Millennium Countdown: 1984 |

Millennium Countdown: 1984

by staff

Paper: Nevada Appeal – 15 days to the millennium – Tuesday, Oct. 16, 1984

President: Donald W. Reynolds

General Manager: David A. Osborn

Editor: Don Ham

Advertising Director: Frank Sharp

Circulation Manager: Jean Steffen

Composing Supervisor: Sherri Sharp

Published each evening Sunday through Friday at 200 Bath St.

A Nevada owned member Donrey Media Group

Written by Kelli Du Fresne

Reported by Geoff Dornan

The Oct. 16, 1984, edition of the Nevada Appeal contained the beginnings of what has become Nevada’s largest battle.

The Department of Energy is taking comments on a proposal to store nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

At the time, Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, was one of nine possible geologic repositories in six states being evaluated by the energy department.

Today, 15 years and $4 billion later, Yucca Mountain is the sole survivor of those nine possibilities – the DOE’s only alternative to not using Yucca Mountain is to do nothing.

The draft environmental impact statement on using the mountain as a storage site was issued in early 1999.

But long before then, residents across the state have been commenting on what has been called the “screw Nevada plan.”

Eagle Valley Middle School seventh-grader Nick Haney said documents show trucks carrying hot-waste casks will travel highways along Navy bombing ranges, where he said heat-seeking missiles are fired. He said he did not understand how the department was going to lessen that risk.

His classmate Nicole Johnson, said, “I’ve lived in Nevada all my life and I want to keep it safe for my and future generations.”

Thus far, the federal government has spent $7 billion in its quest to dump radioactive waste, which is largely generated on the East Coast and in California.

Those in favor of using Yucca Mountain say Nevada’s small population makes it a likely site.

From the top of the mountain the six-mile long spine of upthrust volcanic rock stretches north and south. There is not a tree in sight and almost no signs of human habitation except for Yucca Mountain facilities and U.S. 95.

Jackass Flats and the Nevada Test Site are to the east, the California state line and Crater Flats to the west. The remains of the volcanoes that created Yucca Mountain ring the mountain on three sides, with the Amargosa Valley to the southwest.

By the time a repository for more than 80,000 metric tons is built – a goal set by the DOE for 2010 – the government will have spent more than $53 billion.

The material to be stored would cross 43 states on its way to the Nevada desert.

The final environmental statement is to be issued by the DOE in 2000, after which the agency will make its final recommendation to the president and Congress whether to build at Yucca Mountain.

Comments on the environmental statement will be taken until Feb. 9, 2000. The draft statement and supporting documents released in September would be 75 feet tall if stacked. The two-volume summary released for comment is three and a half inches thick.

Russell DeBartello, of the Clark County Nuclear Waste Division, said he had little hope the statement will reflect the effect of the repository on local communities.

Effects could include financial loss to businesses due to the close proximity of the nuclear dump, and higher insurance rates for residents and businesses because transportation is routed through town.

Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency Director Bob Loux said the DOE has a different argument each time someone says the site won’t work.

“Whatever the problem is, DOE simply says we could engineer around that,” Loux said.

One of those issues is the question of ground water breaking down the storage canisters.

“Now they’re saying the canister will last 750,000 years because that’s the only way it would be safe. They don’t have any tests to show that,” he said, adding that 750,000 years is 10 times longer than recorded human history.

“They want us to take them at their word,” he said. “But if they do this, I wouldn’t be surprised if they moved all their families out of the area just as they did in the weapons testing program.”

Engineers on both sides agree that if there is to be radiation leakage it will most likely come from water seeping into and out of the storage site.

The DOE projects container leaks in as few as 1,000 years.

Water seeping into the storage tunnels now contains radioactive elements from the weapons testing done fewer than 50 years ago.

K-Basin tanks storing 54 million gallons of waste at Washington’s Hanford nuclear weapons plant are so deadly they must be kept from humans for at least 10,000 years.

Yucca Mountain is planned to be the storage facility for more than 100 power plants, research and military sites. About 2,000 metric tons of waste are produced each year.

In the U.S., the reprocessing of waste is illegal as a way of preventing weapons-grade products such as plutonium from ending up in the hands of terrorists.