Oct. 22, 2003
Evidence Mounts That Yucca Mountain Dump Is Flawed
Statement by Wenonah Hauter, Director, Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program
The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board’s letter to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) warning that man-made storage containers at Yucca Mountain will probably leak should come as no surprise. Despite a mound of sound scientific evidence demonstrating the flaws of the Yucca Mountain plan, officials at the DOE have been influenced by the nuclear industry instead of by fact in their drive to build a high-level nuclear waste repository. The new finding by the board — the same body that in January 2002 called evidence supporting Yucca Mountain “weak to moderate” — further confirms that the project is unworkable and should be abandoned.
The reliance on engineered barriers to permanently contain dangerously radioactive waste for thousands of years is a huge safety compromise. The original law mandating construction of a permanent waste repository, the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982, called for a geologic barrier to permanently isolate the waste from the surrounding environment, not a man-made one. When it became apparent that the volcanic rock forming Yucca Mountain could not adequately perform that critical function, the government waived the requirement. This concession is part of a larger pattern of making the laws fit the site, not making the site fit the laws.
Yucca Mountain sits in an earthquake zone where a magnitude 5.6 earthquake damaged a DOE field office in 1992. An earthquake of 4.4 occurred as recently as June 2002. The site itself lies over a freshwater aquifer supplying drinking water to thousands of people; an earthquake could exacerbate the problem of water reaching the tanks, further corroding them and carrying the resulting contamination to the aquifer below. Again, instead of using this evidence to rule out Yucca Mountain, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency changed the law, making the expected level of radioactive contamination in drinking water “permissible,” a move now the subject of a lawsuit by Public Citizen and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The DOE ought to heed the board’s warning and drop the Yucca Mountain project for a safer alternative.