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Yucca Mountain


For nearly three decades, since the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act designated deep geologic disposal as the preferred form of nuclear waste disposal, the Yucca Mountain project has cost the United States nearly $10 billion. In 1987, Congress passed an amendment directing the Department of Energy (DOE) to concentrate on Yucca Mountain, thus pushing away any alternatives. This section concentrates on the selection of Yucca Mountain, its support and opposition, and its withdrawal by the DOE in 2010.

Opponents of Yucca Mountain have stated that it was chosen for political, not scientific, reasons. Many have stressed that there are better alternatives that have not been properly analyzed because of the 1987 vote by Congress. In 2003, the state of Nevada, in its constant fight against the project, explained that Yucca was the only repository under construction in the world that was located above the water table, rather than below it, and the only one in an area of high seismic and volcanic activity (all of which pose huge risks to the long-term safety of the storage of radioactive material). At a DOE public hearing in 2001, one opponent claimed, “no one has bothered looking anywhere else.”

The DOE has come to realize the validity of these claims and, in March of 2010, it withdrew its application for Yucca Mountain and attorneys claimed that if the application is dismissed, the DOE “does not intend to ever refile it.” The Nuclear Regulatory Commission, however, is determined that the DOE does not have the authority to withdraw its application. In early 2011, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia will hold hearings to address this issue. Even if Yucca Mountain is officially dismissed as a repository site, the government will need to invest even more time and money addressing the nuclear waste problem.

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