This is a picture I took driving toward Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The US government needed a place to permanently deposit and safely store all the radioactive waste created by the nuclear power industry. The government spent decades finding, surveying, and studying a site that was both geologically stable and logistically plausible. You see, at present, nuclear power plants store their waste locally at the plants in temporary casks meant to last 50-60 years. (Longer than that, the waste will leak into the groundwater and, well, let’s just say you don’t want your groundwater with the capability of glowing in the dark.)
The government’s long range plan was to take all the nuclear waste from all over the country and store it for tens of thousands of years in the remote, and geologically stable, area. At the time, the Department of Energy was considering using a technology I invented at NASA as a means for monitoring the site during the next stage of its construction and maybe even its later automated operations. Anyway, that’s why I was driving there.
It was interesting to think about a structure that needed to survive longer than the pyramids have been around. But that’s for another story.
Not too long after my talks with the Department of Energy, the Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid, shut the whole thing down. As in, over 30 years of completed work from top US geologists and other scientists and engineers, including the partial construction that already took place, was suddenly irrelevant and no longer needed.
He. Just. Shut. It. Down.
That way, the convergent point for trucks carrying nuclear waste wouldn’t be inside Nevada.
You see, Sen Harry Reid represented the state of Nevada and during the many decades of the Yucca Mountain project, Nevada got to be a more important state. Big enough that one of its Senators was Majority Leader.
So Sen Harry Reid convinced his White House pal, President Barack Obama, to deep-six everything. I mean that metaphorically and, unfortunately, not literally.
Meanwhile, those nuclear waste casks distributed around the country are kinda getting past their expiration dates. And it’s up to the local for-profit operators, rather than the Federal government, to think about how to store their waste. And remember, this is waste already created over the past 60 years. Even if you shut down the nuclear industry, you’ll still have these mementos around.
This waste, which will be around for tens of thousands of years, will be Harry Reid’s real legacy. Especially if it leaks out into local groundwater.
And, oh, yeah: Thanks, Obama.