Danger Underground: Nuclear Waste Disposal in Yucca Mountain

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Danger Underground: Nuclear Waste Disposal in Yucca Mountain


The U.S. Department of Energy has proposed plans to deposit 70,000 tons of highly radioactive waste underground Yucca Mountain in Nevada. While many environmental questions and concerns have been raised about the safety of the waste disposal plan for the next 10,000 years, there appears to be no alternative. Waste from nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants are a serious environmental problem that will be present for generations to come. It should be society's responsibility to come up with more efficient sources of energy, despite the costs, to prevent the production of more hazardous waste in the future.

The "nuclear age" produced 52,000 tons of spent
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Finding a Waste Disposal Site

The government started researching disposal sites for nuclear waste in the early 1970s. Experts around the world agreed that the safest place to store nuclear materials is deep underground, so most site proposals were located deep below mountain ranges (Yucca Mountain Project website). The Nuclear Waste Policy Act was passed in 1987, which eliminated all prospective sites but one: Yucca Mountain in Nevada (Ewing and Macfarlane 2002). More than 4 billion dollars has been spent on researching this site in the last twenty years.

Yucca Mountain is a long flat ridge of volcanic ash that reaches 5,000 feet high. The site is attractive for several reasons. First of all, Nevada receives an average rainfall of only seven inches, which is important because corrosion due to water is a major concern with nuclear waste storage. Also, Yucca Mountain is located within Nye County, an area with only a few hundred residents. Lastly, the Nellis Air Force Base is located nearby, providing a certain amount of protection, which helps to address many fears raised by the threat of terrorist attacks and a generally unstable world situation (Environmental Protection Agency/ Yucca Mtn. Standards).

The Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires the EPA to develop standards specifically for the Yucca Mt. Site. Those standards are "designed to protect the public and environment from

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