Some in Nye County say Yucca Mountain could be a blessing. Others aren’t convinced.

Senior Science Fellow Philip Coyle spoke with the Las Vegas Sun about nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain.

Philip Coyle, a board member for the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, a nonpartisan think tank that advocates for a reduction of nuclear weapons worldwide, agrees that a nuclear repository could be built and managed safely at Yucca Mountain. He explained that it is in the United States’ best interest to find a permanent solution for its nuclear waste — and Yucca Mountain seems to the only location identified at this point.

“Even though some people in Nevada don’t think it’s a very good idea and don’t like it, nobody has found a better place, so the impasse continues,” said Coyle, who previously served as assistant secretary of defense and director of operational test and evaluation at the Pentagon.

The United States has 98 nuclear reactors operating in 30 states — Nevada isn’t among them — which have produced approximately 90,000 tons of nuclear waste and counting. Most of that waste is stored on-site at the reactors using dry cask storage, intended to be a temporary solution for the hazardous radioactive byproducts of nuclear energy production.

But dry cask storage isn’t an ideal long-term solution for the material, Coyle said. Continuing to store nuclear waste in so many temporary facilities across the country could pose security and safety risks for those living near those sites, especially in the event of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

Coyle sees two paths forward for the country’s nuclear waste: develop Yucca Mountain as a permanent repository, or establish monitored, retrievable, better protected storage on-site at nuclear reactors — the favored solution of many opposed to Yucca Mountain.

“Yucca Mountain is a more long-range solution, but it’s not an easy one,” Coyle said.

Coyle, for his part, hopes that lawmakers recognize the danger of “doing nothing” and allowing nuclear waste to remain stored across the country in dry casks — a risk he says played out in real-time at Fukushima, Japan, in the aftermath of an earthquake in March 2011.

“When nobody is doing anything either way, at each reactor site or at Yucca Mountain, the whole problem becomes kind of out of sight, out of mind. And you risk not taking enough care at the reactor sites, not determining the best security, not having the best casks for storage and so forth,” Coyle said. Read more