Common Objections to the Yucca Mountain Project, and
What the Science Really Says
following are the most frequently cited objections to
the Yucca Mountain project and the response based on
Concern: DOE skews its scientific results to make the
repository look OK.
Inspector General's investigation, completed in
April 2001, found no evidence of pro-repository bias
in DOE's scientific program.
The DOE science is
the product 1000's of respected scientists
representing dozens of reputable organizations, all
of whom build their careers on professional
methods are backed by strong international
DOE has taken a
conservative approach in areas of scientific
uncertainty (where large uncertainties exist
scientists typically choose assumptions that are
less favorable to repository performance).
results have been subjected to and withstood
critical review from organizations such as the
International Atomic Energy Agency and the Nuclear
Waste Technical Review Board. The final test of
these results will be the intensive 3 to 4 year
public review that must be conducted by the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission before any license to operate
the facility can be issued.
Upwelling of groundwater
Concern: Geothermal processes could force up the
water table from 1000' below the repository to flood the
waste emplacement area.
Multiple studies have
completely debunked this theory:
Nevada at Las Vegas
Technical Review Board
Concern: Water will degrade the waste package
Very little water
falls on Yucca Mountain and most of what does runs
off (does not seep into the mountain). Scientists
have done extensive work to model how very small
amounts of water may infiltrate the repository and
have designed corrosion resistant containers made of
advanced Alloy C-22 covered by Titanium drip shields
to protect the waste against any seepage that may
Studies conducted to
date confirm the corrosion resistance of Alloy C-22.
Alloy C-22 is more
corrosion resistant than other materials (it has
evolved from of 103 years of experience with Ni-Cr
alloys developed to combat corrosion).
analogues—objects not protected by advanced
materials—have survived 1000's of years in the
environment under similar or even less favorable
to be conducted over the 100+ years before
repository closure will either verify theories about
the longevity of Alloy C-22 or provide opportunity
for necessary modifications in repository design.
studies showing C-22 corrosion under extreme
conditions did not accurately model the repository
The Nuclear Waste
Technical Review Board concluded in 2004 that the
environmental conditions necessary to cause
corrosion of C-22 were "unlikely" to occur inside
Concern: It is not safe to bury nuclear waste in a
seismically active area.
The seismicity of
Yucca Mountain is well known and understood.
and operational facilities will be designed to
withstand worst case earthquakes.
The occurrence of
earthquakes has been considered in repository design
and long term performance assessments. The waste
containers themselves will be designed to withstand
worst case earthquakes and DOE's analysis already
assumes that falling rocks will contribute to the
long term degradation of the containers.
The repository layout
will avoid well characterized fault lines.
most of their destructive force at the surface,
earthquakes strong enough to cause damage in the
scientific trailers currently on the surface have
gone unnoticed by workers in the tunnels.
Concern: A volcano could erupt through the
A volcanic eruption
that affects the repository is a highly improbable
There has not been a
single volcanic eruption through Yucca Mountain in
10 million years.
Millions of years of
history shows that the region surrounding Yucca
Mountain is becoming less volcanically active with
Nevertheless, NRC is
requiring that DOE analyze the consequences of such
an event and include this analysis in the repository
Volcano itself likely
to cause more harm than any radiation it might
Concern: Evidence of Cl-36 from nuclear weapons
testing suggests that radioactive molecules will leak
rapidly out of Yucca Mountain.
Evidence of possible
Cl-36 (less than 50 years old) does not invalidate
DOE's performance assessment:
DOE is already
conservatively assuming fast pathways in its
of one radioactive element are not indicative of
the transport characteristics of all radioactive
Cl-36 is not a
major contributor to repository radiological
radioactive element travel time through the
mountain is on the order of 1000's of years
(even with fast pathways).
The validity of
the Cl-36 data is in dispute.
Transportation is too
Concern: Moving used fuel along road & rail threatens
millions of homes.
Used nuclear fuel
transportation has a well established safety record
(1000's of shipments have already been conducted
world-wide without any radiation impact on public
health and safety).
Used nuclear fuel
transportation is carried out with numerous
precautions and is heavily regulated.
Used nuclear fuel
shipping containers are designed to withstand severe
(non-credible) accident release scenarios have been
analyzed and can be mitigated, emergency responders
will be prepared if they happen.
Concern: Future residents of Yucca Mountain may
inadvertently drill or mine into the repository.
It is difficult to
believe that future populations will lose knowledge
of or ability to detect the repository yet retain
the technology to drill through and/or mine into it.
Even if this was
credible, high ground in a resource barren area is
an unlikely drilling/mining location.
will require DOE to evaluate a human intrusion
scenario and demonstrate that potential radiological
consequences to the public would be within
regulatory safety limits.
DOE is engineering their
way around a bad site
Concern: DOE is getting all of its performance from
miracle metals (C-22, titanium) because the geology
isn't working for them.
No other nation has a
site as dry, stable, & remote as Yucca.
perform so well partly because they are being
emplaced in dry stable rock.
assessment intentionally underestimates the
capability of the site's natural features:
of safety (conservatism).
over-design of the engineered system (defense in
licensing (NRC processes are more familiar with
Concern: Yucca will not be as dry 1000's of years in
the future as it is today.
Past climate change
patterns have been evaluated, if Yucca gets wetter,
it won't get that much wetter.
assumes a wetter climate in its performance
Concern: Flash floods could inundate the surface
facilities during repository operations, causing release
of radioactive materials.
facilities will be designed to withstand worst case
storage casks are already designed to withstand
submersion in water.
The reason Nevada has
such flooding whenever it rains, is that the ground
does not absorb water well. Ground that doesn't like
to absorb water is a good thing to have above a
Site is not large enough
Concern: The nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca
Mountain as planned is not large enough to store all off
the used nuclear fuel and defense-related waste that has
been and is being produced.
The capacity of a
repository at the Yucca Mountain site has been
determined politically, not scientifically. Congress
limited the capacity of the Yucca Mountain
repository to 70,000 metric tons of heavy metal or
equivalent in the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act.
As of 2002, there is
about 44,000 metric tons of commercial used nuclear
fuel and about 12,000 metric tons of defense
high-level radioactive waste awaiting disposal at
Yucca Mountain. An additional 2,000 metric tons is
generated each year. Given that DOE expects to begin
receiving up to 3,000 metric tons a year of used
fuel beginning in 2010, the 70,000 metric ton
political limit will not be reached until at least
demonstrates that the Yucca Mountain site is
physically capable of holding much more used fuel.
DOE's Environmental Impact Statement showed that the
site could safely dispose of 120,000 metric tons.
Some scientists believe that repository capacity
could be as high as 200,000 metric tons.
Congress has plenty
of time to decide whether it wants to authorize a
second repository or increase the capacity at Yucca
Mountain. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act directed DOE
to report to Congress between 2007 and 2010 on the
need for a second national repository.
Zero tolerance for
Concern: Even a single millirem of additional
radiation is immoral.
Every day radiation
is used for the benefit of humanity, including the
detection and treatment of disease, and the
production of 20 percent of our nation's electricity
to maintain a high standard of living and quality of
Natural radiation has
always been a part of our environment in which all
living things have evolved and trive. There is no
difference between man-made and natural radiation.
Over 20 years of
scientific study and engineering analysis ensure
that the Yucca Mountain repository will protect the
public health and safety.
Based on DOE
calculations, an individual living at Yucca Mountain
10,000 years in the future will receive an annual
radiation dose less than what he or she would
receive from eating a single banana a year.