Many people remain confused over the difference between the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level waste repository, and the low-level site at Beatty that was closed January of this year.
Although the two sites are only twenty-five miles apart, their functions are completely different. The waste that would come to Yucca Mountain is highly radioactive spent fuel from nuclear power plants and high-level defense waste.
The waste that came to Beatty included low-level medical waste from hospitals and university laboratories, plus low-level waste from routine operations at nuclear power plants. During its thirty year life span, from 1962-1992, Beatty received 4.3 million cubic feet of low- level waste which was disposed of in shallow burial sites. Eighty percent of Beatty's radioactive waste came from commercial nuclear power plants.
Disposal sites at Beatty, Barnwell, SC and Hanford, WA were established as low-level radioactive disposal sites years ago, and were required to remain open until January 1, 1993 by the Low-Level Waste Amendments Act. That law made states, or coalitions of states called compacts, responsible for disposal of low-level waste. Nevada joined the Rocky Mountain Compact, made up of Nevada, Colorado, and New Mexico, and negotiated with the Northwest Compact to send low-level waste to Washington State.
John Vaden, low-level waste project manager for the Nevada State Division of Health, said the Beatty site does have uranium, plutonium and thorium, some of the same materials that would be disposed of at the Yucca Mountain repository, but low-level wastes are generally short- lived and are less intensely radioactive than high-level wastes.
Vaden said that there is no set date when the Beatty site would be sage again, but said that thorium, one of the materials at the site, has a half-life of a million years.