Fuel rods from nuclear power plants release no greenhouse gases when they generate electricity. That's why nuclear power is the largest generator of carbon-free electricity in the U.S. But when they're no longer useful in power plants, the fuel rods require secure, permanent disposal.
All of the used fuel ever produced by the commercial nuclear industry since the late 1950s would cover a football field to a depth of less than 10 yards. Outside of its robust storage containers, it is highly radioactive.
Today, the used fuel is stored aboveground near the plants where it came from. But scientists worldwide have agreed that the safest, permanent disposal solution is to entomb the fuel rods deep underground.
In the early 1980s, the U.S. government green-lighted an initiative to find a safe, secure way to dispose of the nation’s growing nuclear waste.
A Bechtel-led team studied Yucca Mountain as the site for the United States' national repository for used fuel rods and solidified high-level radioactive waste from nuclear defense activities.
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.