Yucca Mountain stands on the edge of the Nevada Test Site, where, beginning in the 1950s, hundreds of nuclear weapons were exploded above and below ground. Since the early 1980s scientists have been investigating a more peaceful use for this barren landscape, as a final resting place for the nation^s spent nuclear fuel. The nature and history of Yucca Mountain^s rock formations, the flow of water through them, and the risks of earthquakes or volcanoes are only a few of the questions that must be answered.
Yucca Mountain is the Department of Energy’s potential geologic repository designed to accept spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. If approved, the site would be the nation’s first geological repository for permanent disposal of this type of radioactive waste.
It is located in Nye County, Nevada, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas on federally owned land on the western edge of the Department of Energy’s Nevada Test Site. If approved, the repository will be built approximately 1,000 feet below the top of the mountain and 1,000 feet above the ground water.
What kind of radioactive wastes are proposed for disposal at Yucca Mountain?
Spent nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste make up most of the material to be disposed at Yucca Mountain. Approximately 90% of the waste proposed for disposal is from commercial nuclear power plants, with the remainder coming from defense programs.
What is EPA’s role?
As required by Congress in the Energy Policy Act of 1992, EPA has the responsibility for developing site-specific radiation protection standards for Yucca Mountain, NV. These standards protect public health and the environment from harmful exposure to the radioactive waste that would be stored and disposed in the proposed underground geologic repository. Implementing the standards developed by EPA is the responsibility of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
How does EPA’s rule protect public health?
To ensure protection, EPA’s proposed standards address all environmental pathways: air, ground water, food, and soil. The standards are designed to protect the closest residents to the repository to 15 millirem per year, or a risk of no greater than a 3 in 10,000 chance of contracting a fatal cancer – a level within the Agency’s acceptable risk range for environmental pollutants.
The closest residents to the repository in the path of any potential releases are at Lathrop Wells, NV, which is 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) from the site. The potential risk for those at greater distances would be even less.
How will ground water be protected?
EPA is committed to protecting ground water. Because the proposed repository sits above an important ground water resource, we are proposing that the ground water be protected to the standards established under the Safe Drinking Water Act. EPA’s rule provides protection for this aquifer, since it currently provides water for drinking, irrigation, dairy cattle and, in the future, could supply water to many people in the fast growing Las Vegas area.
What has EPA done to develop the standards?
Yucca Mountain is a unique site with many complex technical, scientific, and policy issues. It was important that we fully understood the complexities in order to issue proposed standards that are protective of public health and the environment, technically sound, and could be reasonably implemented.
EPA conducted extensive information gathering activities and analyses to understand the technical aspects of Yucca Mountain. Among our activities were: commissioning recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences, as required by the Energy Policy Act; soliciting comments from stakeholders and the scientific community on the NAS report; holding technical discussions with NRC and DOE and its scientists; and working with the President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy. In addition, we considered other federal agencies’ actions, other countries’ regulations, and guidance from national and international organizations.
How is EPA’s proposed rule different from that proposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission?
The differences in the rules reflect the different roles of the agencies. EPA’s rule establishes the environmental standards. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s rule establishes the processes for determining whether Yucca Mountain will meet EPA’s standards.
When will Yucca Mountain be open?
The site needs to undergo a complex NRC licensing process to determine whether it can safely contain the waste. DOE is planning to complete the process and begin placing the waste in the repository in 2010.
How will the waste be transported to the repository?
DOE’s current plan is to transport the waste by truck and rail to Nevada. The waste will be shipped in casks that are heavily shielded to contain the radioactive material and are certified to withstand extreme accidents, impacts, puncture, and exposure to fire and water. In addition, NRC and Department of Transportation regulations must be met before any waste is shipped to the site.
The transportation routes go through 43 states. The federal government will be working with States, local governments, and Tribes in developing emergency response plans.
How can the public be involved in EPA’s final rule decision process?
A 90-day public comment period began on August 27th, 1999 (until November 26, 1999) when the rule was published in the Federal Register.
Printed copies of the proposed rule will be available approximately three weeks after its publication in the Federal Register.
Toll-free Yucca Mountain Information Line at: 1.800.331.9477