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30 years on Yucca Mountain

September 20th, 2012
This new Memoir from The Geological Society of America summarizes nearly 30 years of intense research at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, USA, and vicinity. Much of this work represents innovative approaches addressing the geochemistry and hydrology of the site, as well as the paleohydrology and transport of radionuclides under ambient and thermally altered conditions.

Edited by John S. Stuckless of the U.S. Geological Survey, Memoir 209 is a companion to GSA Memoir 199, The Geology and Climatology of Yucca Mountain and Vicinity, Southern Nevada and California. Combined, these books present a comprehensive approach to characterizing a potential site for the disposal of radioactive waste.

The selection of Yucca Mountain as the proposed U.S. geologic repository for high-level radioactive waste resulted from a nationwide search and numerous studies over the past 40 years. The book's first chapter, written by Stuckless and Memoir 199 co-editor Robert A. Levich, U.S. Dept. of Energy (ret.), reviews some of the reasons for the selection of Yucca Mountain as a potential waste repository site.

Radioactive waste, containing radioisotopes with half-lives of thousands of years or longer, has been generated in the U.S. since the 1940s. This waste is characterized by both "intense penetrating radiation" and large heat production. According to Stuckless and Levich, the heat production peaks after a few hundreds of years, but "the penetrating radiation persists, and thus must be isolated from the biosphere for tens of thousands of years for the protection of public health and safety, as well as Earth's environment."

Although the U.S. changed its plans regarding Yucca Mountain in 2010 and is now pursuing alternative solutions, the methods and interpretations in this GSA Memoir should be useful to any similar effort.

Memoir 209 includes detailed illustrations and state-of-the-art modeling of water flow in both the saturated and unsaturated zones. Through detailed isotope, geochemical, and paleoclimate studies, water flow can be projected backward tens of thousands of years. These data, together with the previously reported climate models, make it possible to provide predictions of future performance of a repository for nuclear waste.

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Provided by Geological Society of America

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