Nuclear Waste Disposal and Issues of Health and Safety
November 22, 1996
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Topics covered in this forum:
- Will taxpayers or utility customers pay for nuclear waste cleanup?
- What is the best way to handle nuclear waste, at nuclear plants or at a central location?
- How can nuclear waste be transported safely?
- What is the status of the Rocky Flats Arsenal cleanup?
- Why can't nuclear waste be mixed with the ground it came from?
- How long before we have the techonology for a permanent solution to nuclear waste?
- Is Yucca Mountain the solution for America's nuclear waste?
- Is the nuclear industry more responsive to criticism than before?
- Viewer comments on nuclear waste
Lisa Goddard of Washington, D.C., asks
There is still a lot of debate over whether the Yucca Mountain storage site is capable of holding nuclear waste safely for the next 10,000 years. Do you think the technology is available to create a completely secure storage facility and is it being used at Yucca Mountain? Is it fair to force the facility on a state that has fought the facility from the beginning?
Tom Carpenter of the Government Accountability Project replies:
I do not personally think that the technology to safety store this waste is yet available. Yucca Mountain, in particular, has been criticized as a location by geologists because of recently detected seismic activity. I do not think it is fair, or smart, to pick a nuclear waste storage facility by political fiat as opposed to the democratic and scientific process. Nevada had this facility shoved down its throat because of its lack of political clout in Congress. That is not how democracy should work.
Jim Werner of the Department of Energy replies:
The consensus throughout the world is that the best approach to the disposal of high level nuclear waste is to emplace it in a deep geologic repository. Such a repository will rely partially upon an engineered system of containers and perhaps constructed barriers and partially upon the natural geologic setting to prevent radiologic materials from escaping to the accessible environment. The United States is evaluating the Yucca Mountain site in Nevada to assess its capability to support a repository. Although the engineered technologies that will be used are important, the critical issues at that site involves the projected behavior of the geologic setting over thousands of years after the waste is emplaced. The Department of Energy will complete a description of the potential repository and the technologies that will be used in 1998. The independent Nuclear Regulatory Commission will have to license the project before it can be constructed. If the project proves to be capable of meeting the safety standards, waste could begin to be emplaced in the year 2010.
The choice of the Yucca Mountain site was made by the Congress in the legislative process with Presidential approval. The site was one of three that had been selected for detailed investigation from among a large number of candidate sites based upon technical criteria.
Although a negotiated and voluntary process has been tried, there has been no willingness to accept a repository by any individual state. If the geologic disposal of high level nuclear waste is to be the approach used in the United States, the selection of the site must be made through the exercise of the national political decision process, despite the burden placed upon the state selected. National decisions made for national objectives often have differential benefits and burdens among the individual states.