Yucca water runoff raises new concerns about nuclear waste
LAS VEGAS (AP) – New research raises the possibility that radiation from a proposed high-level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain or from the Nevada Test Site could be carried into nearby communities by floodwaters.
A U.S. Geological Survey study shows that similar drainage has occurred in the past at the Nevada Test Site, where atomic testing occurred from 1951 to 1992.
It is the first scientific evidence of water runoff heading from Yucca Mountain or the Test Site to populated areas. Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is the only site being studied to permanently store 77,000 tons of radioactive commercial and defense waste.
The study also showed flash flooding in the 300-square-mile area including Yucca Mountain and the Test Site could close highways – disrupting the transportation of nuclear waste – and could interfere with above-ground repository operations, the Las Vegas Sun reported.
The Energy Department, which is charged with studying Yucca Mountain’s suitability as a repository site and would build and operate a repository if it is approved, downplayed the findings.
”It’s not news that the area floods,” DOE Yucca Mountain Project spokeswoman Gayle Fisher said. ”That’s why it’s called Fortymile Wash.”
The observations made by USGS scientists during storms in 1995 and 1998 will have to be considered in an environmental impact study under way on the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain.
The floods showed that the Amargosa River ”has the potential to transport dissolved and particulate matter well beyond the boundary of the (Nevada Test Site) and the Yucca Mountain area during periods of moderate to severe streamflow,” the report concluded.
Contaminated water could travel as far as Death Valley in California, the report found.
The DOE draft environmental impact report does not consider runoff into Fortymile Wash or Topopah Wash, the subjects of the USGS report.
The DOE’s final environmental impact study is expected to be released at the end of this year.
After scientific studies are finished, Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham is expected to make a recommendation to President Bush on whether Yucca Mountain is suitable for storing the nation’s nuclear waste.
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