A Bechtel-led team studied Yucca Mountain as the site for the United States' first national nuclear waste repository—where spent-fuel rods from nuclear power plants and solidified high-level radioactive waste from nuclear defense activities could be stored permanently.
Examining the potential of national nuclear waste repository site
Located at the edge of the Nevada National Security Site (formerly the Nevada Test Site)—part of a nuclear testing ground established by U.S. President Harry Truman—Yucca Mountain is far from any population centers, has a very dry climate, and is protected by an Air Force range on three sides. It’s about a hundred miles (160 kilometers) northwest of Las Vegas. Key to Yucca Mountain’s suitability as a repository are its geological characteristics.
Fuel rods from nuclear power plants release no greenhouse gases when they generate electricity. But when they're no longer useful in power plants, they require secure, permanent disposal. In the early1980s, the U.S. government green-lighted an initiative to find a safe, secure way to dispose of the nation’s growing nuclear waste. Hundreds of world-class engineers, geologists, seismologists, volcanologists, chemists, and other specialists studied candidate sites across the country and converged on Yucca Mountain. Starting in 2001, Bechtel and Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) teamed up to conduct even more extensive studies, computer modeling, and sophisticated analytic surveys exploring the site’s potential as a repository.
The Bechtel SAIC team built some 8 miles (13 kilometers) of test tunnels that provided engineers and scientists access to study processes governing water movement within the mountain. And the project team drilled more than 450 boreholes to better understand the rock and the water table.
In addition to research, Bechtel SAIC helped its customer, the U.S. Department of Energy, prepare a license application for the site, which was submitted to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in June 2008.
In a 150-foot- (46-meter-) long, full-scale repository simulation, technicians from Bechtel SAIC filled containers with electrical heaters to determine how the mountain would react to the heat of nuclear waste. And some 6,000 measuring instruments helped scientists understand how water moves through the rock in response to that heat. Such a test was unprecedented on that scale and level of detail.
Outstanding safety four years running
DOE also bestowed on Bechtel SAIC its Legacy of Stars" award, honoring contractors that have attained Star of Excellence status four consecutive years.