste, we all live in Nevada.
Through the 1990s, those people contacted their congressional delegates, telling them to "Stop Mobile Chernobyl," referring to the transportation of highly radioactive waste from reactor sites to the proposed Yucca Mountain dump site. They signed petitions, got their town boards and city councils to pass resolutions, and in some cases sent strong advocates to Congress who supported the Nevada delegation in cutting off the flow of federal funds to the project.
No state has had better protectors than Sens. Harry Reid and Richard Bryan who, with Presidents Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama, put the brakes on Yucca.
Now, people across the country are mobilizing to stop Yucca again. Nevadans are near "the hole" as DOE officials have called it over the years, but there are 30 states where people are close to the reactors where the waste is in storage now.
Many in reactor communities have been leaders in opposing waste traveling to Yucca, and their voices are vital. Yet the largest number of people in this picture are the millions of Americans who live near the roads, rails and waterways where this waste would travel, if it begins to move. This group is collectively the sleeping giant in the Yucca Mountain issue.
There would be no new roads or rails for nuclear waste - the shipment routes are the same interstate highways and railways that link our largest cities. Metros like Cleveland, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Charlotte, N.C., Atlanta, St. Louis, Kansas City, Phoenix and Los Angeles would become corridors for the thousands of waste containers that would travel over the decades it would take to ship the country's nuclear waste to Nevada.
With thousands of shipments, DOE knows that there would be accidents along the way. Members of Congress shouldn't expect their constituents to take that lightly.
Nobody wants the danger of this waste coming through their communities - especially not to dump it in a hole in Nevada where it is guaranteed to leak.
Mary Olson is director of the Southeast Office of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.