Separating Yucca Mountain facts from fiction
For the Appeal
As someone who has been intimately involved with the Yucca Mountain project and Nevada’s role in it since 1984, I am compelled to comment on Chuck Muth’s recent article, “Should we allow Yucca for a mountain of cash?”
The simple, unglamorous truth is that there have never been any large sums of money or outlandish benefits to be had for going along with Yucca Mountain. You’ve heard about “urban legends” – fictitious stories that float around on the Internet and develop whole cadres of gullible believers? Well, these stories about all of the great things Nevada has been offered to quit fighting Yucca Mountain are nuclear industry “urban legends.”
It’s the U.S. Congress that would have to pay for any benefits awarded to Nevada for the repository, and in the over 20 years I’ve been involved in the issue, there has never been any money. Even if there were (and assuming Nevada were in a position to bargain for it – meaning that the Yucca site was really a safe one, which it isn’t), there is no way to hold future Congresses and future Administrations to whatever deal might be cut.
The reality is that promises of largesse and pie-in-the-sky benefits serve only one purpose – to get Nevada to drop its opposition to Yucca Mountain and agree to negotiate. Once that happens, the state will have forfeited any chance it has to stop this dangerous project.
That’s exactly the situation the nuclear industry and Congress would like to put Nevada in: Get the state to blink and agree to negotiate, recognizing that once Nevada makes such a concession, the ball game is over.
But the most important reason why Nevada can never negotiate for Yucca Mountain is the fact that the proposed repository site cannot and will not isolate deadly nuclear waste from people and the environment for the time required. From the very beginning of this project back in the early 1980s, Nevada has consistently set forth one condition for DOE and the feds to meet in selecting a repository location: It must be demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that the chosen site would be able to isolate the waste and be benign in its effects on people and the environment.
DOE’s own data shows that Yucca Mountain site is so porous that the mountain contributes almost nothing to waste isolation. DOE relies almost exclusively on a system of ‘Rube Goldberg’ engineering fixes, the most outlandish of which are waste disposal containers that must last for at least 1,000,000 years! Never mind that Nevada and independent scientists who have studied the material these magic containers are to be made from have shown conclusively that they will corrode in a matter of just a few hundred years, or less.
The question that should be asked is not why Nevada hasn’t fallen for nonsensical proposals like Mr. Muth’s, but just what price can and should Nevada’s leaders put on agreeing to accept a facility that they know will fail and eventually cause great damage to the environment and to public health and safety for future generations of Nevadans and Californians. What’s the going price these days for an ecosystem contaminated by radioactivity? What price compensates future residents, farmers and others in Amargosa Valley for a contaminated aquifer that will make the area unlivable? The answer, of course, is that no amount of so-called benefits could ever compensate for such folly.
• Robert Loux is executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, the state agency responsible for overseeing the Yucca Mountain project.