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Yucca Mountain, Open For Business 366

John Galt writes: "It seems the Feds have finally decided that Nevada will host the government's nuclear waste repository." The Yucca Mountain project has been in the works for a while. Here is a cutaway diagram.
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Yucca Mountain, Open For Business

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  • No Maps... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by alpinist ( 96637 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @06:29AM (#2822407)
    Interesting to note is the removal of maps of the site from

    Didn't the Soviets classify maps too, to "minimize the risk of providing potentially sensitive information that could result in adverse impacts to National security"? (Quote from the site.)

    Brave new world, indeed! Am I the only one who misses September 10th?
  • Yucca flats? (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2002 @06:34AM (#2822417)
    I think Yucca mountain is close to Frenchman and
    Yucca flats. If that's the case, it makes sense
    to build a nuclear waste dump there.

    In case you didn't know, that area was used for
    a large proportion of 'on continent' nuclear
    testing done in the 50's and later.

    The land is toast, adding more embers seems
    to make sense, in this case.

    - Penguin Kicka.
  • hmmm... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by gnovos ( 447128 ) <gnovos.chipped@net> on Friday January 11, 2002 @06:37AM (#2822424) Homepage Journal
    One would assume that you could go an dump your heavy metals in one of the pacific trenches and let it get sucked back into the earth's core, right?
  • Sub-Seabed (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kEnder242 ( 262421 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @06:38AM (#2822429)
    There was a Scientific American article about this alternative solution a few years back.

    Vol. 276, Jan. 98, pp. 60-65, Burial of Radioactive Waste Under the Seabed.

    Holes could be drilled hundreds of meters below the seafloor in geologically inactive areas. Canisters spaced around 10 meters appart could be lined up around the bottom. Removal (in case something goes wrong) would not be a problem with a rentry cone at the top for a future drill.

    It turns out the mud under the seabed has a consistancy of peanut butter, ideal for slowing the spread of any radioactive waste.

    "Around 1,000 years later the metal seathing would corrode, leaving the nuclear waste expodes to the muds. In 24,000 years (the radiocative half-life of plutonium 239), plutonium and other transuranic elements would migrate outward les than a meter."

    Unfortunatly this soulution is sometimes grouped with "ocean dumping" an therefore prohibited by international law.

    (quick google search) ea bed.htm
  • by togofspookware ( 464119 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @07:43AM (#2822562) Homepage
    I don't think the "don't keep all your eggs in one basket" arguement really makes any sense in this case. If you're going to bury all your eggs and don't want anyone to find them, it's a lot easier to guard a single basket, and less likely that someone'll stuble across an egg by accident. Distributing nuclear waste freenet-style is exactly what we don't want to do.
  • by sdo1 ( 213835 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @07:48AM (#2822569) Journal
    Putting a nuclear waste dump in a mountain that sits on a fault line [] doesn't seem the wisest of ideas. It seems that it's still fairly active [].


  • Re:hmmm... Nope (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2002 @08:28AM (#2822657)

    Things would not get sucked back into the Earth's core, the best you could realistically hope for is some recycling/mixing in the mantle.

    Earth cut-away []

    Sorry I could not find a diagram depicting mantle flow; also mantle flow is a current "hot-topic", nobody can say for certain what the flow looks like. This means it would be very difficult to predict when/if the stuff would come back up in a nearby oceanic ridge, hot-spot (Hawaii, etc.) or volcano (volcano's go hand-in-hand with subducting plates, read trenches).

    This means the risks are still too high/unknown, just as in the case with the "booster rocket to the sun" idea. Both excellent ideas but until we can minimize the risk let's bury it in Nevada's backyard.
  • Marking the Site (Score:3, Interesting)

    by KingRoo ( 232714 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @08:32AM (#2822673)
    Another question is how do you keep the site marked, and perceived as dangerous, for 10K years? What message will last through whatever potential societal chaos/collapse/evolution is a'comin?

    There was a design competition [] about this - my favorite is the Landscape of Thorns.

  • by nihilvt ( 212452 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @08:36AM (#2822685)
    There's always a lot of talk of shooting nuclear waste into the sun and/or into space as an alternative to underground storage. Over the past 30 years, 77,000,000 lbs (35,000,000 kg) of nuclear waste (from reactors) has been created. Rockets commonly used today for space launches (Atlas, Delta, Titan, etc) can put about 4,000 - 5000 lbs into an earth escape trajectory.

    Give these numbers, that would require about 15,400 launches to get the nuclear waste off the earth and out of earth orbit. The rockets that we would most likely use for this have a failure rate of about %5. This would make about 800 failures. 800 failures in which 5000 lbs of nuclear waste could potentially be spread into the atmosphere and the air.

    I know these numbers are just numbers, and statistics are just statistics, but I think it shows that the risks for launching nuclear waste into space are unacceptable.
  • by rtos ( 179649 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @08:37AM (#2822687) Homepage
    Quoth Radiation Sources at the U.S. Capitol and Library of Congress Buildings []:
    Gamma radiation dose rates were measured at several locations in and around the U.S. Capitol and U.S. Library of Congress buildings in Washington, D.C. A qualified radiation surveyor used a Bicron MicroRem meter for measuring. Dose rates inside the Capitol building and outside the Thomas Jefferson Building were measured at 30 microrem per hour. This dose rate: (1) exceeds local background radiation dose rates; (2) is up to 550 percent greater than the typical dose rate "at the fence line" around nuclear power plants; (3) is about 13,000 times greater than the average individual dose rate from worldwide nuclear power production; (4) is about 13,000 times greater than ongoing worldwide exposures to radiation from the Chernobyl accident; and (5) exceeds the dose rate associated with the radiation protection standards proposed for the Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste facility. The measured level of radiation is associated with up to a 0.5 percent increase in cancer risk, according to U.S. EPA risk assessment methods.

    Yes, read that again. The pedestal for the statue of Roger Williams (Rotunda/Senate Chamber Hallway, U.S. Capitol) gives off about 30 microrem per hour... more than the proposed standards for radiation at the perimeter of Yucca Mountain. Just to put it in perspective.
  • by ChaoticCoyote ( 195677 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @08:53AM (#2822718) Homepage

    I've been closely following the Yucca Mountain investigations since the mid-1990s; my garage has hundreds of thousands (really!) of pages generated by various parties involved in this effort. I doubt DOE will continue to be so free with its literature, in light of "security cenrcenrs" raised by September 11th.

    But I digress.

    In a nutshell: "Approval" of the storage facility has been a foregone conclusion since the studies first began. Yucca Mountain was the only site studied, and any "problems" discovered have been ignored or glossed over.

    The real problem is a lack of planning -- it isn't just the "Internet generation" who can't think ahead. Back when we began building nuclear power plants, no one thought about what we would do with the waste -- and so it now sits in over a hundred locations around the U.S., in hardened canisters sitting next to power plants. Because no one looked ahead fifty years ago, we now have a crisis on our hands, and little chance to make a rational decision.

    The problem at hand: Nuclear waste needs to be stored somewhere, and Yucca Mountain is the only site selected for study. There may not be a rational, safe solution to the problem of nuclear waste -- and so Nevada's residents may take it in the shorts because of short-sighted and selfish politicians and

    I say "may" because Nevadans are unlikely to lie down and "accept the inevitable." They're a feisty bunch, especially the ones who don't live in Reno or Lost Wages -- er, Las Vegas. The Ages Brush Rebellion is gaining strength again in the American West; confrontations between federal officials and local residents continue to rise.

    You don't think this issue affects you? If you really think freedom is important, you might want to consider that Nevadans will be hosting nuclear waste that they did not create, as dictated by the federal government on behalf of big, stupid corporations. (Note: I like lots of businesses, even big ones -- but I have great disdain for stupid companies and people who impose their mistakes on others.)

    For a somewhat different perspective on the issue, consider this article about the people who actually own Yucca Mountain:

    Stealing Nevada []

    That article (which I am currently updating) has been published all over the world (search Google for it) in print and online. It won't make much difference, of course, because most people only care about right and wrong when it affects them directly. It's too bad, really; what the federal government is doing today with national IDs, intelletual property, and waste dumps is the direct result of letting them push other people around.

    Good luck to those in Nevada, Shoshone, Paiute, and other-American alike. You need it...

  • Re:Problems.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by karb ( 66692 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @08:59AM (#2822727)
    I don't understand: if there still are issues which are not resolved, how can the decision to put the dump there be taken?

    In any engineering discipline, there are all sorts of problems which need to be solved. Just because those problems exist doesn't mean they can't be solved. In fact, you usually do something called 'risk reduction', which means you sit around and think of solutions to a problem, and backups to those solutions.

    Many public problems with the government (and the private sector, too) are the results of a 'common sense' approach to engineering projects. "I know how long it takes to drive to the grocery store, therefore the government should know, to the dollar, how much it would cost to build the most technologically advanced strike fighter in the world ten years before they do it."

  • by yndrd ( 529288 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @09:54AM (#2822893) Homepage
    There was a great article in Analog a year or two ago in which the author debated how exactly one would label a place that will be highly toxic for tens of thousands of years. You can't use the same symbols or words we take for granted to mean danger; who knows what people will use to denote that in the distant future?

    Ideas bandied about included making the surface from dark stone tiles so it would be too hot to approach or making some huge symbol on the ground to warn people away.

    The main problem, though, was whether anything you do to warn people off would actually end up attracting them. Imagine making a huge warning that future generations or visiting aliens think is just something cool like the lines at Nazca.
  • NO NO NO! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by IPFreely ( 47576 ) <> on Friday January 11, 2002 @10:46AM (#2823105) Homepage Journal
    Why do people keep saying "Drop it in a subduction zone"? IT WON'T WORK in any way/shape/form at all.

    A. Subduction zones move material two directions. Soft material on top of the plate is scraped up and piled into mountains. Only the hard rock plate goes down. So anything we drop will go up, not down. You might as well put it in a mountain of your choice rather than a random mountain of the future.

    B. It takes for ever for anything to happen anyway. Geologically, Yucca is just as good as subduction. By the time anything happens, it will only have moved a few feet anyway.

  • Re:ACK! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by squiggleslash ( 241428 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @11:03AM (#2823172) Homepage Journal
    The region is geologically unstable, (there was an earthquake measuring 8.2 approx old scale) less than 200 years ago.
    People are currently focussing on the potential for 1950s B-movie scenarios ("My god! Giant Mutated Radioactive Ants are coming out of Nevada!"), but isn't this beginning to sound like a bad disaster movie?

    Politician: "We need to build more Nuclear Reactors, and I've got just the place to store the waste!"
    Scientist: "No! You can't store it there. That's an Earthquake zone!"
    Politician: "No, we must do it. There's too much money at stake!"

    (Everyone laughs at scientist, then cue earthquake killing millions of holiday makers.)

    Why is it that there's so much support for this phenominally dangerous method of power generation anyway? In the 1950s it was "new" and "revolutionary" and everyone thought the problems would be worked out. More to the point, it had massive government backing because the nuclear waste could be covertly converted to use in weapons.

    That was 40-50 years ago. We haven't worked out how to get rid of vast quantities of waste with half lives in the hundreds of generations. We can't make it safe, the best we can manage is to hide the damned stuff while shielding it as much as possible. The best argument that can be raised for it "being safe" is that some solutions have been proposed that might, stress the word might, be viable in 20 years (namely certain unbuilt untried untested types of breeder reactor.)

    It's pretty much black and white. And yet there's a voceferous pro-Nuclear lobby. Is it a backlash against green politics, which can be luddite and a little inclined to exaggeration and are, right now, heavily anti-nuclear?

    I'm used to hearing that Global Warming is a myth (the overwhelming evidence out there says it isn't, the only question marks over the debate about global warming is whether human beings are actually contributing to it in any significant fashion, and therefore whether changes in our behaviour would make any significant difference, and secondly what the actual effects would be.) Is this because of exaggerations and over stated assumptions made by certain environmental lobbies or is this just people voluntarily putting on the blinkers? Is there another reason - America seems to be the western democracy with the most vocal supporters of pro-Nuclear "such-and-such is a myth" points of view, and it's also the only western democracy I'm aware of where there's an active and largely successful (in terms of convincing people black might be white) campaign organised by the religious establishment to discredit fundamental tenets of science, be it "Big Bang" or evolution.

    It's a little tiring seeing people denying the obvious, especially when overwhelmingly you get the impression that they're basing their evidence on one political group being extreme and opposite in their agenda.

    Let's hope future generations do not suffer thanks to the incompetence of 20th and 21st Century political debate.

  • by Leven Valera ( 127099 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @11:37AM (#2823354) Homepage Journal
    Link stolen from earlier comment. l
  • Re:Problems.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hawk ( 1151 ) <> on Friday January 11, 2002 @11:51AM (#2823426) Journal
    If memory serves, one of the problems remaining to be solved is that the water table sometimes reaches above the level at which they plan to store the waste (every hundred years or two--but this is designed for thousands!).


  • No way, 3 reasons: (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 11, 2002 @12:16PM (#2823559)
    In addition to the cost of firing waste into the sun there are some other factors:

    1) Would the plant output as much energy as it takes to fire it's waste into the sun and refine the module, chemicals, etc. from ore, etc.? It could be that creating nuclear power, if we have to do all this, is actually causing an energy drain rather than a supply in the long run.

    2) Whenever you fire something off of earth that doesn't return, your upsetting the balance of mass on earth. Granted there is a lot of mass on earth, but the fact remains the more we shoot into space the less we have on earth. Remember, heavy elements are much more rare than lighter ones.

    3) Heavy elements are not good for fusion controlled reactions (such as the Sun). Anything heavier than iron is an endothermic fusion process. Thus, firing heavy elements into the Sun is poisoning it. Granted it has a lot of mass (much moreso than the Earth), but it is something to consider for well into the future..

    Remember on #2 and #3: Our ancestors felt that dumping waste into rivers would be no big deal since the volume of water was so much more massive than what one settelr family disposed of. I bet they didn't know that it would only take 150-200 years for rivers to actually have enough crap in them to catch fire. You can say earth / sun are so incredibly massive that it wouldn't matter, but history has taught us that's not always true later on down the road.
  • Re:ACK! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Macadamizer ( 194404 ) on Friday January 11, 2002 @04:18PM (#2825374)
    The lethality of plutonium (1 gram could kill a million people) is based on somehow get finely-ground plutonium into peoples lungs (not that hard to do, really -- finely ground plutonium (and uranium) is pyrophoric, so it will spontaneouslu burn and create smoke containing plutonium oxides, which can be deposited in the lungs -- this is the main reason why reactor fires suck). Then, once it is in the lungs, allowing the radiation to develop into cancer. So, even if plutonium gets into your lungs, it kills you by developing a cancer in your lungs -- not everyone who has plutonium in their lungs will get the cancer, or will die from the cancer if they get it. There can be other effects, but only the canerous effects are generally life-threatening.

    Finely-divided plutonium or uranium is really only hazardous if it gets into your lungs -- if it gets into your body by eating or whatever, your body will just get rid of it (since is causes cancer and it not simply poisonous, it is only dangerous if it hangs out in your body for a long time).

    SNAP-9A burned up at a pretty high altitude, so the plutonium, even when divided, was spread over a huge amount of area, so by the time the plutonium got to the ground, the density of plutonium dust in the air was probably extremely low, making the chances of breathing in enough plutonium to cause cancer extremely low.

    Lung cancers caused by uranium or plutonium inhalation are pretty easy to diagnose, since you can easily detect the radioactive material. As far as I know, there are no cases in the literature of increased deaths due to lungs cancers as a result of radionuclide inhalation in Madagascar following the SNAP-9A incident, so chances are the density of plutonium dust in the air at ground level in Madagascar was too low to have a reasonable chance of infecting anyone.

    Last thing -- plutonium and uranium are wicked heavy -- even though the "dust" was in the air, it won't stay suspended for long, so the low density of particulate matter at ground level combined with the limited amount of time the dust remained suspended is likely the reason why their weren't excess cancers due to radionuclide inhalation in Madagascar.

Mathemeticians stand on each other's shoulders while computer scientists stand on each other's toes. -- Richard Hamming