Substantial amounts of highly toxic nuclear waste are stockpiled in pools and casks at power plants across the United States (and the world) but we have no good way to dispose of it in a way that guarantees long-term protection for our population or our environment. High-level nuclear waste especially, which is a classification for the most radioactive type of nuclear waste, has no long-term storage destination or even a general consensus on how or where to store this extremely hazardous product.
While much of the discussion on how to store this high-level nuclear waste happens on the national level, that doesn’t mean it won’t impact Utah. We monitor the national discussion about what to do with high-level waste, consult with other organizations about their efforts to develop better (i.e. “least worst”) solutions, and, when necessary, bring any proposals that may impact Utah to the attention of the public and our lawmakers in order to protect Utah from being exposed to this waste that Utahns don’t create or benefit from.
Yucca Mountain is the proposed deep geologic repository for the United States’ high-level nuclear waste that has been stockpiled near nuclear power plants for a half-century. The Yucca Mountain proposal began over thirty years ago, first appearing in 1987 when Congress was looking for a national storage site for high-level 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, he prevented it from going forward. With Reid now retired, the project has recently been revived with the possibility of new licensing and funding federal legislation. The current administration has gone back and forth on their stance on Yucca Mountain, moving forward with the licensing and then renouncing the process.
Beyond the questionable geologic suitability of Yucca Mountain to safely store this waste there are serious concerns for Utahns related to the Yucca Mountain project. We would see 10,000 train and truck shipments of the world’s most toxic substance roll through Utah regularly over several decades. These shipments would come right through Ogden, Salt Lake, and Provo before cruising along the Wasatch Front, down the I-15 highway and rail corridor, and pass near St. George before reaching Nevada.
HEAL is currently keeping our eye on what’s happening nationally and discussing other realistic storage options like Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS) that would not bring this high-level waste through our backyards.
Downwinders are individuals and communities that were exposed to radioactive contamination or nuclear fallout due to nuclear weapons testing, the uranium industry, or nuclear accidents. Here in Utah, communities were affected by nuclear weapon testing at the nearby Nevada Test Site and continue to be affected by the uranium industry.
HEAL Utah works to raise awareness of this painful history in our state by hosting educational community events and advocating for the expansion of the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA).
Head to our downwinders page to take action on RECA and learn more from downwinder interviews and archives.