The Department of Energy (DoE) has completed a series of formal public hearings in communities throughout Nevada. This fulfils another step required before Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham can decide whether to recommend Yucca Mountain to President Bush as the site for a permanent national repository for spent fuel and nuclear waste.
Not surprisingly, concerns about terrorism dominated the hearings. Supporters of the Yucca Mountain site argued that an underground repository would provide better protection against terrorist attacks than allowing spent fuel to sit in pools or dry casks at dispersed sites throughout the United States.
In contrast, critics of the site argued that transporting spent fuel to Yucca Mountain would leave it vulnerable to attack from terrorist groups. However, Lake Barrett, acting director of the DoE’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, said a 1999 Sandia National Laboratory study found that only trace amounts of radiation would be released if a double-walled transportation container carrying spent fuel were hit by anti-aircraft weapons fire. Barrett also said:
• DoE studies show that a 737 jet crashing into a shipping container at 340 mph, without fire or explosion, would not penetrate the container.
• It would be almost impossible for terrorists to remove 10-inch steel bolts from the ends of a nuclear shipping container, a process that takes a full day using high-tech equipment.