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NATURE

Battle looms over Nevada nuclear waste storage site

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RELATED VIDEO
CNN's Jim Hill reports on a site in Nevada that could be the storage facility for nuclear waste
Windows Media 28K 80K

  

March 22, 1999
Web posted at: 11:13 p.m. EST (0413 GMT)

From Correspondent Jim Hill

YUCCA MOUNTAIN, Nevada (CNN) -- The eerie depths beneath Yucca Mountain may one day be the final resting place for something no one wants: 77,000 tons of nuclear waste.

The federal government wants to bury spent fuel rods from commercial power plants and remnants from decades of nuclear weapons testing at Yucca.

"After having won the Cold War, after having built all this waste, now we have to store it, now we have to bury it. We have to deal with it; it's not going to disappear," said Energy Secretary Bill Richardson.

Yucca Mountain is about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Scientists believe the dense walls of granite, shale and volcanic rock provide the best way to isolate radioactive material for the thousands of years it will take it to decay.

"Based on what we now know ... the technology and resources that we have available, this is the best choice right now," said Yucca Mountain project manager Russ Dyer.

Although the federal deadline for opening the Yucca site passed more than a year ago, the Energy Department says the site is still 10 years away from completion.

A tunnel has been constructed that descends 1,200 feet below the desert ground.

One reason Yucca was chosen as a storage site is the lack of moisture in the area. Water can dissolve radioactive material and carry it into the surrounding environment.

Another factor is heat, a byproduct of radioactive waste. Scientists have embedded electric heaters far into the rock walls to see how radioactive waste might affect the tunnel.

The walls have withstood temperatures of 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Critics warn of earthquakes

Such tests are not enough to satisfy critics of the Yucca site, who point out that Nevada is one of the most earthquake-prone states, behind California and Alaska.

"It doesn't make any sense to store some of the most dangerous materials to man on an earthquake [or] seismically active area," said Rick Nielson, an environmentalist opposed to the project.

Many Nevadans are also not keen on the proposal, which has turned into a politically charged, "not in my backyard" issue.

"I would say that in this state if you're not vehemently against it, it's reason to question your character, your loyalty to the state and anything else about you," said analyst Jon Ralston.

Government scientists say that even a powerful earthquake would be unable to disturb the waste buried so far beneath the ground. For now, Yucca Mountain remains the only disposal site under consideration.


RELATED STORIES:
U.S. government may be forced to take steps on nuclear waste
March 16, 1999

RELATED SITES:
The ACRS/ACNW Public Access
THE NUCLEAR WASTE POLICY ACT OF 1996
home page of RELW group
RadWaste.org
Radioactive Waste Policy
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