Before an article, report, or brief is accepted into the Undergraduate Engineering Review, the author must first submit a proposal that specifies the importance of the research, the scope and limitations of the research, and the methods for the research. Submitters should read the journal's Request for Proposals before submitting.
A Proposal to Research the Storage Facility
for Spent Nuclear Fuel at Yucca Mountain
Nuclear power plants produce more than 20 percent of the electricity used in the United States [Murray, 1989]. Unfortunately, nuclear fission, the process used to create this large amount energy, creates significant amounts of high level radioactive waste. More than 30,000 metric tons of nuclear waste have arisen from U.S. commercial reactors as well as high level nuclear weapons waste, such as uranium and plutonium [Roush, 1995]. Because of the build-up of this waste, some power plants will be forced to shut down. To avoid losing an important source of energy, a safe and economical place to keep this waste is necessary. This document proposes a literature review of whether Yucca Mountain is a suitable site for a nuclear waste repository. The proposed review will discuss the economical and environmental aspects of a national storage facility. This proposal includes my methods for gathering information, a schedule for completing the review, and my qualifications.
Statement of Problem
On January 1, 1998, the Department of Energy (DOE) must accept spent nuclear fuel from commercial plants for permanent storage [Clark, 1997]. However, the DOE is undecided on where to put this high level radioactive waste. Yucca Mountain, located in Nevada, is a proposed site. There are many questions regarding the safety of the Yucca Mountain waste repository. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory disagree over the long-term safety of the proposed high level nuclear waste site located in Nevada. In 1994, Charles Bowman, a researcher at Los Alamos, developed a theory claiming that years of storing waste in the mountain may actually start a nuclear chain reaction and explode, similar to an atomic bomb [Taubes, 1995]. The stir caused by theory suggests that researchers have not explored all sides of the safety issue concerning potentially hazardous situations at Yucca Mountain. Bowman's theory that Yucca Mountain could explode is based upon the idea that enough waste will eventually disperse through the rock to create a critical mass. A critical mass is an amount of fissile material, such as plutonium, containing enough mass to start a neutron chain reaction [Murray, 1989]. Bowman argues that if this chain reaction were started underground, the rocks in the ground would help keep the system compressed and speed up the chain reaction [Taubes, 1995]. A chain reaction formed underground could then generate huge amounts of energy in a fraction of a second, resulting in a nuclear blast. A nuclear explosion of this magnitude would emit large amounts of radioactivity into the air and ground water. Another safety concern is the possibility of a volcanic eruption in Yucca Mountain. The long-term nuclear waste storage facility needs to remain stable for at least 10,000 years to allow the radioactive isotopes to decay to natural levels [Clark, 1997]. There are at least a dozen young volcanoes within 40 kilometers of the proposed Yucca Mountain waste site [Weiss, 1996]. The proximity of Yucca Mountain to these volcanoes makes it possible to have a volcanic eruption pass through the spent fuel waste repository. Such a volcanic eruption could release damaging amounts of radioactivity to the environment.
I propose to review the available literature about using Yucca Mountain as a possible...