Tour Raises more Questions

July 1993

Eurekans who visited the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain agreed that the tour was informational, but many came away with questions.

Rob Smith, a science teacher at Eureka High School, felt information offered on the tour was excellent, but he still has questions about the transportation of high-level waste across unfit road and rail areas, about the length of time scheduled for waste isolation, and about overall attitudes about the project. He says some of his questions went unanswered, while others were answered with "We're just doing what the Congress has instructed us."

Smith found the "don't blame us" attitude disturbing. "It's a dangerous mind set." Nevertheless, he felt a great deal of confidence in the DOE scientists and their ability "-- if they are allowed to do their work."

When Smith asked scientists what could possibly disqualify the site from consideration as a waste dump, he received few responses. One scientist said that if the area was "terribly faulted" it might be disqualified, but couldn't define what "terribly faulted" meant. It seemed to Smith that there were few predetermined criteria as to what would disqualify the site.

Scientists also had no answer when asked why the repository would be required to isolate high-level waste for only 10,000 years, when some radioactive materials there would be highly poisonous for much longer spans of time. For example, plutonium-239 takes 24,000 years to lose half its radioactivity.

Tour members questioned other variables that could change over the 10,000 year life span of the repository. Henry C. Johnson, who works for the City of Carlin, wondered if the water table could change radically over 10,000 years. "Over geologic time, 800 feet (distance between repository and water table) isn't much. Water could get in, then what happens if they (the contaminants) leach down into the water table? Where would they go?"

"Would the proposed Carlin rail spur be dual use (accessible to other rail carriers) or dedicated use (strictly for DOE use)?" Johnson was concerned that the likelihood of accidents would increase greatly in the dual use scenario.

Tom meal, a Pine Valley rancher, figured most people in the area don't care that much about the high-level waste repository, but was concerned about frequent rail passage through Pine Valley. "My concern is with diesel trains going up and down the quiet valley," said Meal.

Others were frustrated with the site characterization study in general. Charley Harper, a retired fire fighter who now runs a machine shop and lives in Beowawe, said he thought the government was wasting money on a study site that is the only one of its kind. "They're going to do it no matter what the tests show, so why don't they go ahead with it? They're wasting money on sitting and it boils me."

Barbara Dugan of Crescent Valley enjoyed the tour and found it interesting, but found herself wondering afterward how mankind gets into these problems. "It seems to me it's a big, mad circle. I'd like to see something else done with it rather than burying it."

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