Term Paper: Yucca Mountain

Pages: 6 (2153 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Topic: Geography  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … Nuclear waste [...] Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project in Nevada. The Yucca Mountain Repository (often referred to as the "nuclear waste dump") is the nation's "solution" to long-term storage of nuclear waste. Nuclear waste is generated from America's nuclear power plants and other government defense programs, and the waste is currently stored in 126 sites across the nation. Yucca Mountain would collect all the nuclear waste in one remote location, which many people believe is a safer alternative to today's storage methods. However, there is strong opposition to the repository throughout many areas of the country. Most Nevada residents strongly oppose the repository, and many others believe that the site is unstable and not suitable for long-term nuclear waste storage. The repository has been in development since 1978, and many people wonder if it will ever actually open for business, while many others fervently hope that day never comes.

Nuclear waste has been a growing problem since the spread of nuclear power plants in the 1950s and 1960s. The power plants rely on radioactive rods to generate nuclear power, and when the rods are spent, they are still highly radioactive, and must be stored somewhere. Currently, the spent rods are stored around the country in many different storage facilities, but for safety, the government wants to consolidate the storage in a remote facility built especially to handle large amounts of nuclear waste. While the idea sounds plausible, there have been numerous problems with the site chosen for the storage facility since its inception.

Yucca Mountain is located in a remote area of Nye County, Nevada, about 100 miles north of Las Vegas. The site was chosen for a variety of reasons, but one is that the Federal Government already owned the land, (it is within the "secure boundaries" of the Nevada Nuclear Test Site, which makes it quite convenient for security and land usage).

Since the government already owns the property, and it is located on one of the most secure facilities in the west, the Yucca Mountain project seemed to be located in the perfect spot. Another writer notes, "Made of volcanic ash laid down between seven and 12 million years ago, Yucca was selected primarily because of its aridity. If water were to reach nuclear waste containers, it could transmit hazardous material to nearby populations or contaminate farming."

However, there are numerous other problems with the site - some that the government still has not addressed, and many wonder if the facility will ever actually open for business, even though billions of dollars have been dumped into development and construction at the site.

The Federal Government is involved in nuclear waste disposal because some of the nuclear waste comes from government defense programs, and because the Department of Energy is in charge of the health and welfare of the American people when it comes to energy usage and generation. In addition, the government is probably the only entity that could appropriate the funds large enough to study and build this facility, or come up with enough land in a secure area to build and maintain the facility. The government maintains the need for a new waste repository is crucial to the continuing operation of nuclear power plants in the United States, because current storage facilities are overcrowded, outdated, and often located near large population centers in the East, which could pose significant health and welfare threats if there was an accident at a storage facility.

The government chose the location at Yucca Mountain for any number of reasons. They own the land, and it is located inside a very secure facility that has already been used for nuclear testing for decades. In addition, the location in Nevada is fairly remote, so if there was an accident at the site, it would not impact local populations as an accident in the East would. The DOE Web site notes, "Scientists have long considered Yucca Mountain a promising site for a repository due to the area's dry climate, remoteness, stable geology, deep water table, and closed water basin."

In addition, while the government has not admitted this, when the site was chosen, Nevada had a low population and little influence in Congress, so the legislation could be pushed through with relative ease.

It is only since Senator Harry Reid of Nevada has gained a leadership role in the Senate that the project has come under major fire in Congress, and steps have been taken to halt the use of the facility for storage. In addition, Nevada, especially the Las Vegas area, is one of the fastest growing areas of the country, and as new residents move into the state, they begin to argue against the dump's location. Ultimately, many people believe Nevada was chosen because the government felt it could override concerns and run the project through Congress with little opposition, since few people outside Nevada residents really cared about where it was located. Another writer notes, [M]ost Nevadans believe they are victims of politics when it comes to Yucca Mountain. The sparsely populated state has historically had only two representatives in the U.S. House; a third representative was added last month, thanks to the influx of residents to booming Las Vegas."

As news of the dump expanded, more people became convinced the Yucca Mountain plan is flawed for any number of reasons, and opposition has continued to grow to the project, especially in the western U.S. A "Los Angeles Times" staff writer says of the dump, "It is hated in much of the West. It looks like it is in deep political trouble in Congress. And a number of presidential candidates have attacked the dump."

One of the reasons so many western states oppose the dump is the way nuclear waste will be transported to the site - through many of their states on rail lines and highways that pass through major cities and urban centers. The biggest problem with this transportation is that there is no plan in place to guard the waste from terrorist attack or other security measures, and much of the waste will have to travel very long distances to reach the dumpsite. This means it will travel through many major urban centers, with the potential for accident or attack always possible. For many, this is the deal-breaker for Yucca Mountain. Reporter Zapler continues, "According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, an environmental advocacy organization in Washington, D.C., each shipment would carry 240 times the radioactive material that was released during the U.S. bombing of Hiroshima."

This is the area with the least planning and foresight, and the area where the most damage could potentially be done to U.S. citizens and cities.

The discussion and debate over Yucca Mountain has been brewing for years, and is really nothing new. The site has been controversial since the government first chose it for study in the late 1970s. First, the site is only 100 miles north of Las Vegas, one of the largest and heavily visited entertainment capitals in the world. A large-scale accident at the site could greatly impact the city of Las Vegas and beyond, which would have a negative effect on the nation's and state's economy. Next, the site's location is on an earthquake fault. While studies indicate the fault has been inactive for hundreds of years, many people fear renewed activity in the region could greatly compromise the facility, and even damage it so much that nuclear waste could be released into the ground or the air. A study by the State of Nevada notes, "Analysis of the available data indicates that, since 1976, there have been 621 seismic events of magnitude greater than 2.5 within a 50-mile radius of Yucca Mountain. Reported underground nuclear weapons tests at the Nevada Test Site have been excluded from this count."

Thus, the safety of the site is in question, and yet this argument, while promoted by geologists and scientists inside and outside Nevada, has not been given much credence or study by the Department of Energy (DOE), even though a 5.6 magnitude quake in 1992 caused damage to a DOE field office building on the Yucca Mountain site.

As with any controversial project, there are several opposing views to Yucca Mountain. The DOE and other proponents of Yucca Mountain believe nuclear waste must be consolidated in the country, and that a remote location is the best choice for this storage and consolidation. The repository has been designed to store waste for at least 10,000 years. The plan is to fill the repository with nuclear waste in specially designed barrels, deep inside the mountain in concrete tunnels. The barrels and the tunnels are designed to control the waste even in the event of an emergency, and eventually, the entire mountain, filled with nuclear waste, will be sealed off forever. Scientists estimate it would take 100 to 300 years to fill the dump and seal it. Finally, there have been many reports of fraud and… [END OF PREVIEW]

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