Nevada Appeal, July 26, 2001
Letter to editor: Yucca

Re your recent article "Experts: Volcanic activity no threat to Yucca."

The Department of Energy once again has misled the public about the dangers of a Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository through a mathematical slight of hand.

DOE geologist Eric Smistad stated that the probability of a volcanic event erupting into the buried waste and spewing radionuclide contaminated volcanic ash out of Yucca Mountain onto the nearby residents of Amargosa Valley is about one chance in 70 million per year. Granted, this is a small number that translates to a probability of one chance in 7,000 that such an event will take place during the 10,000 year period that EPA rules require DOE analyze in a Yucca Mountain safety evaluation.

Smistad also states that the radioactive release from such an event would result in "maybe one-tenth of a million dose to the nearest person downwind," representing only a small fraction of the 15 millirem per year maximum dose permitted by the EPA safety standards. This is a grossly incorrect statement of the results of the DOE's dose calculation for such an event.

According to DOE's calculation, the actual radiation dose to an individual exposed to the contaminated ash, at the EPA allowed 11-mile distance downwind, would be approximately 1 million millirems (one thousand rems, or about twice an immediately lethal radiation dose). The tricky math that gives the one-tenth of a millirem dose involves modifying the 1 million millirem-calculated dose with the one chance in 70 million probability that such an event would happen.

This begs a gaming analogy here in the Silver State. You win a $1 million jackpot, but you only get paid a dime (actually about 12 cents) because the odds were 70 million to one against you winning the jackpot this year. Moral? Don't play in DOE's casino if you want an honest game.