Answers Long Misunderstood

Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Dump



I’m sure you’ve heard old stories of how some burros have helped their owners to find gold. My wife Carol and I should have known better, but we left our burros behind when we went looking for gold in the Amargosa Desert. For that particular and peculiar prospecting trip we had to leave the burros behind, because we climbed into a chartered bus and went to visit the proposed Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Dump near Lathrup Wells, Nevada.

We had no more than gotten seated on the bus when security guards came onto the bus, examined our ‘official invitations,’ and pinned little badges to our flannel shirt collars to identify us and to alert us to any radiation. (There was not yet supposed to be any nuclear waste there, in fact Yucca Mountain had not even been approved as a waste site, but we were on The Nevada Test Site which is part of Nellis Air Force Bombing and Gunnery Range.)

Nobody flunked the security test so with our little badges dangling from our shirts we were treated to a whole day of touring the government facilities and the summit of Yucca Mountain.

One of the first stops we made was out in the open on Jackass Flats where we listened to a female biologist, walking around in the back of a pickup truck in high heeled cowboy boots; give a talk on how the government is protecting wildlife in the area. I remember that the heels of her boots kept sliding into the grooves in the truck bed causing her to lurch sideways now and then as she performed. Most of what she had to say was about endangered tortoises.

Being a “jackass prospector” and standing there in a place called Jackass Flats, I was wondering why she didn’t mention burros, so I asked about burros. She told me that there weren’t any. When I told her there used to be and asked what had happened to them, the educated young lady answered, “They were gone before I got here!”

On our way back to the bus for the next leg of the tour we talked over possible reasons for the loss of the asses of Jackass Flats with our neighbors. Our tour guides began to feel that I was a security threat and Carol, sensing their unease, had to remind me that our quest was a quest for gold.

There was a stop at a large warehouse where we were shown a video of how test drilling is done at Yucca Mountain and how the ‘core samples’ taken are documented and analyzed. We were shown that salt, basalt; granite shale and volcanic tuff were all, in their opinion, good for storing nuclear waste.

After the video we were allowed to wander through a room of rock samples and minerals. This part was fascinating to us and we enjoyed looking at crystals and fossils, and minerals lit with black lights.

Seeing no gold in the samples, I asked, “In these core samples you’ve taken, have you found any gold?”

The answer was “No.”

“Not even microscopic gold?”

“No, not a bit.”

So there we were, disappointed and empty handed in our search for gold and feeling amazed that in this whole mountain, that stands in gold bearing ground, not one bit of gold was found. Though over thirty holes were drilled to a depth of 3,000 feet each and still no gold?

There was one finding in those core samples that really interested us Zeolite. You may not know about Zeolite, so this prospector will try to enlighten you. Zeolite is a mineral that contains water in microscopic channels within a framework of aluminum silicate units. In other words, the water in Zeolite can be driven out of the rock by heat, without altering the structure of the Zeolite crystals. The word ‘Zeolite’ means ‘boiling rock’.

With that little bit of knowledge ricocheting around in my brain I questioned some of the government employees at Yucca Mountain about how the Zeolite would react to the proximity of nuclear waste.

They acted like they didn’t know much about the layer of Zeolite that exists between the big holes they planned to store the “hot” nuclear waste in and the huge body of water called the Amargosa aquifer lying just under Yucca Mountain, for they assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem!

I didn’t believe them; so I jumped the traces and leaving my tour guides behind I went in search of a real scientist. (Is there such a thing nowadays?)

Anyway, I didn’t get far on my aberration before the bell rang for lunch and we were all ushered into the dining hall together: like cattle to a feed lot. Though I never can say “no” to a good meal, so I went meekly along with the flow and I soon found out that the detour worked out splendidly for my aborted purpose, because all the folks working there came to lunch with us.

I was soon elbow to elbow with one of their leaders, and over a delicious meal I asked him, “If this repository is approved, and ‘hot’ nuclear waste is placed in Yucca Mountain and the Zeolite boils, where will the radioactive water go?”

He looked glumly down at his busy fork and shrugged.

I pressed him “Will it go down into the aquifer that provides water to the Nevada towns of Beatty, Lathrup Wells, Amargosa, Shoshone and Las Vegas?”

“I’ll tell you what bothers me the most,” he said, “Yucca Mountain is supposed to be one of many sites tested to see if it is suitable for storage of spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors but, we are not testing any others. We are putting so much money and time into ‘exploring’ Yucca Mountain that even if it proves to be unsuitable, you will never hear of its dangers. This is the only site being considered and this is where the waste will lie!”

When I was climbing down from the bus after being delivered back to our starting point at Lathrup Wells, I looked back up at our tour guide and asked, “Who paid for my lunch and the tour?”

He smiled at me. “You did,” he said, “your tax dollars pay for everything pertaining to the project at Yucca Mountain.”


On our way back to the wagon Carol put a hand to her head and told me she was feeling carsick from riding in the bus. I took her hand in mine and told her I felt a bit sick too.

Later, I explained to my disappointed wife, that we’d better stick to our gold prospecting with burros. “It’s not as high tech,” I told her, “but it sure is more comforting than finding Zeolite in such an unexpected and dangerous place.”

She agreed with me and stated rather emphatically, “If those Yucca Mountain workers still had the benefit of jackasses on Jackass Flats, they might have found gold in their exploration of Yucca Mountain!”

Now here is the rest of the story. We had offered this story to a magazine called Rock & Gem in which the article was published in November 1996 after of over a year of government delays. With a disclaimer on my finding, from Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Dump, US Department of Energy.  Little did Department of Energy know that I had contact with people in side that complex. Those people years later who when I showed a copy of the article to sat and stared, and with a faraway looked and said: “So that is where all that water came from.”

To make a long story short my little article in an obscure magazine, ROCK&GEM; had put a “bee” into some ones “Bonnet”, therefore, a test was order: that test consisted of drilling holes into the floor and wall then placing resistant electric heaters into those holes to simulate the heat that would be given off by the thermally “HOT NUCLEAR MATERIALS ” Over the period of the test, water began to accumulate on the floor of the test tunnel that really got some people upset. The Brass said: Where in the HELL is all this water coming from. At that point a test of the water was made. The results of that test were that the water did not come from any known source. The test said, “that it was ‘NEW WATER’ without the trace isotopes that would indicate its origins. It was if it came out of “thin air.” WRONG it was out of solid ROCK (Zeolite rock to be exact).

I have since checked for articles on the subject on Yucca Mountain, zeolites and have found a few posted, long after my article was published. Funny thing is: the government went out and paid to have one written by a person with the same last name as the pen name Spalding, that I was using at that time, all positive about zeolites at Yucca Mountain. Yes always the Bride’s maid never the Bride.


2 responses

  1. Ah, reminds me of the famous quote “Writing is an adventure. To begin with, it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.” – Winston Churchill

    December 4, 2011 at 3:02 pm

  2. Author has many informative facts, I’ve learned a lot. I’m confused as to why I didn’t add it as a bookmark before because it’s surely a blog I want in my daily visit list. Thanks again, keep up the great work

    December 6, 2011 at 12:23 am

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