Dec 17, 2001
The Department of Energy announced a sudden revision of its long-standing rules concerning permanent storage of nuclear waste.
In 1982, the U.S. Congress ordered the DoE to study the feasibility of using Yucca Mountain in Nevada as the site where nuclear waste would be dumped. At that time, the DoE claimed that Yucca Mountain’s geology was the main reason for choosing the site. Supposedly, the site had natural geological barriers which would have ensured that the nuclear waste would be safely isolated for thousands of years. For decades, while opposition to this site persisted throughout the state of Nevada and in nearby areas of the West, the DoE insisted that no place else matched the geological barriers provided by Yucca Mountain – that without them, all engineered barriers would be insufficient.
Now, however, extensive testing shows that Yucca Mountain is, in fact, a geological disaster area. Earthquake fault lines run riot throughout the area. There are large areas of underground loose rock, which, instead of acting as a barrier, actually channel water to the surface, thereby having the potential to carry radioactive material with it if waste were to be stored there.
What conclusion did the DoE draw? Go back to the drawing board and start all over, trying to work out a different way of getting rid of nuclear waste? Not at all. It simply issued new rules declaring that geological barriers are no longer needed. It will be protection enough to bury the nuclear waste in cylindrical casks placed in parallel tunnels underground.
If that’s the case, said some critics, then why not store the nuclear waste underneath the Department of Energy’s headquarters in Washington?