Nuclear Waste Storage at Yucca Mountain

Nathan Barnett
June 9, 2014

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2014


Fig. 1: An arial view of Yucca Mountain. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Yucca Mountain has stood at the center of a political nuclear storage battle that seems to have no resolution in the near future. In August 2013, an appeals court decision sparked up the multi-decade debate by ruling that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must continue exploring Yucca Mountain as a potential storage site for much of the United States nuclear waste. The United States has a predicted 75,000 metric tons of nuclear waste at 80 sites across 35 states. [1] In 2010, the Obama Administration cut funding for Yucca Mountain after about $15.4 billion had been spent preparing it to store nuclear waste. [2] This was primarily in response to the need for money elsewhere in the fiscal budget as well as the outcry from opponents in Washington and the state of Nevada.

Support for Nuclear Waste Storage at Yucca Mountain

Supporters of nuclear storage at Yucca Mountain claim that the United States must find a place to safely and securely store nuclear waste. With nuclear waste currently being stored in random locations all around the United States, it is difficult to regulate that all sites meet the appropriate conditions for storage. There is also the problem that waste is consistently being moved all around the United States. A tank of nuclear waste in Hanford, Washington has been leaking since 2012, right next to the Columbia River. [3] If all waste was secured at one location, routes could be designed that greatly minimize the areas of the country that would ever be exposed to waste. Supporters also reference the large amount of money that has already been spent readying the facility. Also, in 1982, the Nuclear Waste Administration Act was passed, which promised nuclear reactor owners a storage site in Yucca Mountain by 1998, as long as the organizations began paying fees for storage space. Since the site was never constructed, the industry has paid the government $28.2 billion for nothing. The industry, not surprisingly, sued the government for this and one. Also not surprisingly, this money, like Social Security, was not set aside in a separate account, and was thereby used elsewhere to help balance the federal budget. [1] Supporters of Yucca Mountain see all of this as unnecessary and believe it is now the duty of the United States Government to make due on its promise and finish construction of a nuclear waste site in Yucca Mountain.

Opposition Against Nuclear Waste Storage at Yucca Mountain

Opposition to the Yucca Mountain storage facility is huge. Residents nearby Yucca Mountain, primarily in the state of Nevada, oppose the site out of fear of living within such close proximity to such a large amount of nuclear waste. Also, if Yucca Mountain were completed today, it would be unable to actually hold all of the nuclear waste now accumulated across the United States. [1]


This new ruling by the appeals court is unlikely to make any changes in the current state of the Yucca Mountain fiasco. Though compelled by the court to continue researching Yucca Mountain’s potential, the federal budget for such is approximately $11 million, which is likely not enough to do significant research into the mountain. [1] Therefore, it would likely take a radical movement by the people of the United States or its government to complete these projects. In July 2013, a blue ribbon commission of the Nuclear Waste Administration Act formed and discussed finding other options to store nuclear waste besides Yucca Mountain, although the committee did not take a stance on eliminating Yucca Mountain as an option. [4] For now, Yucca Mountain must remain in wait until strong pressure due to the effects of nuclear waste force it to be finished.

© Nathan Barnett. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] A. Farnham, "Nuclear Waste: Yucca Mountain Gets Reprieve As Storage Site," ABC News, 15 Aug 13.

[2] K. Silverstein, "Nuclear Waste Will Never Be Laid To Rest At Yucca Mountain," Forbes, 24 Aug 13.

[3] M. L. Wald, "Senator Expresses Concerns About Nuclear-Waste Tanks," New York Times, 1 Mar 14.

[4] M. C. Thorne, "Is Yucca Mountain a Long-term Solution for Disposing of US Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-level Radioactive Waste?" J. Readiol. Prot. 32, 175 (2012).