« Return to this article

Know the West

Nuclear dump may be supersized



It will be at least 8 years before a nuclear dump opens in Yucca Mountain, but every inch of space in it has already been claimed. The Las Vegas Review-Journal reports that new estimates released by the Department of Energy show that, once the existing commercial nuclear waste is moved into Yucca Mountain, there will be room for less than a third of the DOE's nuclear defense waste. That leaves about 15,000 canisters of nuclear waste - 7,500 metric tons - with no place to go.

"This is the first time we've been able to quantify the amount of nuclear waste that is not going to fit within the 70,000 metric ton limit," says Steve Frishman of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects. Nevada state officials, who have fought the nuclear dump for years, say this is yet another example of the DOE's incompetence.

This overflow doesn't include the 2,000 tons of nuclear waste that will continue to be produced annually at commercial nuclear power plants. By 2035, when Yucca Mountain is filled, there will be 42,416 tons of newly generated civilian nuclear waste at temporary facilities across the country.

"Congress artificially set the limit at 70,000 metric tons in 1986," says DOE spokesman Joe Davis. "Congress can either expand the mountain or direct DOE to look for another repository site."

Despite these problems, the energy bill being hashed out in Congress could give the nuclear industry $2.6 billion in tax breaks and subsidies to continue producing nuclear power - and more nuclear waste.