Environmental Issues of Yucca Mountain Nuclear Storage Facility in Nevada

Yucca Mountain is located about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. There were several processes which occurred during the formation of this mountain. A series of eruptions from a caldera occurred with subsequent alternate layering of tuffs.

Two years ago, DOE (Department of Energy) tendered its interest on constructing (radioactive) waste storage compartment. It proposed the repository to be inside this volcanic-rock mountain. This was a directive from Congress which thought that Yucca was the most appropriate location for this facility. Other departments involved in this process include the NRC, the U.S Department for Defense, among others.

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There have been several conflicts that threaten the viability of the project. These conflicts are mainly geologically and geographically related. The geographical position of Yucca Mountain exposes it to risks emanating from factors related to the distance of transportation.

The shipping containers which will be used for transportation are not well equipped and the trucks, trains and ships are also susceptible to terrorist attacks. The distance they cover, that is across 45 states, also renders them viable to accidents. All these factors put together will bring the picture of mobile Chernobyls (Kamps, 2003).

Yucca is near Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Nellis Air Force Base is also very close to this place. This air force Base is the Nevada nuclear weapons test site. This attests to the fact of unsuitability considering triggering of eruptions and earthquakes which could subsequently cause leakage.

Mining operations, which are near Yucca, will also threaten accidental and intentional detonations in this area (Kamps, 2003). Leaders of the state of Nevada believe that accidents which will occur during transportation will hurt Nevadas image as a nice place to live, tour or invest. The leaders also fear that large scale radioactive releases may occur when an earthquake strikes, or in the event of volcanic eruption.

When the DOE proposed Yucca Mountain as one of the sites for nuclear waste repository, several issues emerged. Many questions have been raised on whether the facility was good enough to prevent any leakage of the nuclear waste. Should the nuclear waste leak, it will find its way to subsurface water and pollute it. This project caused the conflict taking into consideration that the Congress made a rushed decision without extensive research. It should also be noted that Yucca Mountain has a high cost.

About 1.6 million dollars is spent at this project per day yet there is virtually nothing spent on high level radioactive waste against attacks by terrorists or against accidents. Currently, high-level radioactive nuclear waste is stored in pools that are vulnerable across the U.S. others are stored in dry storage casks which renders it viable to cause harm. It is argued that the money being spent for Yucca should be channeled to other uses that are aimed at securing high level radioactive waste against accidents or terrorist attacks (Kamps, 2003).

Thus, the licensing process has presented a formidable hurdle for Yucca repository. As we have seen, battles of the annual budget and several lawsuits also present major hindrances to the development of this facility.

In 1982, Congress commenced working on a (national) policy that was intended at resolve the . The idea was to formulate a policy agreeable with most scientists worldwide. This purpose was achieved by the congress which subsequently led to the creation of the nuclear waste policy Act. This Nuclear Policy Act gave the U,S Department of Defense the responsibility of finding a site and to build and operate a nuclear waste facility in the subsurface.

In 1983, nine locations were selected to be considered for the project. These locations included Yucca Mountain. Extensive studies were done on all the sites. Results of this research were out by 1985. The president approved three sites (Yucca Mountain, Hanford and Deaf Smith) based on these reports.

However according to the directive given by the Congress only Yucca Mountain was to be studied. Afterwards the final legislative vote was cast by the senate in support of the Congress. This was done in 2002 and its purpose was to approve the building of the nuclear waste facility.

An application for a license was then submitted in 2008, in order for the facility to be developed. The DOE is still waiting for the project to be approved by the NRC. Hence the project is dependent on the NRCs licensing proceedings.

Nevada together with many environmental groups has filed several lawsuits against the Environmental Protection Agency, National Research council and the U.S Department of Defense. Should any of these suits succeed, the process will either be delayed or the dump will be defeated. Nevada continues to raise questions concerning the quality and effectiveness of the nuclear waste facility (Stephens media, 2010).

Currently, the Yucca deal is far from done. The magnitude of challenges it faces is overwhelming. The many suits which have been filed against this project must be strongly defended. Proponents of this process must seek funding annually from Yuccas budget to prevent strong opposition. Those who oppose this deal including residents along Yuccas transport route who are planning to block the licensing process.

The success of this story is far from over since it takes years for the plan to move ahead a single step. For instance the National Research Council will take 3-5 years to complete the licensing process before which the U.S Department of Defense must have submitted their operating licensing application. This process will also take not less than a year (Kamps, 2003).

The consequences of the conflict therefore are wastage of resources such as money and time. There is also the issue of corruption of the decision-making process. Nearly 300 incomplete studies have been done yet the proposal won the Congressional approval and the presidential approval. This happened despite major conflicts that have been caused by this project and also despite Nevadas disapproval.

Money in terms of millions of dollars has been spent in form of direct Capitol Hill lobbying in the nuclear industry. Campaign contributions to federal office seekers who seek to influence the Yucca vote have also cost considerable amounts of money. The conflict has caused collision of many departments concerned especially environmental agencies, public health agencies, Nevada residents and many others. This collision is of bad taste since it brews distrust and fear of corrupt leadership in the concerned departments.

Apparently the only solution to this conflict is to terminate the Yucca mountain project. Since the coming into power of President Barrack Obama, the president and his government have been showing their dedication to end the Yucca Mountain. Ending the Yucca mountain nuclear waste repository project is apparently the only viable solution.

President Barrack Obama has indeed dedicated his effort to terminating this project. He completely eliminated funding for the proposed Yucca Mountain project in the 2011 financial year (Reid, 2010).

This suggests that with no funding from the government, this project is headed for an unceremonious closure. DOE filed a suit to withdraw the license application so that it may consult Yucca Mountain. This was done in March 2010. If this motion succeeds and the application withdrawn, it may never be refilled since the motion was filed with prejudice.

Since the U.S congress passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1982 and further recklessly approved President Bushs decision of endorsing Yucca Mountain, this process has been considered as evidently flawed because congress instructed the DOE to study only the Yucca Mountain.

The decision was made prematurely and with minimum consultation. This is, beyond doubt one of the major causes of this conflict. Harry Reid, the U.S Senator for Nevada, together with Senator John Ensign, had recently proposed the creation of a Blue Ribbon commission of experts to oversee a sound and a more comprehensive design for a new dispensation to nuclear waste disposal.

This was approved by President Obama who announced the creation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Americas Nuclear Future on March 3, 2010. The commission is composed of experts from relevant fields such as geologists, energy experts, environmentalists and policy experts.

This list is opposed to the former which mainly included selfish politicians who are members of the Congress. This panel of experts is expected to present a comprehensive report on the best alternatives to Yucca. The report will be presented in the beginning of the year 2012. Despite several suites filed against the DOE for their motion of withdrawal, the Nevada Senator has sworn not to avail any money for the project (Reid, 2010).

The Resolution of this Conflict has Faced Several Challenges
The main challenge is caused by other states. These states are challenging the U.S Department of Energy for withdrawing from this issue and have filed many petitions with the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit claiming that the steps the DOE took were against the 1982 Act. One of the reasons as to why they oppose it is they fear that the site might be moved to a state in which they reside.

Considering the advantages and disadvantages of this project, one needs to weigh the options on either side to know what to decide. On one hand, the Yucca project would be pretty detrimental to Nevadans.

This is because the accidents that come from the activities of this project would be harmful to their health. Since the mountain is near mining activities and the Nevada nuclear weapons test site, these activities can trigger leakage of the nuclear waste. As a result, it is pretty evident that the health of Nevada residents will be compromised. Considering also that the waste has to be transported, the residents of the transport route will be easily endangered since their health will be at risk should an accident occur.

On the other hand, the U.S needs a suitable place to construct a repository for nuclear waste. The location of the facility in question should be underground and it should also be in a suitable geographic place. Yucca should be chosen as the last alternative to this issue. This should happen if and only if there has been a thorough study of all the potential areas for this project. Unless all other areas have been investigated, Yucca Mountain should not be an option.


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