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Nevada’s governor wants Yucca earthquake review

Updated July 17, 2019 - 5:54 pm

Gov. Steve Sisolak and Nevada’s federal delegation are calling on the federal government to reevaluate the dangers posed by a plan to store nuclear waste in an active seismic zone that includes Yucca Mountain in the wake of powerful earthquakes that shook a nearby California town earlier this month.

In a letter sent Wednesday to Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the Nevada officials said that the 6.4 and 7.1 magnitude earthquakes that hit Ridgecrest, Calif. on July 4 and 5, respectively, “emphasize the necessity of reexamining the seismic hazards present at Yucca Mountain and specifically their linkage to seismic events in California.”

The epicenter of the powerful earthquakes was located roughly 100 miles southwest of the site that the federal government has long eyed as a permanent storage facility for the nation’s nuclear waste. The stronger of the two earthquakes was powerful enough to shake buildings in Las Vegas, which is about 150 miles from the epicenter, and is believed to have killed a man in Nye County after the Jeep he was working on fell of its jacks during the shaking.

Since the initial earthquake on July 4, there have been more than 70 aftershocks that registered as magnitude 4 or higher.

“These significant recent earthquakes so near to Yucca Mountain show one of the many geologic problems with the site as a nuclear waste repository and only strengthen my resolve to fight any continued federal effort to use Nevada as the nation’s nuclear dumping ground,” Sisolak said in a statement Wednesday.

The Department of Energy said in a statement: “DOE has received this letter from Governor Sisolak and members of the Nevada delegation. We will be responding to them through the proper channels.”

Some of the additional concerns state officials have stem from updated seismic hazard maps from the U.S. Geological Survey that were released in 2008 — roughly six months after the Energy Department finished its work on the license application for Yucca Mountain — which showed additional seismic hazards in the areas around the proposed storage site.

Yucca Mountain sits roughly 10 miles from a fault at Bare Mountain, which the geological survey predicts could produce a 6.57 magnitude earthquake. The site is also just under 30 miles from two other active faults in northern Death Valley and the Black Mountains, which could produce earthquakes that measure between 6.5-7.9 and 6.5-7.3 magnitude, respectively.

Nevada officials also sent a letter written by State Geologist James Faulds and State Seismologist Graham Kent, which said that there is a “strong need” for studies of the earthquake dangers in the area using modern technology, such as high-resolution topographic imaging and enhanced geological dating techniques.

“The Ridgecrest earthquake sequence, which began on July 4 and has yet to subside, clearly highlights the importance of such studies,” the scientists’ letter said.

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Colton Lochhead at clochhead@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3820. Follow @ColtonLochhead on Twitter.

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