Yucca Mountain

Yucca Mountain, mountain in the SW Nevada desert about 100 mi (161 km) northwest of Las Vegas. It is the proposed site of a Dept. of Energy (DOE) repository for up to 77,000 metric tons of nuclear waste (including commercial and defense spent fuel and high-level radioactive material) presently held nationwide at commercial reactors and DOE sites. The project arose from the 1982 Nuclear Waste Policy Act requiring the DOE to construct a permanent underground nuclear-waste storage facility. Proponents of the use of Yucca Mt. as a repository claim that the area some 1,000 ft (300 m) beneath the mountain is the most viable site available, arid and remote with a deep water table, and that gathering the radioactive material in one location would allow for safer and more efficient and cost-effective protection. Opponents, including the state of Nevada, cite the potential for seepage into area groundwater, the danger of transporting waste to the facility, and the likelihood of the degradation of the storage containers and the occurrence of earthquakes and climate change over thousands of years. In 2002 President George W. Bush officially designated Yucca Mt. as the site for the nuclear waste repository; a move, under the Obama administration, to withdraw the application for the waste site at Yucca Mt. was denied (2010) by a Nuclear Regulatory Commission panel for being contrary to the 1982 law. Regulatory hurdles and certain legal challenges must be surmounted before the facility can be constructed and opened.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

See more Encyclopedia articles on: U.S. Physical Geography