One of the many repercussions of BP’s destruction of a large chunk of ocean has been some locally and many nationally want to reconsider storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain less than 100 miles from Vegas. In fact, just as the government failed to finally kill the project, the Republican nominee for Senate in Nevada suggested that instead we fully revive Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository for the economic benefit. The Las Vegas Sun reports of nominee Sharron Angle:
“Concerning Yucca Mountain, Angle said she believes the state should abandon its decades-old fight to keep the federal government from burying the nation’s most radioactive waste 90 miles outside of Las Vegas.
‘We need to make lemonade out of lemons,’she said, arguing jobs could be created by accepting the waste.”
Here is the problem: There are alarming parallels between the alleged safety of nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain and what is going on in the Gulf. The most important difference is that the people living in the Gulf were unlucky enough to be left to trust in the plans and assurances of industry experts. Thanks to Nevada spending years and millions fighting the Yucca project, the failure of every single industry scientific assumption about the Yucca Mountain site (including if there was a risk of earthquakes!) was proven. Let me note that again: every assumption made by the experts on the suitability of Yucca proved wrong upon further study. The result was not abandoning the project but to make the safety requirements less stringent. This has all been documented in a number of places, most recently in the book “About A Mountain” by John D’Agata. In the end, all that is left in defense of Yucca is the nuclear industry’s promise that an accident is so unlikely that there is no reason to worry about one happening. There may be nothing right about Yucca Mountain as a storage facility for nuclear waste, the industry now agrees, but we can trust that the canisters storing the waste will somehow never fail and so this unsuitability of the site will never be an issue. Look to the Gulf.
And, this was all before the terrorism era. Now, imagine someone trying to destroy the canisters. D’Agata notes that a shoulder launched missile aimed at a truck carrying the waste could release enough to kill millions. And, if you think this is NIMBY, then consider that to get the waste to Nevada, those trucks have to travel through 31 states, according to D’Agata within 3 miles of 120 million people.
Again, the chance of something going wrong may indeed be slim. But only one mistake would result in nuclear waste being released. Consider: D’Agata estimates that to get the waste to Yucca a truck must pass Chicago every 17 hours. In Vegas, you learn even long odds will hit given enough opportunity. And, as the Gulf is now teaching us, when that happens, there is no Plan B and the ability to do something has been lost by the confidence that there will never be the need to do something. Oil in the ocean is an ecological and economic disaster. Nuclear waste on land will be that too, but also could include a body count of millions.
Now is not the time to reconsider Yucca Mountain but to remember the very good reasons the President and Department of Energy want to put an end to the bad, dated idea.