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Nuclear Waste in Yucca Mountain: Background information when reading Gold Fame Citrus

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Gold Fame Citrus

by Claire Vaye Watkins

Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins X
Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2015, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    Oct 2016, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte
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About this Book

Nuclear Waste in Yucca Mountain

This article relates to Gold Fame Citrus

Print Review

Yucca MountainIn Gold Fame Citrus, the Yucca mountain, which is located in the deserts of Nevada, an hour northwest of Las Vegas, has officially become a nuclear waste depository: "The white bullet trains come in and out thrice daily, soundless, only a slight pressing and unpressing of the air. One day the repository will be filled and it will be sealed and it will stay that way for one hundred thousand years, says the binder. One day all the toxic pellets we fear will be stuffed safely inside the mountain."

In reality, while political maneuvering to make Yucca Mountain a long-term solution to store America's radioactive wastes has been going on for decades, the plans have not yet been realized.

As a quick background, the United States has been producing nuclear energy for a while now, and since the '60s and '70s the waste has been piling up. The radioactive waste is haphazardly stored in dry cask storage units on site at the individual nuclear plants. This "solution" was supposed to have been only temporary until a suitable resolution could be found. One proposal: seal all the radioactive waste and inter it way underground under Yucca Mountain. The kind of deep geological disposal solution that this offers is still, unfortunately, the best of many questionable solutions (other options include near-surface disposal in caves and caverns, disposal in clay, and using deep boreholes).

Nuclear Depository DesignIt was finally in the 1980s that the Department of Energy started taking the question about long-term storage seriously. The strategy for Yucca Mountain was that a railroad would wend its way into the deep interior of the mountain delivering the radioactive cargo to be interred. According to the World Nuclear Association, "The repository would exist 300 metres underground in an unsaturated layer of welded volcanic tuff rock. Waste would be stored in highly corrosion-resistant double-shelled metal containers, with the outer layer made of a highly corrosion-resistant metal alloy, and a structurally strong inner layer of stainless steel. Since the geological formation is essentially dry, it would not be backfilled but left open to some air circulation. Drip shields made of corrosion-resistant titanium would cover the waste containers to divert possible future water percolation and provide protection from possible falling rock or debris. Containment relies on the extremely low water table, which lies approximately 300 metres below the repository, and the long-term durability of the engineered barriers."

As was expected, the project ran into serious problems in Nevada. Understandably, the locals did not want such a facility in their backyard. In addition, the Native American Shoshones view the mountain as sacred. Also, residents of the mountain's Amargosa valley depend on the aquifer beneath it for water. The DOE has repeatedly assuaged concerns about leakage of radioactive elements into the aquifer and the environment, but the issue remains a hot potato, a litmus test for politicians elected from the state.

Tunnel Boring MachineSenator Reid, in fact, has worked to stall the project and the Obama administration even canceled it. The areas through which the railway line was to be constructed, are now part of the newly declared Basin and Range National Monuments, which means an alternative railway route has to be drawn up. Opposition to the Yucca Mountain project remains active.

Yucca Mountain, courtesy of Fastfission~commonswiki
Proposed nuclear depository design, courtesy of Danski14
Tunnel boring machine, used to begin and test the depository project, courtesy of Grenavitar

Filed under Nature and the Environment

Article by Poornima Apte

This "beyond the book article" relates to Gold Fame Citrus. It originally ran in October 2015 and has been updated for the October 2016 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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