What Went Wrong at Yucca Mountain: Standards, Regulations and Performance Assessments

Rodney C. Ewing
Donald R. Peacor Collegiate Professor, Department of Geological Sciences, University of Michigan

Thursday, April 11, 2013
3:30pm - 4:45pm
129 DeBartolo

Standards and regulations for the management, transportation and disposal of radioactive materials have been key to the development of strategies for the handling and disposing of radioactive materials at the “back-end” of the nuclear fuel cycle.  This presentation summarizes previous U.S. experience in developing a standard and regulations for the geologic disposal of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. The main purpose of a standard and its implementing regulations should be to protect human health and the environment, but the structure of the standard and regulations, as well as the standard-of-proof for compliance, should not extend beyond what is scientifically possible and reasonable.  The demonstration of compliance must not only be compelling, but it must also be able to sustain scientific and public scrutiny. We can benefit from the sobering reality of how difficult it is to project the future behavior of a geologic repository over extended spatial and temporal scales that stretch over tens of kilometers and out to a million years.

Rod Ewing is the Edward H. Kraus Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan. He also has faculty appointments in the Departments of Nuclear Engineering & Radiological Sciences and Materials Science & Engineering and is an Emeritus Regents' Professor at the University of New Mexico where he was a member of the faculty from 1974 to 1997. Ewing received a B.S. degree in geology from Texas Christian University (1968, summa cum laude) and M.S. (l972) and Ph.D. (l974, with distinction) degrees from Stanford University where he held an NSF Fellowship.    His graduate studies focused on an esoteric group of minerals, metamict Nb-Ta-Ti oxides, which are unusual because they have become amorphous due to radiation damage caused by the presence of radioactive elements. Over the past thirty years, the early study of these unusual minerals has blossomed into a broadly based research program on radiation effects in complex ceramic materials.  This has led to the development of techniques to predict the long-term behavior of materials, such as those used in radioactive waste disposal.  He is the author or co-author of over 650 research publications and the editor or co-editor of 18 monographs, proceedings volumes or special issues of journals. He has published widely in mineralogy, geochemistry, materials science, nuclear materials, physics and chemistry in over 90 different ISI journals. He has been granted a patent for the development of a highly durable material for the immobilization of excess weapons plutonium.  He is a founding Editor of the magazine, Elements, which is now supported by 17 earth science societies.