Attention to nuclear details

The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, meeting this week in Carson City, will be taking a close look at the scientific details of building casks to store nuclear waste in Nevada.

The board, made up of scientists and operating under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Energy, will be probing issues that are likely too complicated for the average layperson to understand.

Yet, it is critically important that the public pay attention to such details. For in the scientific details lie the only possible means for Nevada to be forever free of the threat of nuke-waste storage at Yucca Mountain.

The discussions Tuesday in Carson City center on casks being designed to store the waste from around the country deep inside Yucca Mountain for thousands of years.

They are the first defense against leakage inside the mountain. But they are the last and only defense against the mountain itself, and Nevada's experts have some worries about what Yucca Mountain might do to those casks.

The concerns include earthquakes and the drip-drip-drip of 10,000 years of mineral-laden water.

Both presidential candidates, George W. Bush and Al Gore, have repeated the often-used phrase that Yucca Mountain's adequacy for long-term storage will be decided by science. This is the kind of science they are talking about.

It has become clear in recent years that the DOE is no longer considering whether Yucca Mountain would be a suitable site, but how to engineer the mountain, the casks and the remainder of the project to make it a suitable site.

There is no alternative in the DOE's plans to storage at Yucca Mountain. That's why they're trying hard to make the project work, and why the DOE's standards seem to come down regularly in order to meet the engineering - rather than the other way around.

It's the details - transportation casks and routes being other issues that come to mind - on which Nevada will be able to build a case that other states and other politicians may be able to support. Because science may be the question, but politics remains the ultimate answer.


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