Nevada’s attorney general Catherine Cortez Masto penned an op-ed in the Las Vegas Sun over the weekend, calling the geologic repository Yucca Mountain “unworkable” as a long-term solution to store our nation’s nuclear waste. She claims the administration has scientific and technological reasons to permanently shut down Yucca. But instead supporting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s responsibility to determine if that’s the case, she focuses on questionable arguments to instill fear in Nevadans.
The first claim is that Yucca is unstable, a hotbed for seismic activity that could disrupt the safe storage of spent nuclear fuel. But the Department of Energy’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management (OCRWM) concludes upon careful study that “Experience with earthquakes throughout the world has shown that underground structures can withstand the ground motion generated by earthquakes. And, in actual tests at the Nevada Test Site, mine tunnels have withstood ground motion from underground nuclear explosions that are greater than any ground motion anticipated at or near Yucca Mountain. Repository facilities at the surface also can be designed to safely withstand earthquake effects. Information from historical and contemporary earthquake catalogues from the Southern Great Basin Seismic Network was used to analyze the potential for earthquakes at Yucca Mountain. It also appears that the potential for earthquake damage to an underground repository is very slight.”
Many of her other arguments are not specific to Yucca Mountain but questions about the containers and drip shields used to further bolster safety. Such man-made devices will likely be necessary for any geologic repository and are not a result of what Mastro calls Yucca’s “fundamental inadequacies.”
She claims the reason Yucca Mountain was chosen in the first place was purely political and without scientific grounds. Yet OCRWM maintains that the “Natural features of the mountain — including its geology, climate, distance above the water table, and isolation — make Yucca Mountain a suitable location for a repository. These features, combined with engineered barriers — including the solid nature of the waste, robust waste packages, and other features within the mountain — provide assurance that the nuclear materials will be safely isolated from the environment.”
Mastro makes her support known for the president’s blue ribbon commission on nuclear waste, emphasizing the need for a beyond-Yucca approach. But this “ignore Yucca” approach is not the right one for the Commission. Indeed, the Commission’s findings would be far more credible if it considers Yucca and explains why it should or should not be part of the nation’s waste management strategy.
“It’s time to focus on the science,” says Mastro. She ignores the fact that Yucca is “the most studied real estate on the planet” and that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing an application that is “more than 8,600 pages in length, integrates the results of more than two decades of scientific and engineering work at Yucca Mountain.”
Let the NRC focus on the science. Both support and opposition for Yucca Mountain are confident that the science is on their side. Why not let a non-partisan, technically knowledgeable agency whose job it is to make such determinations be the decider?