Yucca Mountain (USA)

The recommendation to use a geologic repository dates back to 1957 when the National Academy of Sciences recommended that the best means of protecting the environment, public health and safety would be to dispose of the high level waste in rock deep underground.

In 1982, Congress established a national policy to solve the problem of nuclear waste disposal. This policy is a federal law called the Nuclear Waste Policy Act.

In 1983, the DOE selected nine locations in six states for consideration as potential repository sites. This was based on data collected for nearly 10 years.

The nine sites were studied and results of these preliminary studies were reported in 1985. Based on these reports, the president approved three sites for intensive scientific study called site characterization. The three sites were Hanford/ Washington; Deaf Smith County/ Texas; and Yucca Mountain/ Nevada.

In 1987, Congress amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and directed DOE to study only Yucca Mountain. The Act stressed that if, at any time, Yucca Mountain is found unsuitable, studies will be stopped immediately. If that happens, the site will be restored and DOE will seek new direction from Congress.
The Department of Energy's (DOE) 1988 Site Characterization Plan for Yucca Mountain established the initial basis for the many engineering and scientific investigations of the site. It has been conducting site characterization to gather enough information about the Yucca Mountain site to evaluate the waste isolation capabilities. In 1991, the State of Nevada granted the DOE the permits necessary to proceed with certain site characterization activities. These activities included the excavation of test pits and trenches, drilling bore holes, and monitoring ground water.

In September 1994, the DOE began excavation of the exploratory studies facility using a tunnel boring machine. The initial design called for a continuous tunnel 7.6 meters (25 feet) in diameter. The tunnel was completed in April 1997. The tunnel begins at the North Portal and extends to the northwest approximately 2000 meters (1.24 miles). The tunnel then transitions into an approximately 60 degree turn to the south. The section from the North Portal to the 60 degree turn is known as the "North Ramp". The turn from the "North Ramp" leads to a main tunnel, at a depth of 300 meters (984 feet) below the surface. The main tunnel has a north-south alignment and extends south approximately 3000 meters (1.86 miles). The main tunnel ends in a 90 degree turn. From this turn the tunnel travels east about 1300 meters (0.8 miles) and emerges at the South Portal. The tunnel machine has bored through a series of geologic features including a structural feature known as the Bow Ridge Fault. Within the tunnel are seven testing alcoves and four test niches that are being used to investigate the hydrologic, hydrochemical, and thermo-mechanical properties of the rocks underlying Yucca Mountain.

In December 1997, the DOE began excavation of a smaller exploratory tunnel (5.5 meters/18 feet) across the main tunnel. This smaller tunnel is known as the "east-west" or "cross" drift and runs almost perpendicular to the North Ramp. The "cross" drift begins to the west of the Bow Ridge Fault, and crosses over and above the north-south main tunnel. It is about 2600 meters (1.6 miles) in length and ends near the Solitario Canyon Fault. The "cross" drift will also contain instrumentation for scientific tests and should provide additional data on the sub-surface geology of Yucca Mountain to the west of the main tunnel. The layout of both the Exploratory Studies Facility and the Cross Drift can be viewed.

Yucca Mountain, Nevada, has features that may make it suitable for a nuclear waste repository. By suitable, scientists mean the rock will keep the waste sufficiently isolated for thousands of years so that the radioactive material will pose about the same risk or less risk of health effects to the public as that of unmined uranium ore. The physical characteristics that might render Yucca Mountain a suitable site for waste disposal include:

- its remote location and long distance from a large population center--100 miles from Las Vegas, Nevada;
- its very dry climate
- its extremely deep water table--800 to 1,000 feet below the level of the potential repository.

The unique combination of rock characteristics and the deep water table lead many scientists to think that the site appears capable of isolating the spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

Facilities in Yucca Mountain

plantreactor typconstruction startoperation startshut down
Yucca MountainHLW storage

Yucca Mountain project terminated in budget request
It has already been dumped, but the the long-running Yucca Mountain waste disposal plan has now been officially 'terminated' in the US Department of Energy's (DoE's) 2010 budget request.

Although energy secretary Steven Chu requested $197 million for the USA's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, the money is only enough to keep the office ticking over and liaise with regulators who are examining the licence application for the project.

The DoE said that under its budget proposal: "All funding for the development of the Yucca Mountain facility would be eliminated, such as further land acquisition, transportation access, and additional engineering."
(source: http://www.world-nuclear-news.org)


2009, March: Obama dumps Yucca mountain final repository
"President Obama’s proposed budget cuts off most money for the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste project, a decision that fulfills a campaign promise and wins the president political points in Nevada — but raises new questions about what to do with radioactive waste from the nation’s nuclear power plants.

The decision could cost the federal government additional billions in payments to the utility industry, and if it holds up, it would mean that most of the $10.4 billion spent since 1983 to find a place to put nuclear waste was wasted.

A final decision to abandon the repository would leave the nation with no solution to a problem it has struggled with for half a century.

Lawyers are predicting tens of billions of dollars in damage suits from utilities that must pay to store their wastes instead of having the government bury them, with the figure rising by about a half-billion dollars for each year of additional delay.

The courts have already awarded the companies about $1 billion, because the government signed contracts obligating it to begin taking the waste in 1998, but seems unlikely to do so for years. The nuclear industry says it may demand the return of the $22 billion that it has paid to the Energy Department to establish a repository, but that the government has not yet spent.

The spent fuel that emerges from nuclear power plants has been accumulating for decades in steel-lined pools or giant steel-and-concrete casks near the reactors.

Yucca Mountain, a ridge of volcanic rock about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, has been the leading candidate site for a repository since the 1980s. But it was not selected by any scientific process of elimination; it was selected from a list in 1987 by Congress, which declared it dry and remote enough.

Scientific concerns have since emerged, including the realization that water flows through Yucca Mountain a lot faster than initially believed. That raises the prospect that the nuclear waste would leach over time, polluting the water table. The scientific merit of the site has not been established by independent judges.

Nevada has fought the project bitterly in court and in Congress. The ascension of Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat, as Senate majority leader, and President Obama’s campaign promise to stop the Yucca Mountain depository and look for alternatives may finally settle the question.

In fact, the political wind is blowing so strongly against using Yucca Mountain that the nuclear industry’s trade association is not opposing Mr. Obama head-on. Instead, in response to his budget proposal, it called for creation of an independent panel to study how the government should meet its “legal and moral obligation” to take the waste. Mr. Obama himself is calling for more study."
(source: New York Times March 5, 2009)


President and congress decided for the first and only US final waste disposal for radioactive waste in Yucca Mountain. The sum of 58 billion dollars is to be invested here. Approximately 77,000 tons radioactive waste from the American atomic power plants are to disappear in 280 meters deep galleries. The storage will begin at the earliest 2010.
The decision preceded 20 years of planning, the study and development of Yucca Mountain for two billion dollars and bitter political arguments. After the opponents of the ultimate waste disposal lost the political battles, they can only hope for the dozen of court processes, with which the government plans are to be stopped nevertheless.
The atomic waste transports from 39 US Federal States are to take place by trucks or trains. The average transport distance amounts 3200 kilometers. The government defends the transportation with reference to the risks, which exist, if the radioactive waste remains in 131 stores of the atomic power plants, where they are kept at present.
The fact that in the periphery of 80 kilometers of Yucca Mountain in the last 20 years 620 earthquakes with a strength of more than 2.5 on the Richter scale were registered, speaks against the construction of the waste disposal.


Nevada is filing a rulemaking petition with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that could both delay the licensing of a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain and make it more difficult for the Department of Energy to get the authorization to build the disposal facility there. In addition to seeking what the state sees as a toughening of licensing requirements in 10 CFR Part 63, the petition asks NRC to suspend all Yucca Mountain licensing proceedings pending resolution of its requests.
The state wants to revise Part 63 by reinstating such geologic setting requirements as groundwater travel time. It also wants to add language stating that the site's geology, not man-made systems that eventually fail, must be the facility's primary barrier against any radiation releases.
Nevada and other repository opponents have claimed those requirements were eliminated after it became apparent Yucca Mountain couldn't meet them. Water is considered the principal pathway for radionuclide release. Scientists earlier found that the mountain's volcanic rock contains more moisture than previously thought, as well as fast pathways for that water.


A report was compiled using Energy Department models and released today by the Environmental Working Group, a Washington-based research organization.
The group's efforts are aimed at raising public awareness about the federal plan to ship the nation's most radioactive nuclear waste to Nevada's Yucca Mountain for permanent burial.

The report used an accident scenario model developed by Energy Department scientists at the nation's national laboratories. A train shipment accident was used for 14 cities; a truck shipment for six cities.
In each of the accidents, the truck or train strikes a heavy object at a speed between 30 and 60 miles per hour, under average weather conditions on a clear day. Weather patterns, including wind speeds, were factored for each city. The accident is considered one of "moderate severity," not a worst case scenario, according to the report.
In each of the accidents, the body of the cask is not punctured. But cesium escapes from a crack in a broken seal, accompanied by a modest fire that burns for a few hours. Radioactive cesium particulates are released, which ultimately gives people cancer, according to the report.
The report compiles statistics for latent cancers and population exposed.
Cities with the most severe results: Chicago (349,352 people exposed to cesium, 1,228 latent cancer fatalities); Washington, D.C. (314,250 exposed, 1,080 fatalities); Los Angeles (223,942 exposed, 896 fatalities); Minneapolis (175,884 exposed, 669 fatalities); Atlanta (207,240 exposed, 659 fatalities).
Environmental Working Group officials chose a spot at random within the cities to apply the accident model, in most cases avoiding the most populated city centers.
They stressed that the report is merely a snapshot of a possible accident. A real accident could be more severe, or less severe, than what is contained in the report, based on where the accident occurs, its severity, time of day, and weather patterns.

The report, is available at: www.mapscience.org/plumes.


An Earthquake shakes Nevada near the proposed nuclear site. Federal officials insisted that the site of the proposed national nuclear waste repository in the Nevada desert is safe. No damage or injuries were reported after the magnitude 4.4 temblor struck. The earthquake was centered about 12-1/2 miles southeast of the Yucca Mountain proposed nuclear waste repository site and 75 miles northwest of Las Vegas, according to the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, (Colorado ).

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is pushing a plan to ship at least 70,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste by truck or train through 45 states over 24 to 38 years to the disposal site. The government has spent $7 billion over two decades studying Yucca Mountain as the preferred site for the proposed dump, but it has devoted only $200 million to figuring out how to get the wastes there. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) published interactive Nuclear Waste Route Maps, that allows anyone to type in an address and get a customized map clearly marking areas within 1 mile, 2 miles and 5 miles of a nuclear waste route. The maps also show the locations of schools and hospitals near the route. State and major metro area maps are also available. It shows that 38 million Americans live within one mile of the nuclear waste transport routes. There are more than 14,000 schools and almost 1,000 hospitals within a mile of the routes. The government hasn't made a decision whether the shipments would be mainly by rail or by truck and the design of shipping containers. Railroads have suggested that if they are to be the primary carrier, special trains should be devoted to the shipments. If trucks are the primary transport, there would be more than 53,000 shipments. On any given day, several dozen trucks would be on a highway somewhere in the country. DOE's own data show that if the nuclear waste is transported by truck, there will be more than 100,000 shipments over the life of the project. If rail is the principal mode, there will be approximately 18,000 train shipments plus about 2,850 shipments by barge. According to the Department of Transportation, from 1994 to 2000 there were more than 28,000 fatal tractor- trailer accidents in the United States (almost 7,000 on interstate highways), and from 1990 to 2001 more than 88,000 train accidents. Scott Peters, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, the industry's trade group said that the waste canisters - with 15-inch thick triple-layer walls of steel and lead - are designed to withstand severe accidents. Tests have shown them to stand up to impacts equal to a 120-mph (190 km/h) collision, puncture tests and exposure to a 1,475 degree Fahrenheit (800° C) fire. Still the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is re-examining the vulnerability of waste shipments to potential terrorist attacks. Tests by the government's Sandia National Laboratory have concluded that waste containers could be penetrated by a missile or other high energy weapon. Nevada officials say the radiation released from such an attack would produce cancers in 48 people at some point in their lives and billions of dollars in economic and cleanup costs. The Nuclear Waste Route Maps of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) are available at http://www.MapScience.org

Energy Secretary Abraham briefed President Bush on Tuesday about why a nuclear waste dump should be built at Yucca Mountain in Nevada despite widespread opposition within the state. Abraham endorsed the site last month, but has yet to present formally to Bush a document outlining his recommendation. By law, he had to wait 30 days before doing so, which passed Saturday.

The law gives Nevada 60 days to override a presidential decision. Congress then would have 90 legislative days to counter Nevada's objection by majority votes in both houses.

White House officials believe Yucca Mountain would pass Congress.

Abraham, who notified Nevada officials on Jan. 10 that he will recommend the site to the president, called it a ``scientifically sound and suitable'' place to bury the nation's used reactor fuel now kept at the power plants.

The Energy Department's schedule calls for opening the site to waste shipments by 2010. That timetable could be overly optimistic, government and industry officials acknowledge.