Despite approval by Congress and the Bush administration and over seven billion dollars already spent, the Yucca Mountain, Nevada, site for disposal of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel is not yet in operation. The reasons for the delay lie not only in citizen and activist opposition to the project but also in the numerous scientific and technical issues that remain unresolved. Although many scientists favor geologic disposal of high-level nuclear waste, there are substantial unknowns in projecting the performance of a site over the tens to hundreds of thousands of years that may be required by Environmental Protection Agency standards. Uncertainty Underground is the first effort to review the uncertainties in the analysis of the long-term performance of the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain. The book does not pass judgment on the suitability of the site but provides reliable science-based information to support open debate and inquiry into its safety.
Experts from the geosciences, industry, and government review different aspects of the repository system, focusing on the uncertainties inherent in each. After an overview of the historical and regulatory context, the contributors investigate external factors (including climate change and volcanic activity) that could affect repository performance and then turn to topics concerning the repository itself. These include hydrologic issues, the geological conditions with which the nuclear waste in the repository would interact, and the predicted behavior of the different kinds of waste and waste package materials. Uncertainty Underground succeeds in making these important technical issues understandable to a wide audience, including policymakers and the general public.
"Macfarlane and Ewing have compiled a well-chosen set of articles by technical experts describing the technology and regulatory process for developing the Yucca Mountain repository. The authors present arguments that Yucca Mountain has not been and may never be shown to be an appropriate repository for high-level radioactive waste. Opponents of the project should read this book for support; supporters, to understand the obstacles to be overcome."
—John F. Ahearne, former chairman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission
"The energy honeymoon is rapidly ending as hydrogen-rich fossil fuels are depleted and combustion-driven global climate impacts accelerate. The path to major successor sources offers few attractive options, which is why nuclear waste issues must be resolved. Uncertainty Underground offers comprehensive, authoritative, and understandable essays on this critical issue. If we mean to be our own governors we must become more literate about handling the ashes of the 'Faustian bargain.' That's why this book is a treasure."
—John H. Gibbons, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology (1993-1998)
"If you want to understand the full range of technical issues related to Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste—from rainwater flow through the mountain to corrosion of nuclear waste containers and the consequent movement of radioactive material to Nevada's Amargosa Valley—this is the place to start. The book's strength is that it also makes clear that essential scientific questions about this matter remain unanswered."
—Victor Gilinsky, energy consultant