Radioactive Waste: Finding a Safe Place

by Virginia Fairweather, Editor in Chief; Civil Engineering Magazine, ASCE World Headquarters, 345 East 47th Street, New York City, NY.,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1991, Vol. 61, Issue 4, Pg. 48-51

Document Type: Feature article


The Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1981 and its amendments mandate that the U.S. Department of Energy find a repository for the nation's high-level radioactive wastes, characterize that site and begin disposing of this waste at the repository by 2010. The law requires that the wastes be stable for 10,000 yrs. at the site chosen. The search for that site has narrowed to Yucca Mountain in Nevada. There are a host of obstacles: one is the refusal of the State of Nevada to grant the Department of Energy the necessary grants to begin drilling to investigate the site. There are also legal, political and procedural objections to the procedure as set forth in the law. The technical objections to the site should be settled during the 10 year $3 billion characterization process, once it can begin. Several independent advisory boards are now studying potential problems, particularly the coupling of hydrogeological, tectonic and thermal effects within the volcanic tuff site. The not in my backyard syndrome is a powerful deterrent to finding a site anywhere in the U.S. Currently, the wastes are mounting at the nation's utilities, a situation unacceptable to the utility industry. Others agree that utility managers are not appropriate guardians of this waste. Deep subseabed ocean disposal is generally considered to be technically feasible, but politically unacceptable.

Subject Headings: Waste sites | Radioactive wastes | Safety | Waste disposal | Site investigation | Drilling | Political factors | Laws | Nevada | United States

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