Thursday, June 12, 2008

‘A fool’s errand’

‘A fool’s errand’

Nuclear waste company rightly pans feds’ faulty plans for Yucca Mountain dump

Tue, Jun 10, 2008 (2:06 a.m.)

The Energy Department’s plan to build a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is a “doomed undertaking,” a private waste storage company has declared.

In a newsletter sent to customers and suppliers, Holtec International blasted the proposal and singled out the department’s plan to let casks of nuclear waste cool aboveground for years before interring them in the mountain. The Los Angeles Times reported last week that the casks would sit unanchored. A major earthquake, Holtec said, would send the casks flying, creating a “chaotic melee of bouncing and rolling juggernauts.”

“Pigs will fly before the cask(s) will stay put,” the company added.

Holtec, which is well-known in the industry, had bid for work at Yucca Mountain, proposing a plan it said was safer and would anchor the casks. The department turned the company down, turning instead to the lowest bidder. In other words, the Energy Department put cost ahead of safety, which is not a surprise.

For more than two decades the Energy Department has used shoddy scientific work to try to justify its plans to dump more than 77,000 tons of nuclear waste in Nevada.

Holtec said the safety plans are a “fool’s errand,” which is a fitting description of the entire project. The Energy Department has glossed over serious issues, such as earthquakes, in its zeal to try to defend what is indefensible.

The department was tasked with finding a site that was geologically suitable for containing radiation and ended up with Yucca Mountain, a porous volcanic ridge in an area that is seismically active. More than 30 faults run near or under the site. And last year the department had to scramble to try to modify its plans because it had called for letting casks of nuclear waste sit unsecured above an earthquake fault.

Still, the department has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for permission to build the dump. The commission should tell the department: When pigs fly ...

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