Yucca tale flourishes

A fairly new urban legend, a claim that the proposed nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada’s Nye County is already built and ready to open, has arisen online in the last year or so.

The claim, which is false, has arisen almost entirely from bloggers and reader comments. Not surprisingly, virtually all of them are unsigned or signed with pseudonyms.

For instance, on the Business Insider website, under a story on the shutdown of the Yucca project by the Obama administration, a reader wrote, “[I]t’s already built, and now it’s going to be abandoned.”

At AR15.com (named for the semiautomatic rifle), a Las Vegas Review-Journal article link was posted, followed by a number of reader comments. One reader wrote (just under a “fuck obama and those environmental nutcases” comment), “They’ll never build the Yucca Mountain facility.” Another reader replied, “Technically … it’s already built.”

At Daily Beast, a reader wrote, “Just go to Wikipedia for a short and dirty answer. The site can already hold everything we have and was being doubled before all work was stopped.”

At Free Republic there is this comment: “The reason I think that the waste belongs in Yucca Mountain is because we have already built the facility—no other reason.”

At UrbanElephants.com a writer who signed himself only “Quickjustice” wrote, “The state-of-the-art plant has been in the works for decades at a cost of $13.5 billion, has passed multiple environmental and safety reviews, and was ready to open.” The same writer also claimed there is a nuclear reprocessing plant at Yucca.

At Seekerblog.com a reference to spent fuel rods is followed by this: “At one time, they were to be stored in Yucca Mountain, and that facility is close to being ready to open.”

One politician taken in by the budding myth is U.S. Rep. Ed Whitfield, who said during House debate in March 2010, “As I said, we have already spent billions of dollars on Yucca Mountain. In fact, in the very near future it was getting ready to open.” Whitfield’s home state of Kentucky has a privately operated uranium enrichment facility at Paducah that has generated 140,000 tons of nuclear waste, and the Kentucky Senate this year voted to repeal the state’s moratorium on the construction of nuclear power plants.

In fact, construction of the Yucca waste dump can’t begin until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issues a construction authorization for it, which it has not done. The five-mile tunnel that exists in the mountain was constructed entirely for testing and suitability studies of the site and is only one-tenth the size of the proposed dump.

Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency Director Joseph Strolin said his office has been aware of the growth of the “ready to open” fable.

“In order to build the repository at Yucca Mountain you would need in the neighborhood of 50 miles of tunnels, replacement drifts and access tunnels,” he said. “So this five-mile tunnel is really nothing. It’s a long tunnel to nowhere. It has no other purpose [than testing]. … We’ve seen these stories, as well. What they are, they’re being laid out there for political reasons.”

He said about $8 billion has been spent on the site so far during the suitability phase, but the latest estimate puts the cost of the dump itself at $96.7 billion.