The need (or non-need) for Yucca Mountain to store nuclear waste (by Walter E. Goldstein, Ph.D., PE)
We need sites to store nuclear material. According to our local paper, The LVRJ (May 11, 2018), elements of the Federal Government have been trying to get central storage in one or a few locales since the 1950’s. This gets derailed. We need storage in the USA. Storage at nuclear production sites is apparently not liked by nuclear plants.
More people in Nevada do not want Yucca Mountain storage as they are fearful it will hurt business and growth here, and basically will scare people like grandparents who worry their visiting grandchildren will be exposed to radiation.
Parties could do a better job to advise why Yucca Mountain storage is safe, assuming they can do that. The scientific underpinning of nuclear storage must be extensive with all the money that has been spent on this subject.
I was wondering today if anyone has assessed the probability of unsafe events occurring in storage of nuclear waste, for example, at a Yucca Mountain site. If these probabilities are assessed to be low, then maybe the safety of nuclear storage can be explained, and presented properly to the public and other interested parties. Is there a recommended review paper by an experienced nuclear engineer that addresses the subject of the probability of unsafe nuclear events associated with storage at Yucca Mountain?
I worked for an operating contractor at a US Dept of Energy site from '79 to '89, during which several sites were reviewed as candidate locations for nuclear waste storage. I was not directly involved with much of the work, as my focus was process development for other parts of the nuclear fuel cycle, but working at a site, and in the community, we were all "exposed" to much of the higher level goings-on.
Although this was supposed to be all technical and science-based work, it was rife with politics. In talking with geologists and mining engineers who were doing the investigative work, much to most of the population within the 3 or 4 states with candidate sites were opposed. Based on nothing other than "nuclear" was involved. Most people cannot and will not be dissuaded; nuclear is an emotional issue, not an economic, truly environmental, or technical issue.
The general opinion of those I talked with (and I had the clearance and facility access to talk with and visit anyone involved), the opposition in NV was less than the other states. Las Vegas was a much smaller city at the time, and the state was looking for diversification (how more federal contract work is or was diversification is still beyond me) and more well-paying jobs in the remote parts of the state. Thise I talked with all seemed to feel that any of the sites could be used (technically), but Yucca Mtn was probably the least desireable (technically). I am sure that this was not documented in any way to be discoverable.
The practices and laws granting essentially infinite power to "interveiners" to stall and prevent nuclear power and storage and reprocessing of nuclear waste have put the US at a severe disadvantage. If the US was allowed to reprocess nuclear waste, pursue and implement breeder technology, etc., much of these arguments would be moot. But it is now what it is. Storage of waste at the production sites, most of which were not originally intended for the practice, is wrong and will cause problems in the future. Now that large and mostly deserted western states are becoming a popular place to be (please, no replies about how great they are – I'm a western native who has lived in AZ, UT, WY and CO, and would more back in a heartbeat if there was an interesting job in the right location), since everything has been delayed for decades, and the US government has dragged its heels for political reasons, we're stuck with practices that are after thoughts. It doesn't help that half the population is of below average intelligence (just statistics!) and most of the population is math and physics averse, and it's really hard to communicate technical issues to those who can't understand them.