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Yucca Mountain is located in what is known to hydrologists as a closed basin.

Yucca Mountain is in the Alkali Flat-Furnace Creek groundwater basin, within the larger Death Valley Regional Groundwater Flow System. This area has very dry climate, limited surface water, and deep aquifers.

The Death Valley basin is a closed hydrologic basin, which means its surface water and groundwater can leave only by evaporation  and transpiration .

Yucca Mountain and the Death Valley Basin, like other areas in the southern Great Basin, generally lack perennial streams and other surface-water bodies such as lakes. The Amargosa River system drains from Yucca Mountain and the surrounding areas. Although referred to as a river, the Amargosa and its tributaries  are dry most of the time.

Groundwater below Yucca Mountain and in the surrounding region flows generally south toward discharge areas in the Amargosa Desert and Death Valley.

On average, the water table is about 2000 feet below the surface of Yucca Mountain.

Further Information and Links
Project Literature: Environmental Baseline File: Soils, Rev. 00
Environmental Baseline File: Geology/Hydrology
Environmental Baseline File: Water Resources
Yucca Mountain Science and Engineering Report (Sections -
Related Links: Water Words Dictionary: Nevada Division of Water Resources  
USGS Ground-Water Discharge Report, Death Valley Regional Flow System


by Plan9 on Tue Oct 18th, 2005 at 11:26:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From NIRS info sheet:

2. Yucca's unsuitable geology (earthquakes, volcanoes, water leakage):

Yucca is a major earthquake zone. Dozens of fault lines crisscross the area, with two directly intersecting the proposed dumpsite. Many hundreds of quakes have struck near Yucca in recent decades, damaging DOE facilities, derailing trains that could one day be used to haul nuclear waste, and threatening to collapse access and burial tunnels.

All that seismic activity has fractured and fissured Yucca's rock, creating fast flow pathways for water infiltration. Water will eventually corrode waste burial containers, releasing deadly radioactivity into the underground drinking water supply used by a thriving farming community downstream.

Volcanism threatens the flooding of the proposed waste dump with superheated water and even lava, which would release massive amounts of deadly radioactivity into the surrounding environment.

Yucca's geology is so bad that building a dump there would require complete abandonment of the original concept of deep geologic disposal. Engineered barriers would have to provide all the radiation containment, begging the question: why build the dump there at all?

3. Yucca's unsuitable geography:

Yucca is near Las Vegas and not far from Los Angeles. It's immediately next door to Nellis Air Force Base, the Nevada nuclear weapons test site, and mining operations, threatening accidental or intentional crashes or detonations involving DOE's proposed surface facilities for handling and storing wastes. Yucca is on Western Shoshone Indian land, raising environmental justice objections to waste dumping there.

4. Changing the rules in the middle of the game: weakening environmental protection standards when Yucca fails to meet the original ones:

When Yucca has been unable, due to its poor geology, to live up to previously established federal safety regulations, they have simply been re-written or done away with altogether. Environmental Protection Agency regulations for repositories limiting releases of radioactive gases that Yucca could not meet were simply done away with for Yucca; re-written, Yucca-specific regulations allow for 18 kilometers of radiation contamination of groundwater, an unprecedented undermining of the Safe Drinking Water Act that threatens the farming community downstream that depends on Yucca's aquifer. And less than a month before its official decision finding Yucca "suitable" for nuclear waste dumping, the Department of Energy simply eliminated a 17 year old site suitability regulation that stated if water could travel through a proposed repository and back out into the environment in less than a thousand years time, that site must be disqualified from any further consideration. DOE's own studies have shown that Yucca cannot live up to that regulation, and over 200 public interest organizations petitioned DOE in 1998 to enforce its own regulations and disqualify Yucca. But DOE simply erased the regulation in 2001.

5. Politics trump science: corruption of the decision-making process:

Despite major conflicts of interest at the Yucca Mountain, nearly 300 technical studies being incomplete, and DOE's "weak to moderate" scientific basis, the project won congressional and presidential approval despite Nevada's objection. The nuclear power industry spent many tens of millions of dollars in the form of direct Capitol Hill lobbying, nationwide ad campaigns, and campaign contributions to federal office seekers to influence the Yucca votes. More recently, revelations that whistleblowers at the Yucca Mountain Project and in the waste shipping cask manufacturing industry have suffered severe harassment increase concerns about short cuts on safety.

And from the NIRS petition for the disqualification of Yucca:

Guideline: 960.4-2-1 Post-Closure Disqualifying Condition for Hydrology:

A site shall be disqualified if the pre-waste-emplacement ground-water travel time from the disturbed zone to the accessible environment is expected to be less than 1000 years along any pathway of likely and significant radionuclide travel.

Recent analyses of samples collected at the underground Exploratory Studies Facility (ESF) at the Yucca Mountain site indicate that water infiltrating from the ground surface above the study facility has traveled rapidly downward in fractures in the Mountain to, and through, the proposed repository horizon, toward the water table. Samples collected from the fracture walls in the ESF contain elevated amounts of chlorine-36 that are sufficiently high to indicate that the source must have been atmospheric weapons testing in the Pacific. Chlorine-36 was produced by the activation of the salt in seawater. It was deposited in fall-out and rain across the Northern Hemisphere. Since chlorine-36 does not occur at such large ratios in nature, it provides a marker for the travel time of surface water.

Therefore, transport of this bomb-pulse isotope to its current depths by infiltrating precipitation must have taken place within the last 50 years. This significant discovery contradicts earlier conceptual models depicting unsaturated zone flow at Yucca Mountain as being dominated by very slow downward movement through pores in the rock.

DOE's recent unsaturated zone flow models, based on chlorine-36 and other data, indicate that within acknowledged bounds of uncertainty, water infiltrating through the waste emplacement horizon will quickly reach the water table. And according to saturated zone flow models, travel to a point at which it is accessible to humans through water wells is less than 1000 years. This meets the conditions of 960.4-2-1 for disqualification; therefore Yucca Mountain must be disqualified.

With Clorine-36 showing that radionuclide travel to be faster than anticipated, it is clear that the expected performance of the repository will result in significant radionuclide contamination of the groundwater and, ultimately, the surface waters down-gradient from the site.

If nothing else, this information we are exchanging highlights the literal gulf between what commercial nuclear interest & supporting governments claim, and what independent and anti-nuclear groups claim. It shows how difficult it is to get an honest debate.

As an environmental scientist by trade, the precautionary principle is my version of the hermetic oath, and the more I read, the more nuclear power as it stands is not worth risking that principle.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 12:17:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think I meant hippocratic.\

lucky I'm not a doctor.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 12:18:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
NIRS is an activist group and perpetuates hysteria. If you are a scientist you should have noted that their information does not come from peer-reviewed sources.

Their assumptions are not upheld by the data or by probablistic risk analysis.

Yucca Mountain happens to be in a remote area in the middle of a site where nearly 1,000 atomic tests took place--a sacrifice zone. The repository would be shielded by a thousand feet of rock above and below.  Rainfall is tiny in the area.  When rain does fall in this very arid desert, most of the water runs off the sides of the mountain, which is made of granite tuff.  The tiny amount of water that might get down in the cracks would have to make its way to the repository and get through multiple barriers of alloy, steel, and ceramic materials that will surround the spent fuel.  Then the water has to somehow make a hole through the bottom of that thick cask.  Then it has to get out of the repository and drain down through a thousand feet of rock and dirt.  Since radionuclides like to bind with soil, chances are they would be immobilized on the way down.  If they did at last reach the water table after many thousands of years, they would be in a very diluted form.

We are talking about an extremely small volume of waste. Seventy thousand tons sounds like a lot until you realize that two tons of uranium is about the size of a TV set.

What is your plan for dealing with nuclear waste?

by Plan9 on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 10:41:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
...is the problem. Even if you believe no more nuclear power should be generated, you have to do something with the existing waste. I began to get disenchanted with environmentalists such as Greenpeace when I realized they have no proposals for how to do that.

A society committed to the notion that government is always bad will have bad government. And it doesn't have to be that way. — Paul Krugman
by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 10:47:06 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Instead of wasting time attacking the group for having a position contrary to yours. Because if you had, you would have noticed that in NIRS' petition, their argument is based on studies done for the US Department of Energy:

DOE's recent unsaturated zone flow models, based on chlorine-36 and other data, indicate that within acknowledged bounds of uncertainty, water infiltrating through the waste emplacement horizon will quickly reach the water table. And according to saturated zone flow models, travel to a point at which it is accessible to humans through water wells is less than 1000 years. This meets the conditions of 960.4-2-1 for disqualification; therefore Yucca Mountain must be disqualified.

Frankly I find it hard to muster the effort to discuss this with you when you resort to pejorative and factually unproven characterisations of differing sources to "win" the argument.

Existing nuclear waste - is the ultimate NIMBY issue. Given the quantities of it now in temporary storage, and the failure of various nations to be adequately open about the nature of the issue and what to do about it - preferring instead to focus on dump sites where people are marginalised in some way and least able to fight back - I think there probably needs to be a global debate, and a geologically etc. suitable place found that as many people as possible can live with, via a transparent process. It would be no doubt a long-drawn out and very difficult debate; it may not even find a solution, and leave us with a series of compromises, I don't know. What I do know is that targeting questionable areas simply because they are easy prey for governments in terms of population and potential opposition is unacceptable, and does not lead to safe storage.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Wed Oct 19th, 2005 at 04:23:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
"DOE's recent unsaturated zone flow models, based on chlorine-36 and other data, indicate that within acknowledged bounds of uncertainty, water infiltrating through the waste emplacement horizon will quickly reach the water table."

The chlorine-36 (from atmospheric bomb tests in the Pacific) filtered through the strata.  The traces of water that carried it did not have to penetrate a corrosion-proof chromium alloy drip shield and the triple shielding of a cask, collect radionuclides, and then make a hole and drip out the bottom of the cask and thus out of the repository, which would occupy a small volume of space inside of the mountain.

The engineers at Yucca Mountain made very conservative estimates for their models.  This has resulted in huge uncertainties: scenarios that are at the extreme end of the probability curve.  These assumptions about worst worst-case scenarios have unfortunately fueled hysteria among people not versed in risk analysis.  This problem of public perception is to me the main reason that Yucca Mountain should not be used as a repository.  There are better places.

I happen to think that the geology of Yucca Mountain is far from the best location for a repository simply because it lends itself to this kind of confusion when the public tries to understand what is going on.  A much better medium is the granite pluton the Finns are using.  It is simple and stable.  But within that medium the waste will be in multi-shelled casks. Or the very stable and dry salt bed under the desert in SW NM.  There a repository for nuclear waste generated by the military has been successfully operating and met all EPA requirements.  Or we just do what Greenpeace wants and leave the spent nuclear fuel in sturdy concrete casks at the plants.  Then it will be available to be recycled.

In the 1980s there was an international effort run by the Nuclear Energy Agency of OECD to explore the disposition of nuclear waste in the deep clay sediments of vast, mid-tectonic plate, virtually lifeless deserts six miles under the ocean.  Many scientists consider this the optimum solution to waste that cannot be recycled in reactors.  But Greenpeace put a stop to that.

The philosophy of Greenpeace is to leave the waste where it was generated in order to punish the nuclear plants that made it.  So evidently those folks believe it is being safely stored there.  They are right.  Patrick Moore, a founder of Greenpeace, now refers to it and its fellow organizations as fearmongering, anti-scientific, and anti-technological.

As for indigenous peoples: They occupied the area now known as New York City.  I assume they occupied the area now known as Sydney.  It's unfortunate that genocide and diseases brought by Europeans in both Australia and in the Americas reduced a thriving population and its many civilizations to a marginalized state.

People get upset in the Southwest about uranium mining on Native American lands.  None occurs there now.  But those people in Santa Fe who feel so sensitive about the displacement of indigenous people do not think of turning their expensive homes and ranches over to nearby pueblos who used to own that land before Europeans arrived.  And I wonder if people in Sydney and Perth or on huge sheep ranches ever think that they should give up the land that their ancestors in the 19th century appropriated and return it to its rightful owners.  Or if anyone in the suburbs is proposing their return to the people who have lived on that land for a hundred thousand years or more.

The Nevada Test Site and the surrounding air bases, etc., along with a large wildlife preserve, has been the property of the federal govt. for a long time.

The real world is not always what we would like it to be.  Nobody's hands are clean.  There is no energy source without risk.  Some sources are far riskier than others.  

Fossil fuels put us at far more risk personally and globally than any other source of energy generation and their effects are going to be causing problems for centuries on a worldwide scale.

by Plan9 on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 09:17:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm glad at least we've reached the point where we can agree that Yucca mountain is not a good choice. As for the conservatism of the models- as you would bloody hope so, and a precise example of the application of the precautionary principle.

As we both agree that Greenpeace are overall not helping anyone solve the conundrum, I won't make either of us waste any more space on them. I will say that in terms of finding the best possbible global solution to existing waste, what's been missing most of all is a transparent and accountable process for doing so. Governments and companies alike do not have a good track record of providing honest and complete information sets on a whole range of environmental issues; little wonder then that groups that tend towards paranoia, but have been proven right on sufficient enough occasions are able to dissuade the public of the goodness of government/corporation intentions.

Indigenous people - you're comments here actually made me feel rather ill. What you casually suggested was that as us white folk have displaced and massacred one way or another all the indigenous people from most of the places they used to inhabit, tough shit if we expand that. Yet the areas under threat in Australia at least are ones that we supposedly handed back and have extant, resident, supposedly respected and semi-autonomous groups living on them- so a comparison to what's happening for lands under major metropolitan cities is absolutely false and quite twistd ethically.

It also doesn't address at all the reality of the situation that is happening right now, which is the targeting of areas supposedly "handed back" as convenient sites for nuclear waste dumps - it's amazing, for example in Australia, now this debate is heating up, how every single place suggested is either directly adjacent to or in an indigenous land area, but miles away from any white population. What a coincidence!

I am not prepared to sacrifice a group of people in such an underhand and despicable manner. No, nobody's hands are clean, but your attitude here makes me want to take a shower.

"This can't possibly get more disturbing!" - Willow

by myriad (imogenk at wildmail dot com) on Thu Oct 20th, 2005 at 04:52:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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