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Study Warns of Volcanoes at Yucca

July 31, 2002

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WASHINGTON (AP) _ A volcanic eruption at Yucca Mountain could do more damage than previously thought, possibly forcing radioactive waste from its burial site to the surface, according to a new study.

If long-dormant volcanoes near the prospective high-level nuclear waste dump sprang back to life, molten rock traveling at speeds up to 600 miles an hour could fill the repository deep beneath the Nevada desert within hours, said an article in the July issue of Geophysical Research Letters, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

Intense heat and pressure could cause some canisters of spent nuclear fuel that are to be buried at Yucca to rupture and allow radioactive material to flow toward the surface, the article said.

``It can potentially affect a large number of waste canisters,″ wrote a team of English, Dutch and American scientists that developed computer models to assess the risk of a volcanic eruption.

Seven dead volcanoes are within 27 miles but the last eruption was 80,000 years ago. Yucca project scientists calculate that the chance of one occurring within the waste repository over the next 10,000 years is one in 70 million.

Previous government studies have said volcanic eruptions would do little damage to the site. But project scientists who commented on a draft of the new study said it presents a potentially useful model for evaluating what could happen if an eruption were to occur.

President Bush last week designated Yucca as the nation’s lone long-term waste repository. It is scheduled to open in 2010, but the government first must obtain a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The NRC will consider potential volcanic activity during its review of the license application.

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On the Net:

Yucca Mountain project: http://www.ymp.gov

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