Key facts about nuclear waste

Key Fact: The wastes DOE plans to put in the proposed Yucca Mountain repository are solid (not liquid).

The nuclear waste destined for disposal at a repository will be in the form of solid metals, ceramics, and glass with small amounts of radioactive gases.

Key Fact: Spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste cannot cause an explosion.

Spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste are not explosive. Even if these materials were involved in an explosion (like a transportation accident involving an oil tanker), they cannot cause a nuclear chain reaction.

Key Fact: Spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste are not flammable.

Since these materials are composed of metals, ceramics, and glass, they cannot fuel a fire.

DOE was required by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 to begin removing used fuel from reactor sites by 1998. The government's failure to do so has resulted in more than $5 billion in court-awarded damage settlements being paid from the taxpayer-funded Judgment Fund to compensate energy companies for storing the used fuel on-site, as of September 2015. Damages could reach more than $29 billion by 2022 and up to $500 million annually after 2022.

Fact Sheet: What Are Spent Nuclear Fuel & High-Level Radioactive Waste

Engineered barriersThe primary man-made features of the repository include the emplacement tunnels, waste packages, drip shields, and TAD canisters. (click the image to enlarge).


Top 10 Facts About Yucca Mountain

1. Located on federally owned desert land about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Yucca Mountain has been under consideration since the early 1980s as a site for the geologic disposal of used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. One of nine sites originally identified by the U.S. Department of Energy in 1983, Yucca Mountain was the highest ranked of five nominated for further consideration and, in 1986, was the best of three remaining sites, based on its geohydrology, geochemistry, rock characteristics, tectonics, meteorology, costs and socioeconomic impacts.

2. In 1987, Congress directed DOE to focus its studies solely on the site. Over the next 20 years, DOE completed a 5-mile tunnel through the mountain in which to conduct its characterization studies. A second 2-mile "cross drift" tunnel was completed, along with numerous niches, alcoves and more than 180 boreholes in which various experiments and studies were performed—see this 2004 DOE video on some of the work that was carried out. By 2006, a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
report dubbed Yucca Mountain the "Most Studied Real Estate on the Planet."

3. As required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, DOE designed the repository to limit public radiation exposures for 1 million years. The results of DOE's analyses were scrutinized by the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board—a panel of independent scientific experts appointed by the president— and peer-reviewed by international experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency and, finally and most conclusively, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (see
fact #6).

4. Scientists used the droppings found in 12,000-year old desert packrat nests, known as middens, to investigate climatic and vegetation changes in the region since the last Ice Age. In this consistently dry environment, these middens were preserved under open rock ledges. Nuclear materials at the site will be much better protected. The area has been arid desert for thousands of years. The repository location is one of the few in the world where radioactive waste containers can be isolated from the environment
by 1,000 feet of dry rock above them and yet be 1,000 feet above the water table.

5. The 2002 decision—by DOE, the president and Congress—approving Yucca Mountain that led to DOE's 2008 license application to the NRC was the result of a deliberative process that included dozens of public meetings and opportunities for public comment. There is no record of any public process leading to the Obama administration's 2010 decision to terminate the licensing proceedings.

6. The courts have consistently rejected challenges to the Yucca Mountain selection and licensing process. In August 2013, a federal appeals court ruled that the NRC must resume its review of DOE's license application. Last February the NRC released the final volume of its Safety Evaluation Report, concluding that "DOE's proposed repository as designed will be capable of safely isolating used nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste for the 1-million-year period specified in the regulations."

7. The state of Nevada was not always implacably opposed to the project. In 1975 the state legislature passed a resolution "strongly urging" DOE's predecessor agency to choose the Nevada Test Site—where
Yucca Mountain is located—for the disposal of nuclear wastes. In 2012 Nye County sent a letter to the secretary of energy agreeing to host the repository in line with the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future for consent-based siting of such facilities. It was only the latest of several resolutions in support of the project.

8. Today the Yucca Mountain site has been abandoned and is marked only by the fenced-off entrance to the seven miles of exploratory tunnels. There are no waste disposal tunnels, receiving and handling facilities, and the waste containers and transportation casks have yet to be developed.

9. Reporters appear to delight in calling the proposed repository a "dump," even though it would be a precisely engineered, state-of-the-art facility. As the National Waste and Recycling Association says of municipal solid waste landfills, "the 'garbage dump' is no more."

10. The site was featured in the 2014 movie "Godzilla." We're sorry, but there are no radioactive MUTO eggs at Yucca Mountain waiting to hatch and destroy Las Vegas. (You know the movie is Hollywood fantasy because it depicts nuclear waste being disposed of at Yucca Mountain.) (Source - NEI)

Onkola Finaland Nuclear Waste Repository

Nuclear Facts

Onkalo – the world’s first permanent nuclear waste repository

Onkalo is a Finnish word for hiding place. It is situated at Olkiluoto in Finland - approx. 300 km northwest of Helsinki and it's the world's first attempt at a permanent repository. It is a huge system of underground tunnels hewn out of solid bedrock. Work on the concept behind the facility commenced in 1970s and the repository is expected to be backfilled and decommissioned in the 2100s – more than a century from now. No person working on the facility today will live to see it completed. The Finnish and Swedish Nuclear Authorities are collaborating on the project, and Sweden is planning a similar facility, but has not begun the actual construction of it. Onkalo presentation folder


Facts about nuclear waste

High-level nuclear waste is the inevitable end result of nuclear energy production. The waste will remain radioactive and/or radiotoxic for at least 100 000 years. It is estimated that the total amount of high-level nuclear waste in the world today is between 250 000 and 300 000 tons. The amount of waste increases daily.

Security standards

Radioactive waste is hazardous to all living organisms and exposure to radiation may result in death, incurable disease, as well as mutation of the genetic code. The security standards are based on theoretical assumptions, as humanity has no previous experience to build on with regards to radioactive waste. In Europe there is a security standard  of 100 000 years for the min. period that the waste must remain isolated from all living organisms. In the US it is 1 000 000 years.

A hundred thousand years

It is difficult for human beings to understand time spans beyond a few generations, let alone thousands of years. To put time into perspective, we need milestones: The human species as we know it today is believed to have existed for approx. 100 000 years. The oldest cave paintings, known today, are approx. 30 000 years old, the pyramids approx. 4 500 years old, the Birth of Christ, 2010 years ago, the detection of radiation approx. 115 years ago.

Interim storage

Spent nuclear fuel is normally kept in water pools in interim storages. Almost all interim storages are on the ground surface, where they are vulnerable to natural or man-made disasters, and extensive surveillance, security management, and maintenance is required. The water in the pools cools the fuel rods, as the heat emanating from them may otherwise result in radioactive fire, and at the same time, water creates a shield for radioactivity. It takes 40 – 60 years to cool the fuel rods down to a temperature below 100 degrees Celsius. Only below this temperature may the spent fuel be handled or processed further. Most interim storages are situated near nuclear power plants, as the transportation of waste is complicated, and subject to extensive security issues.

Permanent storage

To ensure that the waste is kept isolated from all living organisms and does not spill into nature, permanent storages are needed, as we cannot ensure continuous surveillance, security management, or maintenance of interim storage for the duration of the security standard period of 100 000 (EU) to 1 000 000 (US) years.

Permanent waste storages must be located in very stable environments. Areas with volcanic or seismic activity are ruled out, as are lowlands that are subject to potential flooding or rising sea levels, eroded or porous bedrock where ground water leaks may occur. Nuclear energy producing countries without suitable sites for permanent storages may have to export their waste to other countries. Transportation safety is crucial, but an unsolved question.


Spent nuclear fuel may be reprocessed as only a fraction of the energy in the fuel rods are used, before they are moved from the reactors to the interim storage. Plutonium is a bi-product of reprocessing. Plutonium is a vital ingredient in nuclear bombs. It is a political decision and a consequence of the non-proliferation act, that reprocessing is not carried out today. If reprocessing is later practised, spent nuclear fuel will remain in interim storage. The amount of high-level nuclear waste may be reduced, but not avoided through reprocessing.


Research is carried out into the possibility of transmutation, which is a process that may reduce the toxicity of the waste and time span in which it will be dangerous. So far, transmutation is a theoretical option only, that scientists have conceived, but not yet been able to try out in reality. If transmutation becomes a reality, the amount of high-level nuclear waste may be reduced, but not avoided.


Most ancient language have been forgotten over time, and have had to be rediscovered to be understood by us in present time. Some languages we have yet to decode. It is an open question if and how we can communicate with an unknown and very distant future about complicated issues like nuclear waste and radiation. Scientific studies have been conducted in relation to nuclear waste storages, but the studies were ended as the US Academy of Science deemed it impossible to secure communication with any scientific certainty over a period of 100 000 years.

The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository was halted by Barack Obama and Harry Reid.

Some information about Yucca Mountain.

Why Yucca Mountain?

Scientists have long considered Yucca Mountain a promising site for a repository due to the area's

  • dry climate
  • remoteness
  • restricted access
  • stable geology
  • deep water table
  • and closed water basin.

Yucca Mountain is located in Nye County, Nevada, about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, on the western edge of the Nevada Test Site. The Nevada Test Site has hosted numerous nuclear-related projects for decades.

Congress amended the Nuclear Waste Policy Act in 1987 and directed the U.S. Department of Energy to study only one site: Yucca Mountain.

Since then, hundreds of scientists have conducted studies there. The mountain is one of the most thoroughly researched sites in the world.

Licensing Fact Sheets

Recycling Used Nuclear Fuel The federal government is researching advanced fuel cycle technologies, including advanced nonlight water reactors, to take full advantage of the unused energy in the used fuel and simplify the byproduct waste forms requiring disposal.

Policy Briefs - Policy Principles for Used Nuclear Fuel Management
The industry supports an integrated used nuclear fuel management strategy, consisting of ten basic elements. This policy brief describes those elements.


Top Ten Facts About Yucca Mountain

The Economic Impact of the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository on the Economy of Nevada

According to a study of the economic impact of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository on Nevada undertaken by the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, the project will add $228 million annually to Nevada's economy during construction and $127 million annually during operation. (source_ University of Nevada, Las Vegas) 2003

Department of Energy (DOE) List of Yucca Mountain Archival Documents Nuclear Fuel - Cradle to Crypt

The case for and against nuclear power

Recycling Nuclear Fuel 
A key to France's nuclear success is re-processing spent nuclear fuel

The Nuclear Wait

Planned Rail to Yucca Mountain: Two Options -

In June 2008, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) completed environmental analyses of two potential rail routes (known as the Caliente and Mina rail alignments). This action opened up the possibility that either option could be developed for transportation of used nuclear fuel to Yucca Mountain. However, in July 2015 President Obama designated a significant amount of land along the Caliente route as the Basin and Range National Monument—making it highly unlikely that DOE will be able to develop this option (the Mina route is unaffected).