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Know the West

Blow-up over nuclear dump


over nuclear dump

Nevadans have tried for years to convince the rest of the country that Yucca Mountain, 80 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is a poor choice for the nation's only permanent nuclear-waste dump. Now they have some powerful allies. Federal scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory recently disclosed an internal debate about whether the planned underground dump might someday explode. The blast would be equal to several tons of TNT, and fallout from such an explosion would make residents of nearby communities akin to the downwinders of nuclear testing, says Steve Frischman of Nevada's watchdog Agency for Nuclear Projects. Meanwhile, scientists working for the Department of Energy are scrambling to find a flaw in the theory. "If we knew how to put a stake through (the explosion theory's) heart, we'd do it," Dr. John C. Browne, head of energy research at Los Alamos, told The New York Times. Opponents to the facility, scheduled to open in 2010, have long cited the area's frequent earthquakes as one potential danger, and scientists now say that water percolating through the mountain could speed up a nuclear reaction. More than 25,000 tons of plutonium waste is now stored aboveground at nuclear power plants across the country, and a recent court decision just cleared the way for indefinite on-site storage.

* Elizabeth Manning