Yucca Mountain


Since the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act designated deep geologic disposal as the preferred form of nuclear waste disposal, the Yucca Mountain project has cost the United States nearly $10 billion in almost three decades. In 1987, Congress passed an amendment directing the Department of Energy (DOE) to concentrate on Yucca Mountain, thus pushing away any alternatives. This section focuses on the selection of Yucca Mountain, its support and opposition, and its withdrawal by the DOE in 2010.

Opponents of Yucca Mountain have stated that it was chosen for political, not scientific, reasons. Many have stressed that there are better alternatives that have not been adequately analyzed because of the 1987 vote by Congress. In 2003, the state of Nevada, in its constant fight against the project, explained that Yucca was the only repository under construction in the world that was located above the water table rather than below it and the only one in an area of high seismic and volcanic activity (all of which pose considerable risks to the long-term safety of the storage of radioactive material). At a DOE public hearing 2001, one opponent claimed, “No one has bothered looking anywhere else.”

The DOE realized the validity of these claims, and in March 2010, it withdrew its application for Yucca Mountain, and attorneys claimed that if the application is dismissed, the DOE “does not intend ever to refile it.” The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, however, is determined that the DOE does not have the authority to withdraw its application. In early 2011, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia will hold hearings to address this issue. Even if Yucca Mountain is officially dismissed as a repository site, the government must invest more time and money in addressing the nuclear waste problem.

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