1998 | Washington, DC

About a Mountain

Bureaucracy for the end of human history.

Based on the viability assessment, the Department of Energy believes that Yucca Mountain remains a promising site for a geologic repository and that work should proceed to support a decision in 2001 on whether to recommend the site to the president for development as a repository.

Over fifteen years, extensive research has validated many of the expectations of the scientists who first suggested that remote, desert regions of the Southwest are well-suited for a geologic repository. Engineered barriers can be designed to contain nuclear waste for thousands of years, and the natural barriers can delay and dilute any radioactive material that migrates from the waste packages. Current models indicate that the possible radiation exposure to future populations living nearby could be comparable to present-day exposure levels from natural background radiation. Design alternatives that may improve performance and reduce remaining uncertainties are now being evaluated.

The performance of a geologic repository over such long time periods—longer than recorded human history—cannot be proven beyond all doubt. Forecasts about future geologic and climatic conditions and engineering estimates of how long the waste packages will remain intact cannot be directly validated. The mathematical models used in the performance assessment are subject to uncertainties that can be reduced but never completely eliminated.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s general standard for meeting geologic-repository regulatory criteria and objectives is reasonable assurance. While considerable uncertainties remain today, DOE believes that reasonable assurance should be achievable in the licensing process after the planned work is completed. The DOE believes, therefore, that ongoing work at Yucca Mountain should proceed as planned.

About This Text

From a report by the Department of Energy. Yucca Mountain is located in the southern part of Nevada, and since the early 1980s the ridge had been under consideration to be the deep geologic repository for spent nuclear-reactor fuel in the U.S. Because of environmental, political, and economic reasons, the project was stalled and never fully got off the ground. The Obama Administration terminated its funding in the 2011 federal budget.