Rail route only hints at Yucca problems | NevadaAppeal.com

Rail route only hints at Yucca problems

Nevada Appeal Staff Reports

By Nevada Appeal editorial board

The Department of Energy’s choice for a difficult, circuitous railroad corridor to deliver nuclear waste to a repository at Yucca Mountain confirms the expensive dilemmas facing this project and only hints at difficulties to come.

The 319-mile route circles the Nellis Air Force range, traveling hundreds of extra miles across some severe mountain terrain in its attempt to skirt the potential problems of coming too near population centers in Clark County and cutting across a military installation.

In other words, it’s a lose-lose proposition.

Yucca Mountain initially was studied for its remoteness and its geological soundness, the better to move radioactive waste away from people and store it where it could be safely protected. But now that years of research have shown the waste will need to be sealed in indestructble, water-tight containers, only remoteness remains as a factor in the site’s favor.

But shipping the waste from 39 states (not including Nevada) to the desert 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas will come at mind-boggling expense.

The preferred corridor – starting at a Union Pacific Railroad junction near Caliente – would require a rail line estimated by the DOE to cost $880 million to build over 46 months. A consultant working for Nevada, however, suggests the cost may be closer to $2.6 billion.

Robert Halstead told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the line will probably take at least 10 years to build and likely require a series of switchbacks and tunnels as it traverses 4,000- to 6,000-foot mountain passes. It also involves desert tortoise habitat, water quality in riparian areas and 97 recorded archaeological sites.

Halstead called it “one hell of a good old engineering challenge to build this sucker.”

It can be done, we’re sure. Just as indestructible containers (at least by DOE standards) can be engineered.

Nevertheless, every detail of this project reinforces the fundamental truth that Yucca Mountain is an unwieldy, inefficient, impractical solution to nuclear-waste storage being forced not only on Nevada but the entire nation.