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Yucca Mountain Approved for US Nuclear Waste Storage 750

Cephalien writes "As reported by Reuters (The link is from AT&T Worldnet -- No registration required, etc, etc), looks like congress has pushed this through against Nevada's objections (NIMBY, anyone?). Now all that's left is the licensing from the NRC. I dunno about you folks, but I'm glad I don't live in Nevada." After 20 years in the making and 4 billion in studies construction on the $58b facility can begin. It was this or Cmdrtacos basement.
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Yucca Mountain Approved for US Nuclear Waste Storage

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  • Finally. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ObviousGuy ( 578567 ) <ObviousGuy@hotmail.com> on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @03:53AM (#3855058) Homepage Journal
    It's got to go someplace and the Yucca Mountains are as desolate as you can get. A good storage facility will be a huge boon to the energy industry and our computers will continue running unabated.

    Good news for all involved.
  • Unfortunately... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by neksys ( 87486 ) <grphillips AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @03:57AM (#3855073)
    The nuclear waste has to go somewhere. I sincerely feel horrible for the people of Nevada, but the fact remains that a decision had to be made. If it were left up to debate, the waste would continue to build up in unsecure storage facilities. It's a shame that we've let ourselves get to this point, but if not Yucca Mountain, then where? South Dakota? Florida? Canada? The fact remains that a permanent storage facility is desperately needed - and we've only ourselves to blame (or more specifically, our decision-makers) for our lack of foresight into the long term storage needs of our nuclear industry.

    It's sad that tens of billions of dollars are going to this when there are millions of people who are dying of hunger.

    • by thales ( 32660 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @04:24AM (#3855171) Homepage Journal
      "The fact remains that a permanent storage facility is desperately needed - and we've only ourselves to blame (or more specifically, our decision-makers) for our lack of foresight into the long term storage needs of our nuclear industry."

      One of the major reasons this has been put off so long is the fear mongering tatics of anti-nuclear groups. They have constantly opposed any permanant storage facility, AND used the lack of permanant storage as a reason to go "Nuke Free".

    • Funny thing is, there's still gonna be a lot of the stuff all over the place in unsecure facilities. The stuff has to cool for 5 years before they can transport it. Then when they transport it, you have the potential for terrorists to have an easy way to detonate a dirty bomb. They just need to get a car full of explosives close enough to a transport truck and it's all over.

      • Nope... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cirby ( 2599 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @05:11AM (#3855275)
        It'd have to be a helluva big car, with some really bad-ass explosives. Six inches of Very Hard Steel, with a lead liner and a thick energy-absorbing outer casing. A simple bomb would just push the thing over. You'd need a shaped charge just to poke a hole in it, and all that would do would be to let some nasty stuff out (which would contaminate a few hundred meters of ground). Collisions? They tested the cask design by running a locomotive into it at 60+ MPH, and all it did was bounce the thing along the track.

        Meanwhile, several thousand tons of extremely nasty chemicals of all sorts (from caustics to poisons to explosives) are running down roads and railroad tracks at speeds of up to 100 MPH.

        And at this very moment, over two BILLION gallons of a horrible chemical (poisonous, explosive, and carcinogenic) are currently being transported around the US in vehicles, and normal folks are allowed to handle the stuff with little or no formal training (at places they call "gas stations").
        • Re:Nope... (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Danse ( 1026 )

          A single mid-sized moving van took out the federal building in Oklahoma. I think something similar could be done to take out a transport truck.

          • Re:Nope... (Score:2, Informative)

            by The Dobber ( 576407 )

            I don't think the Fed building was designed (for the most part) to account for terroristic truck bombs.

            Heck of a lot easier to make a dent resistent cask then building.

          • Re:Nope... (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Wyatt Earp ( 1029 )
            Yes, but the storage barrels can take a TOW anti-tank missile and only get a very minor leak.

            So all the mid-sized van strikes I douby will do much.

            http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Art ic les/000/000/001/438jlpwd.asp

            "To wit: an eighteen-wheeler carrying a transport cask smashes into a 700-ton brick wall at a speed of 81 mph; testers drop a cask from 2,000 feet onto hard ground; and, a 120-ton locomotive train traveling at 80 mph rams a cask. In each of those cases, the scientists at Sandia determined that the casks would not have leaked any radioactive material.

            In one case, however, a powerful explosive placed directly atop the cask managed to blow a small hole (less than an inch in diameter) in its exterior. Scientists estimated that about 0.03 percent of the radioactive substance might have leaked, resulting in an exposure level to those in the immediate vicinity just over what you get from several trips on an airplane.

            Technological advances in the twenty years since those tests have made the transport casks virtually indestructible. The storage casks, by contrast, failed a test conducted in 1998 at Aberdeen Proving Ground, in which a TOW missile penetrated a cask. The obvious solution--store all waste in the tougher, transport casks--would be expensive but doable."

            I know people think this waste will be housed in cardboard boxes, but that's not whats happening here
      • I take it you haven't seen the footage of them firing the containers into concret walls on rocket sleds. Those things are many things, but easy to open is not one of them. A blast near it won't do crap. And I don't see them going all road warrior while they try to set up shaped charges, and fight off the tremendous security. Although someone will make the movie, and it will probably star Steven Segal. That alone is probably enough of a reason not to do it. Atomic Tornado II: Desert Territory.
      • The stuff has to cool for 5 years before they can transport it.
        Not a problem, since literally tons of radioactive waste has been sitting at power plants for 20-30 years in some cases.
    • but if not Yucca Mountain, then where? South Dakota? Florida? Canada?

      The Capitol Building? Put it where it'll actually do some good.
    • by FreeUser ( 11483 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @07:01AM (#3855603)
      When I was in college I worked a couple of summers as an intern at a nuclear power station.

      At the time, I naively bought into the propoganda of "clean energy, more radiation comes from the sun than a nuclear power plant," etc.

      Even then, though, I'll never forget the response of one of the managers when someone asked "what about the waste?"

      The reply was (paraphrased) "We can store about 20 years of waste here, on-site, but it's the government's job to find a perminent solution."

      Unbelievable. An entire industry, creating some of the most toxic materials ever created by man, whose attitude was basically "don't worry, the government will clean up our mess." These are probably the same people who bitch and moan about "big government" and want less regulation, and frankly the entire nuclear storage facility is a huge government subsidy of a dangerous and economically unviable industry, demanded by said industry at the point of a radioactive gun.

      As you might have guess, over the years as I've grown older, and wiser, my opinion on nuclear power has changed 180 degrees.

      You are right, we have only our "decision makers" to blame for this, but lets not forget that most of those decision makers are not government politicians so much as CEOs of large utility companies that have neglected their own, most basic responsibilities throughout this entire process.
      • by thales ( 32660 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @07:55AM (#3855824) Homepage Journal
        "it's the government's job to find a perminent solution"

        Well since the government has been collecting a waste disposal fee from the plants for years, it's hardly unreasonable for the nuclear industry to expect the government to spend the money on the disposal they have already charged for.

        The anti-nuclear activists are the ones who originally said the nuclear industry couldn't be trusted to dispose of the wastes, and the government should handle it. Now that it's time for the government to live up to it's end of the bargain, suddenly we have anti-nuclear activists urging that the people they wanted to handle the waste refuse to do so.

      • by shimmin ( 469139 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @08:40AM (#3856131) Journal
        The reply was (paraphrased) "We can store about 20 years of waste here, on-site, but it's the government's job to find a perminent solution."

        This isn't, as you frame it, blatant irresponsibility. According to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, it is the federal government's job to construct a permanent storage site, and to have it operational by the end of 1997.

        When the government passes a law binding itself to do something, it may be a little bit naive to assume it will come through on its end of the deal, but I don't think it's too much to ask of Congress to actually build infrastructure their own laws say they will build.

      • Nuclear power is the first time we went into an energy source with a good idea of exactly how dangerous. The same statement very probably can't be said of any other powersource.

        How about that clean hydropower. Then look at what it does to fisheries, and the fact that the salmon no longer take their nutrient-laden bodies back up the river, where the bears catch many and fertilize the forests. Look at the silting problems in dams, and the lack of that necessary silt below the dam.

        How about fossil fuels and global warming?

        At this point, I don't even know about trusting either solar or wind power. Extensive use of solar power may well change the albedo of the Earth, or something odd like that, affecting the climate. Extensive use of wind power could conceivably affect climate, in addition to killing large numbers of birds.

        I'd prefer we learn to live more efficiently and control our breeding.
    • by sporktoast ( 246027 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @08:10AM (#3855916) Homepage

      if not Yucca Mountain, then where? South Dakota? Florida?
      If we were serious about the situation, we would put it some place more populous.

      Safety would have to be important then. Right now, we have this subconcious reassurance that it won't be that bad if we screw it up (again). If something leaks, it won't really affect anyone and won't attract much attention because it's out in the middle of nowhere (or at least *somebody else's* somewhere).

      Let's hold our own feet to the fire on this one. I say, build a museum to the stuff, and plop it down right in the middle of Indianapolis (or some other reasonably-sized city where the real estate costs won't dwarf everything else). Have schoolkids come to it on field trips. Let everybody see how much work/expense/effort it takes. None of this out-of-sight-out-of-mind crap.

      The stuff will be with us for thousands of years, let's start acting like it!

  • it's all scary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by deathcow ( 455995 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @03:57AM (#3855075)
    The figures I've seen said 150 million people currently live within 75 miles of (temporary) nuclear waste storage. Nevada would let us "clean house" and centralize that nuclear waste that is currently stored around the nation.

    That might make it more scary living around Las Vegas, and the opposing members of congress argued about the danger of transporting waste there, one calling it the "Terrorist Facilitation Act", lets get back to the original point - Nuclear Waste is currently stored in many places around the nation.

    I'd rather have killer defense protection around Yucca Mountain than wonder about how the protection is at umpteen other sites around the country.
    • Keep worrying. The waste will still be sitting in storage all over the country. They have to keep the stuff submerged in water to cool for 5 years after it comes out of the reactor. After that, they can move it to Yucca.

    • Why so scary? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by alienmole ( 15522 )
      Terrorism is the only scenario I can think of that makes this dump potentially dangerous within the next few human generations, at least. The real problem only arises in the far future, when some entity oblivious to all the cross-cultural attempts at warning markings uncovers the dump.

      As for terrorists, Yucca would not be very amenable to either car bombs or diving planes into. So we're talking a different scale of terrorism than currently prevalent.

      If I lived downwind from Yucca Mountain, I think I'd invest in a geiger counter, but other than that, all the fearmongering surrounding it seems like mostly ignorance to me. Realistically and based on statistics, I'd be a lot more worried for my own and my family's safety living in San Francisco or other earthquake-prone parts of California.

  • Well, this is kind of expected.

    The Nevada senators have been protesting over this storage site non-stop recently... funny that I didn't hear all these objections when the govt. was pumping billions of bucks into the state economy during its construction.

    Only now that it's going to be used for it's stated purpose do we hear the objections...

    Anybody with any better ideas of where to store such nasty stuff? May not be ideal, but seems to beat the alternatives...

  • *sigh* (Score:3, Insightful)

    by alfredw ( 318652 ) <(moc.flaeerf) (ta) (fla)> on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @03:57AM (#3855077) Homepage
    Opponents, including a number of environmental groups, argue Yucca Mountain and shipments of nuclear waste to it would provide an inviting target for terrorists.

    Seriously... Let's get realistic. "Let's not build anything big, because it might be a target for terrorists. Let's all live in flat houses that all look alike, and we can each keep a little bit of nuclear waste in our backyards so that it's take FOREVER for the terrorists to build a bomb. That way we can all get cancer together."

    Get a life, protest groups. Nuclear waste is nasty stuff, and it'll be around for thousands of years. We can either trust thousands of people in thousands of places to keep it under lock and key, or we can pile all of it under one mountain and know FOR SURE that it'll be safe forever.

    Duh.
    • Re:*sigh* (Score:4, Insightful)

      by neksys ( 87486 ) <grphillips AT gmail DOT com> on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @04:03AM (#3855100)
      Good point.

      More importantly, I would suggest that the shipments will not become targets for terrorists for the simple fact that it will be tightly controlled and secured. Any terrorist in need of nuclear waste for any sort of weapon would simply visit Russia or any of the other nuclear countries less-secure storage facilities and transportation. I can guarantee that grabbing some nuclear waste from norther Siberia would go largely unnoticed - and it's certainly a lot safer than trying to attack an armed convoy on US soil.
      • Re:*sigh* (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Happy go Lucky ( 127957 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @04:14AM (#3855143)
        More importantly, I would suggest that the shipments will not become targets for terrorists for the simple fact that it will be tightly controlled and secured.

        Yep.

        I don't know how many people here have actually met/worked with DOE guards. Trust me on one thing: They're not the rent-a-cops at the mall. DOE security is where Navy SEALS go when they leave the Navy. They tend to be better trained and equipped than my department's SWAT team.

        I'm in reasonably-good shape. At 35, I still run a 24-minute 5K, bench my own weight for seven, etc. And from duty gear, I can put two into an index card, two seconds at five yards. And the DOE guys I've met pretty much all run, lift, and shoot circles around me.

        I pity the dumb-assed terrorist who tries to hijack one of these convoys. It'll be a quick trip to Allah, is for damn sure.

        • Re:*sigh* (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          Yes, because *of course* all the terrorists would want to do with it is *steal* it when all they have to do instead is blow the bloody convoy up from afar and create an enormous environmental mess - and TV coverage - instead.

          Terrorists want *headlines*, not stockpiles of hard to hide nuclear waste!
          • Re:*sigh* (Score:3, Insightful)

            Yeah, I'd like to see them try to blow it up. It would be amusing. Do you think they ship nuclear waste on the interstate highway system inside carboard boxes or plastic buckets? Apply a little critical thinking, perhaps even use that research tool that everyone's talking about, "the internet", to get some real information. Nuclear waste is transported in "casks" that are incredibly strong.

            Check this [ymp.gov] out. That's what casks have to be able to survive, an excerpt:

            - a 30-foot free fall onto an unyielding surface, landing on the cask's weakest point, which would be equivalent to a crash at 120 miles per hour into a concrete bridge abutment;
            - a puncture test, during which the container must fall 40 inches onto a steel rod six inches in diameter;
            - a 30-minute exposure to fire at 1,475 degrees Fahrenheit that engulfs the entire container; and
            - submergence of the same container under three feet of water.

            To achieve certification, a cask must prevent harmful release of radioactive material even when subjected to each of these tests.

            Convoys transporting radioactive materials have been in several accidents over the years and in none of them has radioactive material been released. The casks they use for transport are stronger than a main battle tank. Terrorists would nearly need a nuclear weapon to crack one open.

            Worrying about a boogie man under your bed is more rational than worrying about terrorists obtaining (or releasing) radioactive material from these convoys.

        • I pity the dumb-assed terrorist who tries to hijack one of these convoys. It'll be a quick trip to Allah, is for damn sure.

          You think? Remember who trained al-Queda: US special forces and CIA agents. Plus al-Queda are experienced in fighting Soviet Spetsnaz (special forces) troops who, while not as glamorous as the Navy SEALs, are probably comparable in terms of skill.

          Thinking of them as half-assed amateurs from the mountains will only breed complacency.

          One more thing: they didn't even try to steal the World Trade Center, they got what they wanted by just destroying it. Your friends hopefully have SAMs in their truck!
      • Perhaps the US could offer a service (for a fee) to other countries and store their waste too? Then everyone could just trust the US to keep it all safe. That would help with the Siberian problem no?
      • You're right in that the terrorists aren't about to go against hard targets. They like easy ones like civilian buildings and ships in dock.

        What we have to worry about is the green protesters. These "pro-environment" idiots in Germany were cutting sections of track ahead of a train carrying nuclear waste. They complained about the possibility of accidents, and then tried to cause one themselves! You want the shipment to be safe? Then stay the hell out of the way and let the train go in peace.
    • Let's all live in flat houses that all look alike, and we can each keep a little bit of nuclear waste in our backyards so that it's take FOREVER for the terrorists to build a bomb.

      They aren't worried about terrorists stealing the shipments. They're worried about the terrorists driving up alongside one of the trucks in a car loaded with explosives. Voila! Instant dirty bomb.



  • 10000 years (Score:4, Insightful)

    by iangoldby ( 552781 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @03:59AM (#3855083) Homepage
    I'll admit that this site is probably about as good as any, but the idea that you have to keep 77000 tons of deadly radioactive material isolated for the next 10000 years just scares me. Civilizations rise and fall in such timescales. Who is going to know it is there, even 1000 years from now? What happens if some geologist of the future unknowingly takes a core sample in just the wrong place, to name just one of many not entirely unlikely scenarios.

    For goodness sake, my local council doesn't even know where all its buried services are located under the roads and pavements. Do we really think we can preserve data and ensure political stability for 10000 years?

    This has to be the biggest argument against nuclear power. Forget the operational safety aspects. We just can't guarantee the long-term safety of the waste.
    • Which is why they're trying to find a sign which will indicate the danger to a civilisation in 5000 years' time which can't read english. I don't have a link handy, but IIRC it was discussed on /. before.
    • Re:10000 years (Score:3, Informative)

      by gripdamage ( 529664 )
      Your concerned were discussed in an earlier article. I can't find the /. reference but here is the link [salon.com] to the referenced article. A fun read. Enjoy!
    • Re:10000 years (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Arkham One ( 517209 )
      (I posted the top-level 'NUKULEAR' comment above, FWIW.)

      What happens if some geologist of the future unknowingly takes a core sample in just the wrong place, to name just one of many not entirely unlikely scenarios.

      They'll get sick and die. Unfortunate. Others will take note, and declare the place dangerous. If they don't, then they're stupid and I just can't bring myself to caring about it.

      I don't think it's necessary to make huge precautions about warnings and such, just leave a sample in a hallway before the main storage, entities entering the facility should be able to take note of the fact that there is danger ahead and proceed with caution, regardless of their technological level.

      For goodness sake, my local council doesn't even know where all its buried services are located under the roads and pavements. Do we really think we can preserve data and ensure political stability for 10000 years?

      Of course not, you tit.

      This has to be the biggest argument against nuclear power.

      Yes it, in fact, is, but it's WAY too late in the game to ponder it, the waste is there and something has to be done about it. And any new amounts of waste will not make much difference, so continuing to use nuclear power is just as ecologically sound as it ever was.

      Forget the operational safety aspects.

      The what?

    • Re:10000 years (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Cody Hatch ( 136430 ) <cody@nOSPam.chaos.net.nz> on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @04:15AM (#3855146) Homepage
      And it's sure suck if a future geoligist accidentally falls into a long-buried septic tank too. Seriously, what's the MAXIMUM possible damage here? A geolgist knocks a few months off his life? While I have the greatest possible sympathy for the poor guy (or women/neuter/android/alien or whatever is digging stuff up 5000 years from now), I don't rank this problem as high as, say, deciding what to have for lunch tomorrow.

      Really, you raise one of the WEAKEST arguments against nuclear power. Weigh the benefits against the possible negatives, and it's obvious that the health of future lost geologists (yeah, 5000 years from now and they're not going to use sensors we haven't even DREAMED of yet?) is a small problem.

      Actually, as far as I'm concerned, the biggest argument against nuclear power is that it's mostly too damn expensive (yeah, even when you factor in the cost of the damage of burning fossile fuels). I suppose it might be nice to have some capacity on reserve in case foreign oil imports are cut, or something, but it'd probably still be cheaper just to stockpile a few years worth of oil. :-P
    • Back in the 80s when I first heard of these storage ideas, they'd already employed linguists, etc., to design various language-independent warning symbols that would make it obvious to any intelligent civilizations what lies buried at the site.
      • I did a google search and came up with this [salon.com] and this [marsearthconnection.com]. It is unfortunate that the image link [archaeology.org] in the second one appears to be broken, however, because I'd really like to see what this thing looks like. Quoting from this latter:

        Inspired by a diorite stela inscribed with the laws of the great eighteenth-century B.C. Babylonian king Hammurabi, now in the Louvre, thousands of small warning tablets will be randomly buried throughout a wide area, each bearing warnings in one of seven languages (the six official United Nations languages plus one Native American language). Like Hammurabi's stela, the messages are expected to remain legible for at least 4,000 years. A roofless, 15-foot-high granite "information center" will be built at the site center, with symbols and detailed written warnings engraved on the walls and floor.

        To me, putting nasty sharp scary-looking things all over a a desolate part of the wilderness seems likely to say to future treasure-seekers "Yo, don't dig here because these here fantastic riches belong to ME!"

        Now I'm beginning to wonder what might be buried beneath Stonehenge...

    • The biggest argument you can come up with agains neuclear power is that our civilization may disappear, and that a future civilization may stumble across it 1000 years from now? If our civilization disappears, there's a good chance that a large portion of the US will be radioactive anyway. This is also a bad argument agains Yucka Mountain, because at least there won't be lots of areas spread across the US.

      It would also be surprising if some better way of disposing of nuclear waste isn't found in less than 1000 years.

      We need a method of producing energy that doesn't involve burning fossil fuels. Nuclear seems to be relatively clean, even with the nuclear waste, at least when used in moderation. Conservation and more efficient production from fossil fuels also play an important role in reducing polution, but the problems of producing energy don't just go away because you don't like the thought of someone possibly dieing 1000 years from now. If we didn't have electrisity, a lot more people would die now. There is no perfect, safe answer, so a REASONABLE answer must be found. Nuclear is a reasonable answer.
  • alt.nuclear.power (Score:5, Interesting)

    by selderrr ( 523988 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @04:02AM (#3855095) Journal
    I know this is an old debate, and you might consider it a troll, but if we had invested 58 BILLION DOLLARS (falling over backwards here ...) propermy 20 years ago, we might have had an alternative for nuclear power by now. I recently heard a radio interview with a nuke expert who said that, with a bit of luck, they might have an experimental FUSION reactor by 2030. Right now they do have the capabilities of warming deuterium plasma to 150million degrees celcius, which is sufficient to start fusion. Now they have to invest 17billion dollars to build a reactor. Dollars they don't have...

    silly, isn't it ?
    • Right now they do have the capabilities of warming deuterium plasma to 150million degrees celcius, which is sufficient to start fusion.

      Fusion has been possible for quite a while now, but previously it took a lot more energy to keep the fusion going on than what it generated. Nowadays the state-of-the-art fusion generators are producing about as much energy as they consume. I've heard an estimate that fusion energy would start being profitable when it generates about 10 times as much as is consumes.

      Currently there is a project in Europe to build one of the first reactors which generates more than consumes, to prove that it works. But they, too, are having some budget problems. (I'm not sure whether the US is also funding the project, or are they rivals.)
    • Who to you mean by "they"? The majority of this $58 billion (if not all) comes from a tax that the goverenment places on the generation of power at nuclear plants (0.1 cents/kWh). So the "they" that are paying for the disposal are the utilities (and ultimately us) generating the waste. Why should money that is being set aside to pay for spent fuel disposal pay for the development of fusion energy?
    • The problem with fusion is that it isn't quite that clean. As it runs, the most likely reactions tend to spits out large amounts of radiation; and gradually makes the fusion reactor itself radioactive.

      That means that the fusion reactor itself becomes radioactive- and the reactor is going to have a finite life. Therefore fusion reactors end up as hazardous, radioactive waste.

      Also some schemes for making energy involve irradiating material in a fusion reactor, and then putting it into a fission reactor, and boiling steam in the conventional way to make electricity. That also gives radioactive waste.

      Bottom line: fusion is never going to be truly clean

    • 2030? I thought the rule was Fusion was ALWAYS just 10 years away
  • A small step (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Cody Hatch ( 136430 ) <cody@nOSPam.chaos.net.nz> on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @04:07AM (#3855113) Homepage
    Hopefully once it's up, running, and storing nuclear waste, it will decrease the opposition to nuclear power. Fission is often too expensive to be worthwhile anyhow, but not always, and the current main alternative (oil) will have to EVENTUALLY get more expensive (albeit it's gonna be a long time, considering the size of current proven reserves).

    Unless, of course, there's an accident, but I don't really see how. Worst case, you contaimate a tiny fraction of a small part of one state of the US. It'd hardly be a disaster for Nevada, never mind the rest of us. :-) Besides, it's packaged pretty well, in a fairly stable location (note that they DID have a small earthquake near there recently, which confused a few people as there isn't a fault line anywhere close by...).

    Eventually, of course, nuclear waste could always get tossed into space headed for Alpha Centauri (takes less energy than dropping into the sun, and by the time it gets there, the colonists will welcome the supplies of iron!). It's even safe, because the way they package nuclear waste, it can easily survive re-entry at several multiples of the maximum speed it COULD obtain. Indeed, the nuclear power pack for a sattelite dropped into the ocean a few decades back. They fished it out, stuck it back into another sattelite, and launched it again. :-)
  • by evil_roy ( 241455 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @04:07AM (#3855115)
    Is this a scare-mongering estimate ?

    The same sort of wild claims with lots of zeroes have been bandied about in relation to nuclear fallout - but people reside in Hiroshima and Nagasaki , I can go scuba diving at Bikini Atoll .... so the scare mongering was wrong to some degree. Bikini Islanders are being relocated "home" again .. the island is deemed that safe. To be fair , the soil is contaminated .. so don't eat anything grown on the island , but the sea and the reef are thriving , with lower radiation levels than most cities.
    • I'm no scientist, but I believe the 10K years number comes from the half-life of whatever elements are in the waste. So they're saying that it will take 10K years for whatever elements to decay, or become a non-threat. I would imagine the time for this stuff to be safe and the time for the site of a nuclear accident/disaster to be safe are going to be quite different, but I wouldn't know for sure.
      • You are correct. The 10k years will be due to the half-life, but after one half-life has passed the material is anything but safe - it has merely dropped to half its original activity. (That's the definition of half life - the time taken for one half of the sample to decay radioactively.)

        The half life depends solely on what the material is, as it is governed by the stability of the nucleus. The only things that could cause a difference in the amount of time for an accident site and a dumping site to become safe is the amount and type of material involved, and the dispersion.

        In an (explosive) accident or weapon detonation, material tends to be spread out a lot, and so the concentration is lower. This reduces the amount of activity, and so the site is safer, quicker. In the case of a waste disposal site, there is clearly a much higher concentration of material, and so the overall level of radioactivity is potentially much higher. It is stored more safely, of course, but you don't want to go opening stuff up...

        Cheers,

        Tim
    • by dragons_flight ( 515217 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @05:25AM (#3855313) Homepage
      Actually 10,000 years is only the design spec of the facility. Some of the waste is fully expected to be dangerous for 100,000 years. Of course we've only been working with radiation for 100 years so extrapolations probably aren't fool proof. It's relatively easy to figure out based on halflives how long till the radiation from a single species is neglibile, but it is far more complicated when you have many different radioisotopes some of which can induce radioactivity in other atoms, etc. All told though greater than 10k years is a pretty safe bet if you're keeping this stuff all together and isolated.

      The difference is that fallout and such is dispersed by wind and rain and tides, etc. so it can reach safe concentrations relatively quickly by comparison without waiting for large quantities of the material to decay. Also, the threshold to be considered "safe" radiation exposure has been revised upward several times over the last century as we have gotten more familiar with radiation. Exposure limits (US standard) are currently about 20 times the average background exposure from natural sources. Some research suggests that the safe threshold may reasonably be a factor 2 or 5 times higher than that. How long it must be stored before it becomes safe obviously depends on how you define safe, but even so it's still reasonable to think we are looking at a long time for such concentrated waste.

      Incidently there are a number of serious proposals that broad dispersal or dilution may be a suitable alternative for some kinds of radioactive waste.
  • that shooting the waste into the sun [imdb.com] is just too damn dangerous (rockets explode occasionally). This is better [mapscience.org] right?
  • Earthquake! (Score:2, Informative)

    by KnightNavro ( 585943 )
    Yes, we have to store the waste somewhere, but in an active earthquake zone [unr.edu]?
  • by po8 ( 187055 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @04:18AM (#3855156)

    I'm glad I don't live in Nevada.

    I would gladly locate the national nuclear waste repository within 1/2 mile of my home if the alternative is to leave it where it is. My home town of Portland, OR is about 30 miles from the Trojan nuclear power plant, a now-defunct power reactor whose pool is being used as its spent-fuel storage facility. The pool is a few hundred yards from the Columbia river. Given that situation, IMHO almost any sensible thing one could do would be an improvement.

  • They decided they couldn't use CmdrTaco's basement, cuz they'd have to move the used-geek storage facility to a less secure site, and it was decided that misuse of used geeks posed a larger threat than the construction of nuclear bombs from nuclear waste.
  • by ch-chuck ( 9622 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @05:21AM (#3855301) Homepage
    to run my electric air conditioner to keep me cool from the global warming caused by all the fossle fuel emissions from conventional power plants because of the enviro idiots who won't permit more safe, clean nuclear power plants to be built. There's still way too much irrational fearmongering about nuclear materials, most of it second hand propaganda spread by entertainers w/o a clue looking for some 'cause celeb' to vent about and completely misleading the public. People who are steadfastly opposed to anything associated with nuclear to such a degree that they tremble with fear over getting a completely safe "nuclear magnetic resonance imaging" scan really should do the intelligent world a favor and study the enemy and get over their misconceptions - get a damn geiger counter and /measure/ what the heck your afraid of, get some low level uranium glass or pitchblende samples and play with it, notice the everpresent background radiation that occurs in nature, measure how fast radiation falls off when you get just a few inches away. Read about the history of radioactivity, Mme Curie, prospecting, etc. Otherwise you're just a clueless puppet of an even more ignorant leadership that show your lack of knowledge with every empty-minded protest. Democracy only works with an educated public - that's why people who know what they're doing are so frustrated by an ill informed public who start wearing black skeleton suits and mushroom clouds at the mere movement of a railroad car.

    Here you have over 40 thousand people perish in the US 'automobile holocaust' every friggin year and nobody ever protests that - but take an industry with an incredibly safe track record and the mere mention of some activity brings out the placard waving idiots in droves.

    • by thales ( 32660 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @06:17AM (#3855460) Homepage Journal
      The real irony is Coal burning power plants emit MORE radiation than the Nuke plants! Coal contains traces of uranium. When it's burned the Organic matter is converted into CO2 concetrating the Uranium in the ash. Fly Ash from a Coal fired power plant results in a slight rise in the background radiation. Do a google search for radioavtive ash to check this out.
  • Nuclear power (Score:3, Insightful)

    by viktor ( 11866 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @05:27AM (#3855316) Homepage

    I dunno about you folks, but I'm glad I don't live in Nevada.

    Amen to that. And it got me thinking again.

    It's funny in a way. All across the world the same thinking is prevalent (I do not accuse the previous poster of thinking like this). "Nuclear power is good and safe and perfect, but don't even think of storing all the waste near where I live!"

    It kind of takes the edge of people's strong position for nuclear power. Accepting risks is always easy when it's not yourself taking the risk.

    I personally do not oppose nuclear power. It's better than the current alternatives (no pun intended ;-). But there is a way to lessen nuclear waste: save power.

    From what I've seen from here across the pond, there doesn't really seem to be a strong discussion in the US whether nuclear power (or any other power for that matter) is good or bad. People just simply consume enormous amounts of electrical power because it's there in the socket and just waiting to be consumed.

    At least in Sweden, low-power lamps, TV:s with negligible stand-by power consumption and other similar products sell. Saving energy is something positive, something people want. Consumers can even accept a slight price increase if it means that we save energy. And part of that is that people know there's no way of disposing of nuclear waste.

    The US seems to be dominated by a) big power companies that tells people to consume and b) overzealous protest groups that nobody takes seriously. And that's really sad, because the US is such a large country...

    Not least was this visible, of course, when the neighbouring global problem with carbondioxide emissions was discussed recently. About every nation except the US (which by itself makes something like 25% of the worlds CO2-emissions if memory serves) accepted taking steps to reduce the emissions. The US had powerful oil companies which saw a potential risk of losing profit, and refused. Of course the public argument was something like "we won't reduce emissions because X won't", where X is your country of choice. Weak argument in the eyes of global climate.

    Perhaps we can hope that the same oil companies will be put out of business because of creative bookkeeping. That would be a win for the world. ;-)

  • Like pointed out in earlier replies, the problem with nuclear power is not the dangers of a meltdown or any other accident at the power plant.
    The problem is the waste, radioactive material that will be active for hundreds or thousands of years, where do you leave the waste? Nobody wants it in their backyard and how do we safely transport it and savely store it until it is no longer harmful?

    In my opinion this is why we need to look for alternative sources of power, so eventually we will no longer have to use nuclear power. The best thing to do is stop using it now, so the amount of waste will not grow anymore, simple math: when we stop using nuclear power in 50 years from now, we will have at least twice the amount of waste we have now(nucelar power is around for about 50 years). But stopping to use nuclear power now is impossible and imho it will still be around for the next 50 years.

    The solution? Keep the powerplants we have until their designed lifetime is up, and keep looking for alternatives, nuclear fusion might be one, but I don't think that will happen this century or ever (because we won't need it anymore->read on). For alternative powersources I'm putting my money on the fuel cell, the cleanest form works on hydrogen but that still has some storage problems. Running the fuel cell on natural gas(GM already has one of 7kW that can be installed at your home) is easier (natural gas is already available in many homes) and a bit saver. However, eventually we need to run the fuel cells on hydrogen only, it is widely available(water) and the "waste" is pure and clean water. In the meantime we need to create a way to safely store and distribute hydrogen, this certainly can be done in the next 50 years or so...

    Oh, and by the way: the efficiency of the average fuel cell is already at 40% and can still increasing.

  • First of all, yes, it's nuclear waste, it's dangerous stuff. But, we know a lot more about it than the old days. Keeping the waste at regularly, and calculated, separated intervals there is no real danger. The danger lies in leaving it too close so that individual containers can charge each other up and potentially cause an explosion. That won't be happening in Nevada.

    The reality is, we have to put the waste somewhere, and under the desert floor is as good as any (and better than most). Except for the waste, fission is an incredibly safe form of power. Properly disposed of, the waste can be pretty benign. Yucca mountain is a good place for the waste, and were I to live near there, personally, I wouldn't worry about it. But that's me, knowing what I know.

    Once we can safely and cheaply launch it into space, we can simply fire it off at the sun where it will do nothing. Until that day, we need a place here to store it.
  • by gelfling ( 6534 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @06:50AM (#3855558) Homepage Journal
    They send us their oil and we send them nuclear waste material. Or, if they prefer in 'pre spent' form on the tips of missiles. Seems fair to me.
  • Bully (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ONOIML8 ( 23262 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @07:46AM (#3855782) Homepage
    I see, so if one state doesn't want something but the other 49 gang up on them, then they're gonna get it. What a wonderful system we have.

    Interesting too that Nevada doesn't have any commercial reactors, yet they get stuck with the waste. In fact the bulk of the nuclear material and programs within the state are federal.

    Yup, the waste has to go somewhere. So in this case someone shits in New Jersey and it ends up in Nevada's back yard.

  • by wazzzup ( 172351 ) <astromacNO@SPAMfastmail.fm> on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @09:06AM (#3856293)
    The current issue of National Geographic has a nice article on nuclear waste. I'd provide the link but for three times in a row, my Win2000 box here at work has bluescreened when I click on the link. Hmph.

    Anyhow, I see people getting moderated up for saying that the 10000-year life span of the Yucca mountain facilities was determined by half-life.

    Not true!

    The 10000-year service life of the Yucca Mountain facilities was decided upon by the fact that there likely won't be a DOE to monitor the site or a government, as we know it, to control it. In a nutshell, "After 10000 years all bets are off" was the decision.

    As a rule, a radioactive substance has to go through 10 half-lives to become harmless. The higher the radioactivity an element has the shorter its half-life. The converse is true as well. Plutonium has a half-life of 24000 years. 24000 x 10 = 240000 years before it becomes harmless. Uranium is less radioactive than plutonium (but still incredibly deadly) so it has a much greater half-life.

    So really, for plutonium were looking at an additional 230000 years after the facilty might/will fail before its contents are harmless. Longer for the uranium.

    Don't fool yourselves into thinking the facilty will be safe after its design life has expired. In fact, the Yucca Mountain facilty is only designed to last for 4.17% of the time period when the plutonium stored there will be deadly.
  • by sean23007 ( 143364 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @10:32AM (#3857012) Homepage Journal
    I hear a lot of people saying that they're glad they don't live in Nevada. Why? What's the difference? If something goes wrong with the storage, wouldn't it affect a lot more than just Nevada? I mean, if there was a leak, wouldn't the entire western half of the US be in danger? And please don't tell me it's all foolproof, because nothing is. Any time someone says that it reminds me of a discussion my class had in 6th grade with some nuclear waste disposal expert:

    Expert: So, since nuclear waste is so dangerous, we are planning to seal it up into containers and drop them to the bottom of the ocean.
    Student 1: What about the fishes?
    Expert: Don't be stupid, the containers are sealed, there is no way the nuclear waste could get out.
    Student 2: What if the container breaks?
    Expert: It can't break.
    Student 2: But what if it does?
    Expert: It can't.
    Student 2: But, what I mean to say it, what if it does break?
    Expert: But, you see child, it simply can't break. It's a foolproof system.

    Uh huh...
  • by aslagle ( 441969 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @12:00PM (#3857844)
    At the end of 1990, there were only 83 plants under construction in the world, half in Eastern Europe and not likely ever to be completed. A tragedy on the scale of Chernobyl,
    which is inevitable in the next decade, (emphasis mine) will end dreams of nuclear power as an energy source forever. Because (as we note in Section l.3.1) it is highly likely that WIPP will be used to store civilian, as well as military, wastes, it is appropriate that the memorial at WIPP serve as a reminder of the tragic cost of nuclear power as used for "peaceful" as well as intentionally destructive purposes.
    The above quote was taken from the report listing a marking scheme to mark the site so that it will be protected for the next 10,000 years.

    (Full title: Expert Judgment on Markers to Deter Inadvertent Human Intrusion into the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, Sandia Report SAND92-1382 - UC-721)

    It serves to remind me that people may quote statistics in an attempt to support their positions, but in the end, they're just statistics.

    The report as a whole is interesting, I suggest you read it - but remember that the authors forgot the cardinal rule of 'scientific' study: never interject your opinions into research. Even if it doesn't color your results, it will give the appearance of bias.
  • Shoshone (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hard_Code ( 49548 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @02:24PM (#3859171)
    As bad as it is for citizens of Nevada, I feel even worse for the Shoshone, who absolutely don't deserve having our radioactive shit stored in their sacred land. Hey, maybe we should start stashing some waste in Canada. I mean, it's not like the Canucks could do anything to us.

    http://www.indiancountry.com/?1022253815 [indiancountry.com]
  • by ccwaterz ( 535536 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @03:57PM (#3859919)
    mapscience.org [mapscience.org] Type in your addy and find out how close the waste pass you by.
  • by idg101 ( 471609 ) on Wednesday July 10, 2002 @05:26PM (#3860595) Homepage
    Here are some facts I have gathered.

    The canisters that ship the waste are impact tested and yadda yadda yadda. They have to withstand heat, drops, etc. all sorts of stuff.

    Used up nuclear fuel wont go critical. The k effective of all the waste to go in the mountain must be 0.95 or lower. The cores must be designed such that they wont go critical.
    Here is more:

    The effective multiplication factor (keff) is less than or equal to 0.95 under assumed accident conditions, considering allowance for the bias in the method of calculation and the uncertainty in the experiments used to validate the method of calculation

    For all techies, read this:
    The science and engineering report
    http://www.ymp.gov/documents/ser_b/index.h tm

    Here is an FAQ of almost every possible question i could think of that anyone could ask.
    http://www.ymp.gov/documents/feis_a/index_v3 .htm

    I hope these words have sparked your intrest to read on.
    I would suggest reading these materials.

It was pity stayed his hand. "Pity I don't have any more bullets," thought Frito. -- _Bored_of_the_Rings_, a Harvard Lampoon parody of Tolkein

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