Nuclear Waste and Yucca Mountain

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 Some say that nuclear energy is the way to a greener future, after all nuclear power plants do not emit carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides. However, there are some downfalls to nuclear power the most important one being nuclear waste. "There is pretty much no knowledge in the human repertoire on how to handle such long lasting toxic substances, so industry relies on that old standby, computer projections, and counts on the Earth to take care of it," (LaDuke 97). Winona LaDuke in her book All Our Nations explains to readers that the United States government has been trying to "dump" nuclear waste on reservation lands and that Yucca Mountain, located in Nevada and on Western Shoshone territory, is going to be the final resting place of copious amounts of nuclear waste. Currently nuclear power makes up 20 percent of the country's electricity. We need to encourage our government to put more money into finding actual green, renewable energy sources, and there also needs to be a new plan of action for containing all of the hazardous waste we have created.


Luckily for the Shoshone people, Nevada was also, for lack of a better term, pissed about the plans for Yucca Mountain. This was a project that was not volunteered, but being forced on not only the native Shoshone people, but also the state as a whole. In 2009, President Barack Obama ended the Yucca Mountain project, which by that time already had $15 billion invested into it, and parts of the new laboratory are already constructed. If the bill to make Yucca Mountain passed, "it would authorize the transportation of up to 90,000 shipments of nuclear waste on American highways and railways across the country," (LaDuke 108). LaDuke also points out that 50 million Americans live within a half-mile of the most likely highways.


The Blue Ribbon Commission was formed and released its findings in January of 2012. The report outlined three crucial elements: 

1. They recommend a consentbased approach to siting future nuclear waste storage and disposal facilities, noting that trying to force such facilities on unwilling states, tribes and communities has not worked.'

2. The responsibility for the nation's nuclear waste management program should be transferred to a new organization; one that is independent of the Department of Energy and dedicated solely to assuring the safe storage and ultimate disposal of spent nuclear waste fuel and high level radioactive waste.

3. They recommended changing the manner in which fees being paid into the Nuclear Waste Fund - about $750 million a year - are treated in the federal budget to ensure they are being set aside and available for use as Congress initially intended.


Here is a video that talks about another solution for storing nuclear waste:



Sources and Site for more information:

USA Today article about Yucca Mountain and the results of the Blue Ribbon Commission.

Blue Ribbion Commission website.

Environmental Protection Agency for information about the pros and cons of nuclear power. 


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3 Comments

Nuclear power isn't green, and it's annoying that people keep touting it as such. Nuclear power generates radioactive waste that poisons the landscape, people, and petty much everything else. So it's not green, and people need to realize that.

That said, I agree that it's about time we start spending money on ways to both reduce nuclear waste and to efficiently take care of the waste we've already generated. Creating a new department tasked solely with figuring out these problems sounds like a good idea, though I wonder how long it would take for nuclear power plant conglomerations to try and worm their way into it. That's one of the major problems with nuclear industry, I think, or really, with any industry. Too many people are invested in it who don't want to see their money wasted, regardless of how badly they're damaging the world. Cutting losses isn't something a lot of do very well when it concerns massive amounts of money. So even if we manage to create a separate department, it might turn out like the EPA, giving into industry demands when industry pushes too hard against restrictions. This new department would have to fight hard to keep itself from either becoming totally corrupt or from just turning into a figurehead that does absolutely nothing.

I've always felt that nuclear waste was taboo. Effects of the atomic bomb and radiation are still popping up in the news every few years. The word 'nuclear' is use in war propaganda and if you're not a cockroach you have to worry about what will happen if a country decides that they want to be the face of the next nuclear bomb. Unfortunately, there isn't much that one country will do to end the use of nuclear power if there are other countries that have access to it.

Right here in Pennsylvania we have Three Mile Island, which is known for its famous meltdown in the 70s. To imagine that our state representatives could be in favor of using Yucca Mountain as a dump site is saddening. Although salt mines sound like a great alternative to Yucca, all of these methods are forms of containment. General Motors' form of containment in upstate New York is harmful to The Mohawks and the government allows it because GM is big business. No one knows the long term effects of salt encapsulation.

Green energy that produces no waste at all needs more funding. Solar, tidal, wind, hydroelectric and other forms of green energy can be used in almost, if not every, part of the country. Investing in solar panels in the US can get a household governmental energy grants and money saved in reduced energy bills will allow panels to virtually pay for themselves. Smart cars become more and more popular every year. I think the key to a greener future is actually using green energy.

Since nuclear energy does in fact have its strong benefits, we don’t usually think about the nuclear waste that comes from it, and how it is stored. It isn’t until big projects like the Yucca Mountain storage facility are brought up that we finally gain some sort of idea as to what happens to all this left over toxic waste. I myself am glad that the project was shut down, and I am especially glad that it was shut down after so much money was invested in it. I think the fact that that much money was put into the facility creates a stronger message then say simply shutting down the facility during the planning process. It never occurred to me that not just storing, but transporting the dangerous waste would also be problematic. I for sure would not like to be driving next to a truck carrying cargo full of dangerous radioactive material.
I also agree that our government should be focusing on safer means of energy production. Implementing wind energy has always been a constant solution, however it seems that implementing this idea has taken much longer then it should. There are of course energy producing windmills used today, however they do not rival the amount of power that a nuclear facility can generate.

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