Nuclear waste
The problem of what to do with 72,000 tons of nuclear waste accumulated over 60 years by our energy and defense industries has not yet been solved. Currently, commercial and government nuclear facilities incur great expense by storing their waste on-site. This waste includes used, or spent, fuel rods as well as hundreds of millions of gallons of radioactive water. Our Department of Energy (DOE) wants to build a permanent underground storage facility to reduce costs and minimize security threats. It claims on-site waste storage at 131 nuclear facilities increases the risk of leaks which could contaminate the environment or of terrorists acquiring this material. DOE is studying the feasibility of building a repository capable of storing up to 77,000 tons of nuclear waste for possibly 10,000 years. The chosen storage site is deep inside Nevada’s Yucca Mountain -about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The estimated cost of this unparalleled construction project is at least $60 billion but is adamantly opposed by many Nevadans. These Americans have experienced the effects of previous radioactive experiments conducted in their state.

Opponents claim a central repository is unnecessary since studies have shown nuclear waste can be safely stored on location for possibly 100 more years. They say that Yucca Mountain is an unsuitable location for a repository since water has been found to move through the mountain faster than previously believed. To counter this problem, the construction of man-made barriers would be needed to prevent contaminant seepage. However, this violates the mandate by Congress for a repository with natural geological barriers. Also, radioactive waste is projected to be encased in metal containers but experts claim no metal will last underground for more than 400-500 years. Others are worried about the dangers of transporting nuclear waste across our country.

Yucca repository supporters say many power plants storing waste onsite reside within 50 miles of a major metropolitan area, and many of these facilities are located near oceans or in humid environments which can corrode storage containers over time. They say the Yucca Mountain site was selected because it was remote and geologically stable. They say that nuclear waste will be isolated 1,000 feet under dry rock and 1,000 feet above the water table. They also say that, due to robust shipping containers, there have been no accidents in more than 3,000 shipments of used fuel transported across 1.7 million miles nationwide. They claim studies continue to show Yucca Mountain to be a suitable site for the repository. In 2011, the Obama administration cut funding for the Yucca Mountain repository, effectively halting further construction of this project.

Pending Legislation:
S.691 - Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act

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