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The "Scientization" of Yucca Mountain 226

Harperdog writes "This is a nice piece by Dawn Stover on how science has had little to do with the choice, and blockage of Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository. This article doesn't go where you think it will; it isn't too long but is a thorough exploration of the process. Here's a quote: 'Government officials are often guilty of politicizing science. Egged on by business or religious interests, they cast doubt on the scientific evidence for a connection between tobacco and lung cancer, or between fossil fuels and climate change, or even between humans and our primate ancestors. Some scientific findings are suppressed, while others are manipulated or distorted beyond recognition. But in the case of Yucca Mountain, the reverse happened: Government officials "scientized" politics. They made decisions that were largely political but cloaked them in the garb of science.'"
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The "Scientization" of Yucca Mountain

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 12, 2011 @05:14PM (#37695554)

    Scientists "seriously investigate" extremely obvious phenomena all the time. Scientists just have an anti-religion bent. Just ask Georges Lemaître or J Harlen Bretz, who produced correct theories that were discounted for religious reasons.

  • by Trax3001BBS ( 2368736 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @12:13AM (#37698258) Homepage Journal

    Back in 1987 when Nevada's Yucca Mountain was selected, it also removed
    Gable Mountain at Hanford Washington as a burial site. A lot of money
    had been spent on Gable Mountain already; but for the government that means little.

    When I took a tour of Gable Mt. a milestone had just been met:
    boring a 1000 foot (cite?) horizontal shaft that didn't droop.
    That was a few months before Yucca Mountain got the green light and
    Gable Mt., it's progress, and employees were dropped overnight.

    It was a known fact at that time Yucca Mt. was a bad choice, as the rock
    was porous, and radioactive material could get into the ground water. Gable Mt
    is a slow cooled basalt, non-porous.

    This was a bad time for Hanford. The Chernobyl disaster was a year earlier,
    100-N a plutonium production reactor located at the Hanford site shared a
    common trait with the Chernobyl reactor. It was also graphite moderated,
    because of this it was in the public/political cross hairs.

    DOE, President Regan, and the people of the area wanted 100-N to continue
    operating. The people west of the Cascade Mountains which splits
    Washington State and where the political power is located were against it.

    Politics were generally accepted as the decision to abandon Gable Mt. in
    no small part because of 100-N. Those who could wanted the Hanford site to go away.

    The 100-N reactor was enhanced at a phenomenal cost, started up a few more times
    amid a political storm plaster all over the front page, so no secret. Finally 100-N
    was shut-down due to the pressure, mothballed and now buried.

    The Fast Flux Test Facility (FFTF) took a hit over this as well, and was shut down
    even though it could of supplied isotopes for medical use - which are now in demand. []

    Now those who can are asking once again for Washington state to be considered
    for a burial site. Something they wanted no part of earlier.

    High level nuclear waste disposal is a necessity that needs to be dealt with and soon.
    Even if Yucca Mountain could leak, it was a disposal site and a leak is nothing
    more money can't fix.

    Gable Mt. isn't without it's faults :}
    Geology of Gable Mountain-Gable Butte Area: []

  • Granite Facility (Score:4, Interesting)

    by MrKaos ( 858439 ) on Thursday October 13, 2011 @05:51AM (#37699372) Journal
    Yucca mountain is not a suitable site because it is made of pumice and geologically active evidenced by recent aftershocks of 5.6 within ten miles of a repository that is supposed to be geologically stable for at least 500000 years. The DOE's own 1982 Nuclear Waste policy Act reported that the Yucca Mountain's geology is inappropriate to contain nuclear waste, and long term corrosion data on C22 (the material to contain the Pu-239 and mitigate the ingress of water - yet another Yucca problem) is just not available.

    We need something made of granite. The only human made structure with the potential to last 10000 years is Mt Rushmore, so it has to be an engineering project of that scale, because the logistical problems of transferring the 70000 odd tons of Pu239 to the "waste repository" (in reality - containment facility) are so involved that you want to get it right the first time and only do it once.

    Even doing that will probably take 30 years to complete, but there is more to it than that.

    I was a big fan of the Integral Fast Reactor [], and in a way I still am. But the reality is 3rd and 4th generation reactors are a pipe dream because our material science is not advanced enough yet to produce a reactor design that will last thousands of years. If you are going to build reactors then do it properly and build a Terra-watt scale nuclear reactor facility in the belly of a massive granite mountain with an attached waste facility that chomps up all your remaining plutonium or end all commercial nuclear activity altogether. As for the PBMR [] this reactor has some serious design flaws that, upon a closer examination of the design, makes them no better than RBMK [] as they age, especially when you are talking about a reactor design that lasts a inadequate 4-5 decades.

    Nuclear power is energy intensive *after* the energy has been produced simply because our technology - especially material sciences - are not adequate to produce a Nuclear reactor (preferably a IFR style but safer) that has a life span that matches the geological time frames of the fuel. This exposes all the issues associated with de-commissioning reactor sites every 4 decades or so. We need a reactor design that lasts at least 1000 years and is a closed loop, i.e. the plutonium goes in and nothing comes out (except electricity and possibly hydrogen). In short the smart thing is for us to do is stop producing toy nuclear reactors, while we still can, and build a dedicated place to store the plutonium (ie a granite mountain) that is also a suitable place to build a Terra-watt scale reactor that satisfies those characteristics. A well designed and secured facility resistant to attacks even from orbit.

    I don't hide the fact that I don't like the constant failure of the Nuclear Industry. But I'm also being realistic. I realise that the only way out of this mess is a well thought out and designed project because we have no other choice due to the nature of the materials. You have to redesign the entire industry, and it's a long term solution, but a much better legacy for future generations than a long term problem that will last a minimum of 25,000 years.

    In the meantime we need to invest heavily in undeveloped, low externality, energy solutions like solar, wind, geo-thermal and micro-generation so there is enough energy *available* to carry out such an infrastructure project properly.

    The DOE's original policy was the 'Defense in Depth' approach to the specification for building a spent fuel containment facility. The reason to choose a specific geology (granite) was, in addition to being stable, to have the geologic chemistry of the rock able to mitigate the effect of ground water traveling through the facility and carrying radioactive isotopes into the water table. The half lives of the actinides would be dependent on the reactor,

What this country needs is a good five cent ANYTHING!