From our archives: YUCCA MOUNTAIN DEBATE: Experts argue findings

Updated July 5, 2017 - 11:17 am

(Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the Las Vegas Review-Journal on September 21, 2000. It is presented here as background as the government considers again whether nuclear waste will be sent to Nevada for storage.)If science is to dictate whether Yucca Mountain is a safe place to entomb the nation’s deadliest nuclear waste, as politicians claim, then a discussion Wednesday by experts indicated some of the answers will not be available next year when the energy secretary is supposed to decide whether to recommend the site.

The opposing scientists representing Nevada and the federal government added more proof that geology is an inexact science, and they might not be able to provide the answers by the time a decision is expected.

Regardless of whether or when the verdict is in on the potential for water moving through the mountain during the first 10,000 years it must contain 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste, one federal scientist said he is certain his theories and data will jibe with results from a University of Nevada, Las Vegas research project.

‘I’m sure the USGS and UNLV will end up in complete agreement in the next fiscal year,’ said Zell Peterman, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey team for the Yucca Mountain Project.

His comment came after scientists spent Wednesday afternoon before a Nuclear Regulatory Commission advisory panel arguing over the potential for water flooding the repository floor and carrying remnants from spent nuclear fuel into the environment. The factor could disqualify the site, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The UNLV study that Peterman referred to is led by associate professor Jean Cline. The study, scheduled for completion in March, seeks to determine the origin of minerals deep within the mountain from the ages, composition and temperatures of fluids trapped in microscopic bubbles found in calcite, particularly calcite containing opal.

State and federal scientists so far agree on much of the data that have been collected though the first age-dating results are not expected until November. But they disagree on what the results mean.

The state takes the position that the evidence shows hot water once shot up from within the mountain and could in the future, which would spell disaster if nuclear waste is stored there.

Federal scientists argue that ‘a large and comprehensive body of data’ demonstrates a more benign scenario: that the minerals were deposited by rainwater traveling downward from the mountain’s surface relatively soon after it was formed by hot volcanic ash.

The state’s principal investigator, Yuri Dublyansky, a consultant from the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, contends the federal government has no evidence that would discount the upwelling water theory, posed by former Department of Energy geologist Jerry Szymanski.

When asked by one panel member if he thought Yucca Mountain is a ‘shower or a bathtub,’ Dublyansky replied, ‘A Jacuzzi.’

Szymanski, who is now a consultant for the state attorney general’s office, sat quietly at the back of the conference room.

‘Our view is there are scientific disagreements,’ he said after the meeting. ‘How do you settle the question? Our answer is ‘In the courts.”

Scientists from national laboratories debated another issue at the meeting: whether chlorine-36 – an isotope from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests in the South Pacific during the 1950s – was deposited in fallout and descended deep into the mountain through cracks in rocks.

The results of studies by the two labs – Lawrence Livermore in California and Los Alamos in New Mexico – are like a drawer full of socks that do not match.

‘We’ve got two data sets now that are showing differences,’ said Mark Peters of the Los Alamos lab.

He said the differences may be related to the way samples were processed for analysis.

If, as the Los Alamos scientists believe, that chlorine-36 reached the proposed repository depth in less than 50 years, then surface water also could find a fast pathway to nuclear waste packages and ruin the integrity of cannisters.

Mount Charleston Gets Heavy Snow, Fog
Mount Charleston saw heavy snow today, and fog in lower elevations as a cold front swept across the Las Vegas Valley. (Benjamin Hager/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Krystal Whipple arrested in Arizona
Krystal Whipple, charged in the killing of a Las Vegas nail salon manager over a $35 manicure, is expected to return to Nevada to face a murder charge.
Holocaust survivor on acceptance
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, talks about the most important message for people to understand from her life and experiences.
Holocaust survivor speaks about telling her story
Holocaust survivor Celina Karp Biniaz, who was the youngest person on Schindler’s List, tells of opening up about her experiences during Sunday’s event at Temple Sinai.
Jesus Jara State of the Schools address
Clark County School District Superintendent Jesus Jara delivers his State of the Schools address on Friday, Jan. 11, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Michael Naft sworn in to Clark County Commission
Michael Naft, chosen by Gov. Steve Sisolak to be his replacement on the Clark County Commission, was sworn into office on Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CES Opening Party in Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace
CES conventioneers packed Omnia Nightclub at Caesars Palace, and let loose as they danced to DJs into the night. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas police piecing together details of fatal shooting
Six hours after the fact, Las Vegas homicide detectives worked to reconstruct the scene of a shooting early Jan. 7 that left one man dead in the southeast valley. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Dyer Lawrence explains college football playoff system proposal
Las Vegan Dyer Lawrence has a new idea for a college football playoff system that includes a unique scheduling component called National Call Out Day. (Ron Kantowski/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death row inmate Scott Dozier found dead in his cell
Nevada death row inmate Scott Dozier is dead. Dozier’s death ends his legal odyssey, which began in 2007 when he was convicted in the 2002 murder of Jeremiah Miller, but does little to clarify what’s next for Nevada’s death penalty.
I-15 southbound near Primm closed after ‘major crash’
A rollover crash Saturday morning involving at least nine vehicles on southbound Interstate 15 near Primm caused an hourslong traffic delay. Traffic was backed up to Sloan, live traffic cameras show. (Rio Lacanlale/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Death Valley visitors deal with shutdown
Visitors staying at the Furnace Creek Campground were forced to move from the campground following health and safety concerns due to lack of resources during the partial government shutdown at Death Valley National Park in Calif., on Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. Richard Brian Las Vegas Review-Journal @vegasphotograph
Half of homicides in Henderson for 2018 domestic violence related
Lt. Kirk Moore of the public information office of the city of Henderson police department speaks to the Review-Journal in Henderson, Thursday, Jan. 3, 2019. Henderson saw a slight increase in homicides in the past year. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak stops by Las Vegas Boys and Girls Club
Governor-elect Steve Sisolak kicks off his tour to Carson City, which will take him from Las Vegas, through Tonopah, and up to the capital city. First stop is the Downtown Boys & Girls Club.
Certificates for renewing wedding vows in Clark County
The Marriage License Bureau in Clark County began issuing a Certificate of Vow Renewal to married couples who are renewing their wedding vows on Jan. 3, 2019. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas flu season better than last year (so far)
Dr. Fermin Leguen, chief medical officer and director of clinical services at the Southern Nevada Health District, said there were 24 flu-related deaths at this point in the flu season. No deaths have been reported so far this year. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
The Las Vegas Valley’s First Baby of 2019
The first 2019 baby in the Las Vegas Valley was Melialani Chihiro Manning, born at 12:10 a.m. at Henderson Hospital. (Briana Erickson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas NYE Fireworks - VIDEO
The full show: A spectacular view from the rooftop of the Trump International Hotel as 80,000 pyrotechnics illuminated the Las Vegas Strip at the stroke of midnight. Fireworks by Grucci choreographed launches from the Stratosphere, the Venetian, Treasure Island, Caesars Palace, Planet Hollywood, Aria and MGM Grand.
Snow in Henderson on New Year's Eve morning
Light snow flurries in Anthem Highlands in Henderson on Monday morning, the last day of 2018.
Sources: Henderson Constable may face more charges
Henderson Constable Earl Mitchell may face additional charges ... stemming from his spending of county funds, sources said. Mitchell was indicted earlier this month on five felony theft and fraud charges ... after a Las Vegas Review-Journal story questioned his spending. But grand jury records show even more extensive spending including ... an $800 dinner at steakhouse ... nearly 200 atm withdrawals mostly at gambling establishments ... and even Disneyland tickets. But his attorney plans to ask a judge to dismiss the charges.
Las Vegas NYE Restrictions and Enhanced Security
If you are planning to celebrate New Year's Eve on the Las Vegas Strip or Fremont Street, be aware that you are not allowed to bring backpacks, coolers, strollers or glass. There will also be an increase in security to ensure safe celebrations across town.
Catholic Charities serves up 53rd annual Christmas dinner
Catholic Charities of Southern Nevada and more than 100 volunteers served 1,000 Christmas meals to Southern Nevada's homeless and less fortunate. (K.M. Cannon Las Vegas Review-Journal @kmcannonphoto)
Henderson couple adds another school to their generosity
Bob and Sandy Ellis of Henderson, who donate to several Clark County School District schools, have added Matt Kelly Elementary in Las Vegas to their list of schools where every student gets new shoes, socks and a toy. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jeffrey Martin Added To Nevada's Black Book
Martin was one of four men convicted of theft and cheating at gambling in 2016 in Clark County District Court and sentenced to prison. The Nevada Gaming Commission voted unanimously Thursday to include Martin in the black book.
Raiders Stadium Timelapse
Construction on the new Raiders stadium continues in Las Vegas.
Buffalo Wild Wings security video
Security footage from a Buffalo Wild Wings restaurant in southwest Las Vegas captured a driver who repeatedly crashed into a vehicle in a failed attempt to squeeze into a tight parking spot.
The Magical Forest at Opportunity Village
Opportunity Village's Magical Forest added 1 million lights and a synchronized music show visible from all over the forest this year. The holiday attraction, which began in 1991, has a train, rides, food and entertainment along with the light displays. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Navigating the new I-515 southbound to 215 Beltway ramp configuration
After opening at 5 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018, the new Interstate 515 southbound to the 215 Beltway westbound freeway ramp configuration caused confusion amongst motorist. Here’s how to navigate the new ramp. (Mick Akers/ Las Vegas Review-Journal).
A record breaking donation of nearly $9 million to Girls Scouts of Southern Nevada
A record breaking donation of property valued at nearly $9 million was made to the Girls Scouts of Southern Nevada by the Charles and Phyllis M. Frias Charitable Trust. Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal. @bizutesfaye
Kerry Clasby thanks the community for support after California fire damage
Intuitive Forager Kerry Clasby talks about the lessons of accepting help as she has gone through the Woolsey Fire disaster, in which she lost many of her belongings. About 100 people were on hand for an event that raised about $7,000.
News Headlines
Home Front Page Footer Listing
You May Like

You May Like