ISSUE: Yucca Mountain

As the Nuclear Regulatory Commission tries to change nuclear waste storage standards despite the loud opposition to such changes, a core problem in the world of nuclear power remains: what does the country do with high-level nuclear waste?

Learn about this unanswered question and the surrounding decades-long debate by reading below. 

What’s the issue?

  • For decades, the United States has been trying to figure out what to do with the nation’s high-level nuclear waste 
  • The federal government has been considering storing this waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada despite the serious issues with the location

Who’s involved?

  • Congress
  • Presidential administrations since 1987
  • The Trump administration
  • Nevada Senator Harry Reid
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission

What’s the history of this?

  • Since the first use of nuclear power in the United States, the nation has grappled with what to do with the high-level nuclear waste this power creates
  • “High-level” waste indicates that it’s the most radioactive form of radioactive waste
  • Most of the high-level waste is currently stockpiled in pools and casks at power plants across the country as temporary storage until the federal government creates a long-term solutions for this waste
  • In 1987, Congress first began trying to find a permanent storage solution for this waste
  • Due to haste and political expediency, Congress bypassed the scientific process designed to identify the most suitable deep geologic sites and, instead, selected Yucca Mountain, Nevada as the single storage site for the nation’s high-level waste
  • Since then, the facility has been through phases of construction and mothballing and has encountered significant technical obstacles like adjacent fault lines and high water tables, that have ballooned the budget and prevented the issuing of a license
  • As Nevada’s Senator Harry Reid gained power in Congress over years, he prevented Yucca Mountain from going forward
  • But with Senator Reid now retired, the project has recently been revived with the possibility of new licensing and funding federal legislation

What’s happening now?

  • At the start of his term, President Trump indicated that he would pursue Yucca Mountain as a solution and reopen the licensing process
  • However, in the last 6 months President Trump has reversed his stance on moving forward with Yucca Mountain, presumably due to Nevada’s ongoing opposition and the state’s status as a swing state during an election year
  • All the while, Congress introduced HR2699 Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act which, among other things, focuses on completing the permanent waste storage location at Yucca Mountain
  • HR 2699 passed out of the United States House Energy and Commerce Committee in November by voice vote

What’s at stake?

  • If Yucca Mountain became a reality, Utah would likely be the second most trafficked state, after Nevada, for high-level nuclear waste
  • Analysis predicts that 10,000 trains and trucks could carry this waste through Utah over the next few decades if Yucca Mountain was approved

How can I help?

  • Contact your federal lawmakers and ask them to oppose HR2699
  • Contact Utah Governor Herbert and the Utah legislature and urge them to keep high-level nuclear waste off of Utah’s highways and railroads
  • Advocate instead for hardened on-site storage (HOSS), which would keep this waste out of Utahns’ backyards