Pros And Cons Of Storing Nuclear Waste At The Yucca Mountains

1150 words - 5 pages

Should Yucca Mountain be used to store nuclear waste?
With the imminent license renewal of the majority of US nuclear power plants and the insistence of the Bush administration to build additional plants, the need for long-term storage of nuclear waste is greater than ever. Current estimates have the nation's 103 nuclear reactors producing 84,000 metric tons of waste by 2035 (Hansen, 2001). With the current containers either close to or completely filled, the Department of Energy has chosen the Yucca Mountains as the permanent repository for nuclear waste. A seemingly ideal location, Yucca Mountain is 100 miles outside of Las Vegas, with the nearest humans 15 miles away (Hansen, 2001). ...view middle of the document...

With no one living near the mountain, several checkpoints can be setup allowing almost impregnable security access.
While the isolation of the site is a selling factor, the same seclusion creates one of the biggest dangers associated with this project. That problem is the transportation of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. The majority of states will ship many tons of waste by rail or truck to the repository. Critics feel human error and weather conditions could lead to many accidents, with the possibility of a situation similar to Chernobyl. They feel that the more waste that is transported, the better chance an accident will occur. The fear is that emergency workers will not be able to handle the type of problems that could arise. However, tests of the shipping containers and computer modeling have produced little evidence that an accident would cause a wide spread release (Hansen, 2001). As long as trained emergency workers can effectively handle a potential dangerous situation, the rewards of the sire far outweigh the risk involved.
The Department of Energy plan calls for a site whose natural geological features, when mixed with human barriers, will provide a safe storage facility for the waste. According to a 1998 study, Yucca Mountain fits this requirement. Summarizing 15 years of site data, the Department of Energy report stated that the arid climate and stable geology would reduce the risk of a leak, with any leakage having to pass through 1000 feet of rock to reach the water level (as cited in Hansen, 2001). The study concludes that once sealed, there would be little or no increase in radiation exposure for 10,000 years (Hansen, 2001). Critics, including Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects, disagree with the findings of the study however. Citing other geological reports, Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects claims that Yucca Mountain sits on an active earthquake zone and has received at least 600 examples of seismic activity of 2.5 or higher (as cited in Hansen, 2001). This activity could lead to a rupture in the tanks, which may result in a leak. The Department of Energy is confident that the potential seismic events will not result in container leakage since the design of the containers allows them to stand up to the elements and last 10,000 years. Even if the unthinkable occurs, the sites isolation will help keep danger to a minimum.
The other major factor making Yucca Mountain an ideal choice is the storage capacity of the site. Estimations state that...

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