2004 Denver Annual Meeting (November 7–10, 2004)

Paper No. 3
Presentation Time: 8:30 AM


STUCKLESS, John S., U.S. Geol Survey, MS 421, Denver Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225, stuckles@usgs.gov

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has worked closely with the Department of Energy (DOE) and its predecessors towards a solution to the problem of high-level radioactive waste disposal and has long favored the concept of a mined geological repository. In 1976, Dr. V. E. McKelvey, the Director of the USGS, wrote to DOE suggesting that the Nevada Test Site be considered because there already existed over 900 man-years of investigation and interpretation and because several geologic environments were available for detailed study. During the early 1980’s, the USGS proposed to DOE that the unsaturated zone be considered for a site for reasons outlined in two publications, and further suggested that the concept could be tested at Yucca Mountain.

In 1987, the DOE requested that the USGS be an advocate for Yucca Mountain, but Director Dr. D. L. Peck declined, citing the need for the USGS to provide unbiased scientific data and interpretations as part of its obligation to the Nation under its charter from Congress. In keeping with this responsibility, the Director of the USGS convened a committee of senior scientists to review the DOE publication “Viability Assessment of a Repository at Yucca Mountain”. The review, published in 1999, agreed with the general DOE conclusion that “the site remains promising”, but noted several areas where more work was needed.

In 2001, the DOE requested that the USGS provide an opinion on the Site Recommendation. Director Dr. C. G. Groat complied, noting that the opinions expressed were limited to only the earth science aspects of the recommendation. The letter then enumerated several favorable aspects of the site as well as some potentially unfavorable attributes and a few areas where more study would be highly desirable prior to a final decision to close a repository. The Director noted that in 20 years of careful study, no demonstrable unfavorable conditions had been identified, and that no obvious areas where such unfavorable conditions might exist were foreseen. Thus, from an earth-science perspective only, the USGS supported moving to the next step: a recommendation to the President of the U.S. with an anticipated submittal of a license application to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where a complete and thorough examination of all aspects of the proposed repository would take place.