Yucca Mountain has been poked, prodded, probed, boreholed, boiled, and
baked by the Department of Energy's world-class scientists, taking exploratory surgery to new depths in an effort to learn whether the mountain is a safe place to put 70,000 tons of nuclear waste.
After a quarter century of scrutiny, you'd think the DOE would have a definitive answer about whether the mountain will contain the nuclear
waste for millenniums to come. And you'd think there would be some
impacts from this huge undertaking.
Now the DOE has produced a 1,600-page draft Environmental Impact
Statement (EIS) and 22 compact disks of back-up references. The EIS is
supposed to look at the impacts of building a repository at Yucca
Mountain and transporting nuclear waste from nuclear power plants and
defense facilities all over the country to Yucca Mountain.
Impacts? According to DOE, the analysis of potential short-term and
long-term environmental impacts of building the repository, filling it
with nuclear waste, and closing it forever would be "small." A
colleague remarked that he's seen more impacts identified in a traffic
analysis for a new fast food restaurant than he has found in DOE's
depiction of this massive national undertaking.
DOE is suggesting three possible modes of transportation for bringing
the nuclear waste through 43 states to Yucca Mountain. They could drive
the waste there on interstates using legal-weight trucks. They could
send most of it by train, and they are looking at five options of
building a railroad to Yucca Mountain. DOE is also considering "heavy
haul" which is rail to a transfer point in Nevada, then 200-foot
heavy-haul trucks, likely on existing roads, to the repository.
Although they know exactly where the nuclear power plants are, and
where Yucca Mountain is, the EIS provides a "generic" transportation
analysis. Specific transcontinental routes and communities along the
way are not identified, perhaps so that the millions of people along the
routes won't realize that they are affected.
DOE explores the possibility of building a repository at Yucca
Mountain, and provides two "no action" alternatives if the repository is
not built. One would have the waste stay where it is under
institutional control for just 100 years. The other possibility is that
the waste would stay under institutional control for 10,000 years. DOE
acknowledges that neither is likely to occur but says that other
scenarios would be too speculative.
How would the construction and operation of a repository at Yucca
Mountain affect Nevadans? The draft EIS does not really address those
specific community, statewide, and regional impacts. While DOE intends
to decide on a transportation route and mode based on the EIS, specific
community impact information is lacking.
Also missing is the discussion of the stigma effects on the
tourist-based economy of hosting a nuclear repository or having a
nuclear accident. While Las Vegas is the area of primary concern for
stigma, it could have repercussions throughout the entire state.
Emergency response and emergency management? The EIS does not address this in any depth. Until the routes are decided it is premature to
provide that kind of analysis, according to DOE's approach.
How does this relate to life in Carson City? While no truck shipments
are planned to go through Carson City, the nuclear waste issue has
economic, health, and safety implications for all Nevadans,
three-quarters of whom consistently oppose the Yucca Mountain project.
The Department of Energy will hold official public hearings on their
Draft EIS in Carson City on Dec. 2 at the Legislative Building,
noon-3 pm and 6-10 pm. They will take public comment on what you think
the impacts of Yucca Mountain will be and what they should do about it.
Whatever your opinion, this is the time to state it for the record. DOE
is required to respond to the comments raised at the hearings in its
final EIS, which will be used by other federal agencies, and likely the
courts, to make future Yucca Mountain decisions.
Tonight the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office will hold an EIS
Participation Workshop to help citizens have their say at the hearings.
It's at the Brewery Arts Center at 7 pm, and will be led by former
Washoe Valley resident Marla Painter.
I often hear people say that they care about the Yucca Mountain issue,
but they don't know what to do. This is an opportunity to do something,
by speaking up at the hearing and voicing your opinion. That's what
democracy is all about.
For information on the DOE hearings, call 800-967-3477. The EIS should
be at the Carson City and State libraries, and is on DOE's website at
www.ymp.gov. To learn more about the state's workshop, call 687-3744.
For general information about Yucca Mountain, including links, check out
Eureka County's website, www.yuccamountain.org. The written comment
deadline is Feb. 9, 2000. DOE will accept written comments by mail,
fax, over the Internet or at the Dec. 2 hearing.
Now, go do the right thing.
Abby Johnson consults on rural community development, grant management
and nuclear waste issues. She is married and has one middle school-age
child. Her opinions about Yucca Mountain are personal, and are not
necessarily those of her nuclear waste clients.