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Nuclear Waste - Not in My Backyard
EUREKA! - We've struck waste!
By Jerri Ann Lewis

Nuclear Power produces over 20% of the electricity in the United States. It is the second largest source, the largest being coal.1 However, with the use of nuclear power comes nuclear waste. Nuclear waste disposal is a major concern. Just like prisons and landfills, no one wants a toxic waste dump in their backyard. The residents of Nevada have first-hand knowledge of this issue with the proposal for Yucca Mountain. However, one must realize that this is NOT an issue that only faces the health and safety of Nevada residents, but ALL Americans.

There are 103 power nuclear reactor sites and 37 non-power nuclear reactor sites (used for training and research) spread across the United States.3 If there was a nuclear reactor accident, a nuclear bomb, or some sort of natural disaster (i.e., earthquake) the cities in which these power plants reside as well as many surrounding cities (within an estimated 50 mile radius depending on wind and weather) could be affected.14 The 77 temporary storage facilities designed to hold spent nuclear fuel and radioactive waste could pose a similar threat.4 Americans should also be aware of the threat of more nuclear radiation by way of transportation. That is, the nuclear waste that must be disposed of must also be transported to a permanent nuclear waste disposal site. Nuclear waste could travel by railroad or highway through more than 43 states in the U.S. to the proposed storage site.4 Not only would this present a serious contamination risk in many states but would also present an additional risk for acts of terrorism since components in nuclear waste are used to make nuclear weapons.2

The proposed permanent storage facility is outside Las Vegas, Nevada at Yucca Mountain in Eureka County. The proposal calls for 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste to be shipped across the country to Yucca Mountain over 24 or 38 years by rail or road. The danger in transporting the waste by means of railway or highway causes some concern.12 There have been 88,000 train accidents in the last 12 years of which 14,700 of those trains carried hazardous waste. Over 200,000 tractor-trailers wreck each year on all roads in the United States with 11,000 of those being rollovers.5

The nuclear waste shipping casks have also become questionable since the public release of a video showing an anti-tank (TOW) missile blowing a grapefruit-sized hole in the side of a 15-inch thick cast iron cask "It demonstrates graphically that, should there be an attack and should the terrorists use a TOW missile, that these canisters cannot withstand the blow," Nevada Representative Shelley Berkley said. "And they're suggesting transporting 77,000 tons of nuclear waste across towns and cities, past schools and hospitals; and they expect the American public to allow this to happen."13

Another safety factor to be considered is if the man-made containers would actually last 10,000 years if stored in Yucca Mountain's corrosive environment. The Department of Energy must prove this before a U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission license can be granted. Fortunately, the licensing problem, many lawsuits, and the proposed $58 billion cost stands in the way of construction.6

However, the estimated $58 billion is a cost that excludes the added cost of building railroads and improving roads around Yucca Mountain to transport the nuclear waste to the repository. This and other unforeseen expenses would make the Yucca Mountain price tag closer to $100 billion.6 If you do not use nuclear power, you might think this is not your concern. Nevertheless, the price of storing nuclear waste is not an expense that only nuclear power customers or the nuclear industry pays. The cost of Yucca Mountain would ultimately fall upon taxpayers whether you use nuclear power or not.8 Thus, consider how Nevada residents feel about a nuclear waste repository in their state when their state does not even house one nuclear power plant.

Supporters of the Yucca Mountain repository fail to note the other significant reasons as to why Yucca Mountain should not be used as a permanent storage facility. Even though Yucca Mountain is in the desert, the mountain itself is a volcanic ridge (that is very porous) surrounded by 7 volcanoes and 39 earthquake faults.9 It is also uncertain if areas within the mountain could hold water (the primary way by which waste contaminants could reach the outside environment).

"The Department of Energy's problem-ridden site selection process, flaws in law and in federal regulations, and vigorous citizen opposition led to a more politically convenient solution."2 Many government leaders have pushed for Yucca Mountain to be the chosen site for the repository by voting to eliminate all other site proposals and concentrate on Yucca Mountain as the lone choice. Again politics precedes the scientific data. Instead of believing in the scientific data, politicians are being influenced by money from the nuclear industry and lobbyists.10 Nevada residents, including the Shoshone and other Indian tribes near the site, could suffer the consequences.11

Yucca Mountain supporters are trying to make everyone believe that the proposal has been approved and that it is the only choice for the storage and disposal of nuclear waste. The most obvious solution would be to reduce the amounts of nuclear waste by reducing nuclear power usage. Nonetheless, disposal methods such as separating and neutralized elements within the waste are being researched around the world. There are also a couple of simple alternatives to storing toxic waste rather than Yucca Mountain. Altering dry storage facilities to hold hazardous waste within basements or sub-level rooms can guard against terrorists and would be less costly and easier to build and maintain.6 Since nuclear reactor plants already have licensure and security, storing the nuclear waste on-site or close to the source is another economical option.2

To quote the 2004 Presidential Candidate, John Kerry in response to safety concerns raised by recent scientific studies done on Yucca Mountain, "It is too bad they have been raised late. I know money has been spent. But that doesn't mean you go do something that doesn't make sense. I don't think Nevada should be made the scapegoat dumping ground and I don't intend to do it."7 Thus, the solution is simple. Don't vote for George W. Bush in 2004.


1 "Nuclear Power Serves You," FPL
2 "If Not Yucca Mountain, then What?" Point-Counterpoint. IEER
3 "U.S. Nuclear Reactor Plant Information-Maps," Nukepills.com
4 "Will Nuclear Waste Travel Through Your State?" Nuclear Waste. Sierra Club.
5 Teal Krech, "Nuclear Waste Makes Haste-The Hazardous Roads to Yucca Mountain" Village Voice. NYC July-August 2002.
6 "If Not Yucca Mountain Then What?" Fact Sheet from Yucca Mountain.org
7 "Kerry would use budget, Cabinet influence to kill Yucca Mountain," The Reno Gazette-Journal. October 6, 2004.
8 "Nuclear Waste Disposal & Issues of Health & Safety," Nuclear Legacies. November 22, 1996.
9 Compiled by Dee Finney, Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Dump "The Road to Disaster"
10 "Yucca Mountain Recommendation Tainted by Undue Influence of Nuclear Industry Lobbyists," Public Citizen. April 1, 2001.
11 Tody Eglund, "Yucca Mountain's Other Story," The Gully.com.
12 Yucca Mountain: In Case of Accident, Citizen Alert: Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Transportation Routes
13 Steve Tetreault, "YUCCA MOUNTAIN: Video shows damage to nuclear waste cask," Stephens Washington Bureau. March 19,2002.
14 "Emergency Planning and Preparedness for Nuclear Power Plants," U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

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