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Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage, USA


In 1982, the U.S government passed the Nuclear Waste Policy Act that requires the deep geologic repositories for nuclear waste. In 1983, Yucca Mountain was named as a potential site for a nuclear waste repository. In 1996, Yucca Mountain is found to be lacking the natural geological and hydrological qualities that are needed to be the crucial first barrier of the waste. This requires the project to start relying on engineered barriers. In 2001 several environmental organizations and state of Nevada, filed lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Nevada also filed lawsuits against the U.S. government, the Department of Energy and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), challenging the Yucca Mountain project. In August of 2013, a federal appeals court ruled to resume the licensing process for a nuclear waste storage facility on Yucca Mountain.

Throughout this conflict one main actor has been the Western Shoshone tribe. Yucca Mountain contains traditional and cultural sites and there has been debate with the U.S Department of Energy over their rights and access ability to these communities.

Highly intense resistance has produced constant litigation, new Environmental Assessments, and appeals from States and the Western Shoshone people.

In reaction to further plans by the U.S government to store nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain after nationwide evaluation process of potential repository sites Currently, the United States government has removed funding to the Yucca Mountain project but under the Nuclear Waste Repository Act the U.S is required to find a more permanent holding place for nuclear waste. Therefore, while funding has been removed there is still the potential to re-fund the repository. President Barak Obama has convened the so-called Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future that has been tasked with 'establish(in) a nuclear waste administration and create a consent-based process for siting nuclear waste facilities.' This commission will be highly influential in determining the outcome of Yucca Mountain.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Nevada, Arizona, Utah, California
Location of conflict:Western Shoshone Lands
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Nuclear
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Nuclear waste storage
Specific commodities:Uranium
Nuclear waste

Project Details and Actors

Project details

If filled, Yucca Mountain is able to hold 70,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste. The finished repository would be 42 miles long and 1000 feet below the surface of Yucca Mountain.

Project area:1294
Level of Investment:10 billion by the United State Government, 22 billion paid to the United States government by utility companies
Affected Population:If completed: ~1,600. If finished, safety concerns exist with transport of nuclear waste on U.S roads- Potential for large number of affected
Start of the conflict:1986
Relevant government actors:United States Department of Energy, United States Congress, United States Environmental Protection Agency, State of Nevada, Clark County government
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:National Environmental Coalition of Native Americans, The Western Shoshone Defense Project, Chief Raymond D. Yowell and the Western Shoshone International Council, The Western Shoshone National Council (WSNC), The Western Shoshone Nation, Native American Health Network

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityHIGH (widespread, mass mobilization, violence, arrests, etc...)
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local government/political parties
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Local scientists/professionals
Forms of mobilization:Creation of alternative reports/knowledge
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Media based activism/alternative media
Objections to the EIA
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches


Environmental ImpactsPotential: Groundwater pollution or depletion, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems
Other Environmental impactsPotentially, nuclear accidents
Health ImpactsPotential: Occupational disease and accidents, Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…)
Socio-economical ImpactsPotential: Displacement, Militarization and increased police presence, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place


Project StatusProposed (exploration phase)
Conflict outcome / response:Institutional changes
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Strengthening of participation
Under negotiation
Development of alternatives:The Blue Ribbon Commission (developed under President Barack Obama) will have to determine alternatives for long term storage of nuclear waste. Currently, the waste is held at temporary above ground facilities, most often at the nuclear facility in which it was produced.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Yes
Briefly explain:Yes, this is currently an environmental justice success because the organized opposition, successful litigation and environmental analysis has been able to prevent the storage of nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain for many years. Due to the lack of health precautions and lack of regard for Native American culture the implications of Yucca Mountain could have been disastrous.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

Clark County has been creating resolutions against Yucca Mountain since 1985

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

(n.d.). Summary of the Nuclear Waste Administration Act of 2013 Discussion Draft.

Valerie Kuletz, The tainted desert. Environmental an social ruin in the American West (Routledge, New York, 1998).

Garvey, T. (2012). Closing Yucca Mountain: Litigation Associated with Attempts to Abandon the Planned Nuclear Waste Repository. Congressional Research Service .

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

University of Michigan, Environmental Justice Case Study: The Yucca Mountain High-Level Nuclear Waste Repository and the Western Shoshone

Other comments:This is one of the top 40 influential environmental justice cases in the United States identified from a national survey of environmental activists, scholars and other leaders by graduate students at the University of Michigan.

Meta information

Contributor:Sara Orvis, [email protected], University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment
Last update04/01/2016



Test site board

KRT NEWS STORY SLUGGED: YUCCA KRT PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRIS POLYDOROFF/ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS (KRT118-January 29) A sign for Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, marks the highly restricted nuclear waste test site.