Below is a selection of professional articles, factsheets and publications about the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE's) proposed repository program at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Because DOE's repository program is fraught with complexities, both technically and politically, we have brought together several points of view to help users of this website understand the history and controversy associated with Yucca Mountain. (More Resources — External Links UNR Libraies)
GAO: Congress needs to act on nuclear waste — By Jeremy Dillon [E&E News]
September 23, 2021 — The federal government’s watchdog says Congress must act to break the nation’s nuclear waste logjam — a problem lawmakers themselves helped create, according to a report out this afternoon.Without action, the Government Accountability Office estimated the federal liability for failure to dispose of more than 85,000 metric tons of waste from commercial nuclear operations could approach $60 billion by 2030.
That new accounting represents roughly a 54 percent increase from the government’s current liability exposure estimates of $39 billion, according to Department of Energy financial documents. GAO said the numbers “may be an underestimate.”
“The U.S. government faces billions of dollars in federal financial liabilities for not fulfilling its responsibilities for managing this material, as well as the potential risks associated with not developing a permanent disposal repository for spent nuclear fuel,” the report said. Active management of nuclear waste disposal has effectively stalled over the past decade following the Obama administration’s decision to shutter the controversial Yucca Mountain repository project in Nevada, citing concerns and harsh opposition from the state. In its place, the administration and subsequent DOE officials in the Trump and Biden administrations have looked to advance a consent-based interim storage approach. DOE, however, has not yet finalized how it intends to implement such a strategy, GAO noted. A lack of funding from Congress has delayed efforts toward interim storage, with many lawmakers pointing out that current law says Yucca Mountain is the only legal site for nuclear waste disposal. GAO recommended that Congress look to amend that law.
“Nearly all of the experts we interviewed said an integrated strategy is essential to developing a solution for commercial spent nuclear fuel and potentially reducing programmatic costs,” the report said. “However, DOE cannot fully develop and implement such a strategy without congressional action.” The House has tried multiple times to advance bipartisan legislation that would authorize interim storage while also helping jump-start the stalled Yucca project. A bill passed the House with significant bipartisan support in 2018 but died in the Senate due to opposition from Nevada lawmakers. Appropriators provided $27 million for fiscal 2021 to DOE to begin to explore potential pathways to establishing a consent-based interim storage program. Congress is likely to match that funding level for fiscal 2022 as well.
GAO also recommended that DOE follow through with finalizing the structure for a consent-based siting process. The department began such the process in 2015 but never finalized it. “Finalizing the draft could help position DOE to implement a consent-based process for consolidated interim storage facilities and/or permanent geologic repositories if Congress amends the [Nuclear Waste Policy Act] to allow for storage and disposal options other than, or in addition to, the Yucca Mountain repository,” GAO said. DOE agreed with that recommendation and said it intended to finalize such a strategy early next year following a request for information sometime this fall.
Download GAO Report — COMMERCIAL SPENT NUCLEAR FUEL (Congressional Action Needed to Break Impasse and Develop a Permanent Disposal Solution — 3MB PDF 62 Pages)
Forging a Path Forward on US Nuclear Waste Management: Options for Policy Makers
January 28, 2021 — Forging a Path Forward on US Nuclear Waste Management: Options for Policy Makers — Nuclear power is considered in many countries a critical facet to maintaining reliable access to electricity during a global transition to low-carbon energy sources. One challenge to its potential in the United States, however, is the current standstill regarding a disposal pathway for spent nuclear fuel (SNF) from commercial reactors. This impasse has a negative bearing on nuclear energy’s ability to supply more zero-carbon electricity and may cost US taxpayers tens of billions of dollars in government liability for failing to meet contractual obligations to take possession of the waste from utilities.
Despite the scientific community assessing that commercial SNF and other high-level radioactive waste (HLW), such as from defense activities, can be safely isolated in deep underground repositories, US efforts to license and operate one have flatlined. The original plan for siting at least two repositories for such waste was abandoned first by DOE and then by Congress. Yucca Mountain in Nevada was designated in law as the nation’s sole potential disposal site by Congress in 1987, fomenting the state’s opposition to the project. As a result of that opposition, Congress has not funded the project since 2010. — Columbia | SIPA Center on Global Energy Policy |
The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site has always been a political football. Trump is the latest president to fumble thebulletin.org [Print PDF].
February 21, 2020 — As with much policy-setting in the Trump administration, a single tweet from the president on February 6 appeared to reverse a previous stance. The message about Yucca Mountain, the nation’s proposed geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste, set the media alight with speculation about new actions in US nuclear waste policy. But has anything changed, really?
The new policy, if it is such a thing, is a little wobbly. It’s unclear whether the administration is or is not supporting Yucca Mountain as a waste repository. The Energy Department’s Undersecretary for Nuclear Energy and nominee for Deputy Secretary, Mark Menezes, stated six days later in a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing that “what we’re trying to do is to put together a process that will give us a path to permanent storage at Yucca.” A White House official tried to square the circle of conflicting messages, stating: “There is zero daylight between the President and Undersecretary Menezes on the issue.”
Life after Yucca Mountain: The time has come to reset US nuclear waste policy TheHill.com [Print PDF].
After decades of inaction and stalemate, there are small but significant signs that the U.S. government may finally be ready to meet its legal commitment to manage and dispose of the more than 80,000 metric tons of used nuclear fuel at 74 operating and shut-down commercial nuclear reactors sites in 35 states across the country. The signs of progress include . . . TheHill.com — December 2019
The Staggering Timescales Of Nuclear Waste Disposal forbes.com [Print PDF].
High-level nuclear waste consists largely of spent fuel from nuclear reactors. Though it makes up a small proportion of overall waste volumes, it accounts for the majority of radioactivity. This most potent form of nuclear waste, according to some, needs to be safely stored for up to a million years. Yes, 1 million years – in other words, a far longer stretch of time than the period since Neanderthals cropped up. This is an estimate of the length of time needed to ensure radioactive decay — forbes.com
Inside secret underground tunnels storing nuclear waste for 100,000 years
The World's first underground nuclear waste dump is being built deep in the bedrock beneath a remote Finnish island.
By SIMON OSBORNE — Thu, Oct 31, 2019:
The Onkalo tunnel will be the final resting place for spent nuclear fuel 450 beneath the surface of Olkiluoto island, 143 miles northwest of Helsinki. The tunnel has been designed to survive without future maintenance for an astonishing 100,000 years.
Disposal of High-Level Nuclear Waste — The GAO 2019 Update
The nation's decades of commercial nuclear power production and nuclear weapons production have resulted in growing inventories of spent nuclear fuel and other high-level nuclear waste. This highly radioactive waste is currently stored at sites in 35 states because no repository has been developed for the permanent disposal of this waste.
Nuclear Waste Disposal — Isn't Science Supposed To Reduce The Uncertainty? (By James Conca — May 2019)
One of science’s strongest abilities is to be able to reduce uncertainties in a problem. If left to itself, science usually does this very well. But it’s rarely left to itself. Science exists within the larger framework of society and has to deal with the realities of politics, economics, history and even religion. Nowhere is this more obvious then with nuclear waste disposal. For this problem, the question we want to know with a fair degree of certainty is:
If we put nuclear waste in this spot, what’s likely to happen to it in 10,000 or 100,000 years? Will it contaminate the environment before it decays away? What are the risks to humans and the ecosphere?
Unfortunately, even though we in the scientific community have answered these questions pretty well, our nuclear waste program is presently in shambles. (Published in Forbs on May 14, 2019)
Reset of America’s Nuclear Waste Management
Strategy and Policy — Stanford & George Washington University — 2018
The Reset initiative, Reset of America’s Nuclear Waste Management Strategies and Policies, is based on the simple premise that given the scale and importance of the challenges at the back-end of the nuclear fuel cycle, there is great value in taking a penetrating look at some of the most critical problems and their possible solutions. Reset is an effort to untangle the technical, administrative and public concerns in such a way that important issues can be identified, understood and addressed.
Any new strategy must be informed by a thorough understanding of the history of the U.S. nuclear waste program, as well as the scientific, technical, social and policy challenges required to “reset” the U.S. program. Today, technical and policy issues have been overwhelmed by a partisan political process. A Democratic administration has tried to shut down the Yucca Mountain project as “unworkable”, while some Republicans in Congress view Yucca Mountain as the “law of the land.”
As a first step . . .
Recycling nuclear waste is not the win-win it seems like it should be Las Vegas Sun — May 2018
It’s expensive. Reprocessing does yield new fuel, but it costs up to 10 times more than producing conventional fuel — uranium that is mined and enriched. That being the case, the market price of reprocessed fuel is far higher than enriched uranium, so it’s not a cost-effective option for nuclear plant operators.
It doesn’t solve the transportation problem. Radioactive materials would still be shipped into Nevada, and some of the transportation routes for the waste cut through the heart of the Las Vegas Valley. This isn’t just a NIMBY issue, either, considering that the routes also pass through 43 other states
- It’s water-intensive. According to one estimate, it would require 50,000 acre-feet of water annually, or the equivalent of enough for 100,000 homes for a year. Considering that the water in the Yucca Mountain area is already over-appropriated, that’s more than would be available and far more than would be environmentally sound.
- It’s dirty. Reprocessing involves using acid to extract plutonium and recover unused uranium from irradiated uranium fuel, which results in liquid wastes teeming with radioactive and chemical poisons. The Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Washington, one of the few places in the U.S. where reprocessing for nuclear weapons production has occurred, is an environmental disaster area where $50 billion in cleanup work has been done and more than $100 billion more is needed to deal with millions of gallons of liquid waste stored in underground tanks.
Update on Yucca Mountain
Repository and Transportation Impacts State of Nevada — March 2018
What Exists Today at Yucca Mountain Cannot be used for Waste Storage or Disposal
Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on America’s Nuclear Future 2012 Report
What Should Be Done With Nuclear Waste?
Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act
If Yucca Mountain Licensing Resumes…
DOE Proposed Yucca Mountain Transportation System
Transportation Radiological Impacts
More . . .
Setting the record straight on Yucca Mountain State of Nevada — February 2018
Orrin J. H. Johnson’s opinion column, “The wrong way to make the right argument on Yucca Mountain,” Nevada Independent, Feb. 20, is wrong on the facts.
Nevada and Trump administration face off over Yucca Mountain Physics Today — October 2017
Thirty years ago in December, over Nevada's objections, the US Congress chose a scrubby ridge on federal land about 130 kilometers from the Las Vegas strip as the nation's underground repository for highly radioactive nuclear waste. After the expenditure of more than $10 billion to study the Yucca Mountain site's suitability, develop its design, and prepare for its licensing, the project has been moribund for eight years. The spent nuclear fuel that was destined for deposit there continues to pile up at the nation's nuclear power reactors.
Longtime Yucca fighter: 'We're worried but also optimistic' about waste dump in era of Trump — The Nevada Independent — July 2017
Nevada is "small, but we're mighty" in the fight to prevent the federal government from siting a nuclear waste dump within the state's borders, according to Marta Adams, a contractor who's been in the fray nearly two decades. The governor, attorney general and secretary of state got a briefing last week on a battle that's simmered for a generation but is nearing the boiling point in recent months because funding for Yucca Mountain is included in the Trump Administration's budget proposal. Lawsuits that would reduce Nevada's ability to make a case against the repository are active, and a bill to advance the project passed a House committee in late June.
Finland Works, Quietly, to Bury Its Nuclear Reactor Waste — New York Times — June 2017
The repository, called Onkalo and estimated to cost about 3.5 billion euros (currently about $3.9 billion) over the century or so that it will take to fill it, will be the world's first permanent disposal site for commercial reactor fuel. With the support of the local municipality and the national government, the project has progressed relatively smoothly for years.
That is a marked contrast to similar efforts in other countries, most notably those in the United States to create a deep repository in Nevada. The Yucca Mountain project, which would handle spent fuel that is currently stored at 75 reactor sites around the country, faced political opposition from Nevada lawmakers for years and was defunded by the Obama administration in 2012 . . .
The fight over Yucca Mountain — The Nevada Independent — March 2017
If you live in Nevada, chances are you've heard about Yucca Mountain — and probably more than once. The name surfaces every election season as politicians vow to protect the Silver State from a controversial nuclear waste dump. The political hot potato goes back decades, so if you're fuzzy on where the project stands, don't fret. You're likely not alone. But brace yourselves for more discussion in the weeks and months to come, given its inclusion in the White House's 2018 budget plan, which calls for $120 million to restart licensing activities for Yucca Mountain. Here’s everything you need to know about Yucca Mountain, including its location, history and status.
OPINION — Is Yucca Mountain a long-term solution for disposing of US spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste? — Journal of Radiological Protection, Volume 32, Number 2
Citation M C Thorne 2012 J. Radiol. Prot. 32 175
On 26 January 2012, the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future released a report addressing, amongst other matters, options for the managing and disposal of high-level waste and spent fuel. The Blue Ribbon Commission was not chartered as a siting commission. Accordingly, it did not evaluate Yucca Mountain or any other location as a potential site for the storage or disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste. Nevertheless, if the Commission's recommendations are followed, it is clear that any future proposals to develop a repository at Yucca Mountain would require an extended period of consultation with local communities, tribes and the State of Nevada. Furthermore, there would be a need to develop generally applicable regulations for disposal of spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste, so that the Yucca Mountain site could be properly compared with alternative sites that would be expected to be identified in the initial phase of the site-selection process. Based on what is now known of the conditions existing at Yucca Mountain and the large number of safety, environmental and legal issues that have been raised in relation to the DOE Licence Application, it is suggested that it would be imprudent to include Yucca Mountain in a list of candidate sites for future evaluation in a consent-based process for site selection. Even if there were a desire at the local, tribal and state levels to act as hosts for such a repository, there would be enormous difficulties in attempting to develop an adequate post-closure safety case for such a facility, and in showing why this unsaturated environment should be preferred over other geological contexts that exist in the USA and that are more akin to those being studied and developed in other countries.
Yucca Mountain, What’s Really There? — State of Nevada — April 2011
This three page fact sheet makes it clear that today the Yucca Mountain site has been abandoned and nothing exists but a boarded up exploratory tunnel. It states that there are no waste disposal tunnels, receiving and handling facilities, and the waste containers and transportation casks have yet to be developed. It also makes clear that there is no railroad to the site. (Cost estimates to build a railroad through Nevada could exceed $3 billion.) It is indisputable that today, the only thing that actually exists at Yucca Mountain is single 5 mile exploratory tunnel.
The "scientization" of Yucca Mountain — TheBulletin.org — November 2011
This article by Dawn Stover was posted on Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists website in November 2011; Stover is a science writer based in the Pacific Northwest. She makes a compelling argument that the construction of a permanent nuclear waste repository will require not only the backing of scientists and politicians, but also the consent of a host community. She notes that "in an era in which science and politics are often viewed with deep suspicion, it may be that the "communitization" of both is the most promising path forward."
Yucca Mountain, Nevada's View — State of Nevada
Produced by the State of Nevada (Governor's Office, Agency For Nuclear Projects) this 26 pages slide presentation (in PDF format) describes why it has become increasingly apparent that Yucca Mountain does not possess the characteristics required for long-term waste isolation. The document argues that as each new flaw at the Nevada site is uncovered, DOE simply institutes an engineering fix intended to substitute for the shortcomings of the geologic setting.
Yucca Mountain redux — TheBulletin.org – November 2014
This article by Victor Gilinsky was posted on Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists website in November 2014. A physicist, Victor Gilinsky is an independent consultant and formerly advised Nevada on matters related to Yucca Mountain. His expertise spans a broad range of energy issues including serving on the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and working for the Rand Corporation and the Atomic Energy Commission. In part, his insightful article questions the favorable conclusions reflected by the Energy Department's pie-in-the-sky design for Yucca Mountain. He states that "the likely repository configuration doesn't come close to meeting NRC requirements." The article address the use of titanium drip shields, noting the name drip shield itself is a giveaway about the water problems at Yucca Mountain.
Leasons Learned — YuccaMountain.org – July 2011
As a way of looking back to see what has occurred in the decades-long federal nuclear waste repository program, Eureka County, Nevada (host of YuccaMountain.org) conducted a Lessons Learned Video Project. The project captured the recollections and insights (on film and transcript) of twenty three (23) key participants and observers.
Why Yucca Mountain Would Fail as a Nuclear Waste Repository — neirs.org – December, 2014
This two page fact sheet address some of the more critical technical problem at Yucca Mountain. It states that in addition to water moving fast in fracture flow pathways within the rock of the mountain, the very same fractures allow gases to move up and out of the mountain.
Spent Nuclear Fuel Rods and Storage Pools: A Deadly and Unnecessary Risk — ips-dc.org
If you want to know about the hazards associated with storing spent reactor fuel, this fact sheet answers the questions. For example: More than 30 million highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel rods are submerged in vulnerable storage pools at reactors all over the United States. These pools at 51 sites contain some of the largest concentrations of radioactivity on the planet. Yet, they are stored under unsafe conditions, vulnerable to attacks and natural disasters, according to the Institute for Policy Studies.