- Copyright © 2015, Environmental & Engineering Geoscience
ABSTRACT The generation of electricity by nuclear power and the manufacturing of atomic weapons have created a large amount of high-level radioactive waste. World-wide there is a consensus that the best way to protect mankind and the environment is to dispose of this waste in a deep geologic repository. Initial efforts focused on salt as the best medium for disposal, but the heat generated by the radioactive waste led many earth scientists to examine other rock types. In 1976, the Director of the USGS wrote to the US ERDA, predecessor agency of the DOE, suggesting that there were several favorable environments at the Nevada Test Site (NTS), and that the USGS already had extensive background information on the NTS. Later, in a series of communications and one publication, the USGS espoused the favorability of the thick unsaturated zone. After the passage of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act (NWPA 1982), the DOE compiled a list of 9 favorable sites, and settled on 3 to be characterized. In 1987 Congress amended the NWPA directing DOE to focus only on Yucca Mountain, with the proviso that if anything unfavorable was discovered, work would stop immediately. The DOE, DOE National Laboratories, and USGS developed more than 100 detailed plans to study earth-science aspects of Yucca Mountain and the surrounding area, as well as materials studies and engineering projects needed for a geologic repository. The work culminated in a license application submitted to the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2008.