HOME's Yucca Mountain Legacy Project

HOME's Yucca Mountain Legacy Project was conducted in 2004-2006 to identify and act on ways to protect future generations from impacts of the proposed Yucca Mt. High-Level Nuclear Waste Repository. Humans and all life in the Yucca Mountain area faced a unique situation: they were poised in time between two potential radiological disasters. Yucca Mt. lies outside the western perimeter of the Nevada Test Site, which is one of the most contaminated places in the world, and was slated to be the permanent dump for all high-level nuclear waste in the United States. 

The Nevada Test Site has detonated 1,021 nuclear weapons since 1951,100 in the air and 921 underground, about 1/3 within and below the water table. Fallout from these bombs has spread throughout the world on the wind and radioactive elements have dissolved or attached themselves to other mobile particles in surface and ground water. Not a single one of these contamination lumes has been fully characterized. The U.S. Department of Energy proposed to transport 77,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste from reactors all over the U.S. on the nation's highway system, and bury it in tunnels inside Yucca Mountain. 

HOME consulted with leading scientists on how to best protect the future generations.  Their advice: measuring changes in the future must be based on accurately knowing the conditions now. Furthermore, those who most throughly know an area and are motivated to protect it are those who live there.  

Key Legacy Project areas identified for research and action (read more details).

  1. A sound characterization of background radiation (what the site is like now) to measure future changes against, including water, air and soil, and plant and animal life.
  2. A registry/database of existing disease, as well as exposure levels and pathways.
  3. A stakeholder-approved database and methods that would allow analyses of risks along with their uncertainties from Yucca Mt. operations, accurately reflecting the specific local site.
  4. A strong, credible, independently funded Stakeholder's Oversight Board for the Repository.

HOME began with a focus on the first part of the first task. Since the majority of contamination currently being carried off site is through groundwater, we developed a water sampling strategy and identified key isotopic constituents to look for which could characterize future contamination as coming from either the Test Site or Yucca Mt. There were many wells being sampled in Yucca Mt. research, but none were looking for these isotopes. After several years of trying to get state and federal agencies to take on the task of establishing a radionuclide baseline for groundwater in the area, with the help of a grant from the MTA Fund, we took on the task ourselves.

Since our report was published, California and Nevada county agencies recognized the importance of this approach and added similar baseline testing protocols to their own ongoing studies. The proposed Yucca Mt. Repository plan was abandonned in 2009. By then the sites inadequacies to effectively contain waste had been amply proven; man-made barriers provided over 90% of the containment proposed, and could be implemented just as effectively almost anywhere.

Health Risk Data & Resources

EPA's Dose Conversion Factors for Inhalation, Submersion,
     and Ingestion. Federal Guidance Report, Number 11
402R97014 Health Risks from Low-Level Environmental
     Exposure to Radionuclides: Federal Guidance Report
     No. 13, Part 1, Interim Version 402R99001 Cancer Risk Coefficients for Environmental
     Exposure to Radionuclides: Fed. Guidance Rpt No. 13

National Academy of Sciences: Health Risks From Exposure To Low Levels Of Ionizing Radiation (BEIR VII-phase 2)

Citizen's Guide to Environmental Protection Center for Disease Control- Software to design a health study