The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository

Yucca Mountain is really more of a long ridge than a mountain, lying 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada.  For over 20 years, since 1987, it was the only place under consideration to dump the nation’s entire legacy of high-level nuclear waste. This waste is mainly highly irradiated used fuel rods from reactors, but also includes some military waste from nuclear powered Navy vessels.

Under the Obama administration, Yucca Mt. was finally judged unsuitable for nuclear waste storage. However, the story is not over yet, and no workable new strategy has been developed. Obama’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Nuclear Waste still views deep geologic burial (dumping in bedrock) as the best alternative.

The mountain is fractured by 32 different fault lines, contains many caverns and small crystaline structures formed by water infiltration in past years, and lies near volcanos active up until 5,000 years ago. 

The Shoshone on who’s treaty lands it rests call it Serpent Swimming West, and studies have confirmed that the area is shifting up to six inches every hundred years.

By the end of the long battle over Yucca Mt., the repository design called for man-made barriers to handle up to 90% of the contamination containment. Few people felt confident of the system’s ability to contain such deadly material for well over 1 million years (see DOE’s contamination projections,) and strongly recommend a different sort of storage system that can be both monitored and retrievable. (See information about Hardened On-Site Storage, or HOSS).