About A Mountain by John D'Agata is not really about Yucca Mountain, the proposed site of radioactive waste disposal from the nation's nuclear industry. At first I thought it was, but now I'm realizing it's really about the end of things.
(I included the Powell's book review in the link because I really find I don't want to talk so muc about John's book, which I do recommend, but rather on the theme I think he is covering - which is that everything is coming inevitably to an end, and so it's rather absurd to worry about it, or plan overmuch for it).
Yucca Mountain, as D'agata mentions, is probably the most studied piece of real estate on the planet. I don't think the studies were done to determine the safety or efficacy of storing all of that radioactive poison in a secure place for the amount of time it takes for it to become harmless. That amount of time - probably on the order of 250,000 years - is beyond current planning. Yucca was planned for 10,000 years, but that turns out to be basically just a made-up number that a lot of people will accept as "far enough in the future for us not to worry about shit".
Yucca, as far as I can determine, was really about income redistribution. You know, the kind that rich people don't mind at all, where the monies end up in their pockets. How else can you explain so much money wasted on something that was known by any rationally informed human from the get-go to be nothing more than wishful thinking?
Consider 250,000 years ago, humans, depending upon whom you talk to, were just becoming anatomically modern, and were probably already possessed of the majority of what we consider modern mental faculties. They had domesticated fire, had good facility with stone, wood, bone, leather, and rope technologies. They certainly were working on symbolic thought. I don't think any objective evaluator would have a doubt that these bipedal primates would inevitably split the atom.
(Seriously, nuclear fission reactors appeared soon after an oxygenating atmosphere allowed for uranium salts to be accumulated in water percolating through the right kinds of rock, so it's not a stretch to think that a combination of the same ores, charcoal, water, and monkeys would produce the same criticality through informed empiricism, or even brute force trial and error).
Question is, what about 250,000 years into the future? Any ideas? I can think of one. We are extinct. The rate we are going? With the capitalist free market system devouring everything in sight? With, not just an acceleration, but the next derivative up, a shock taking place throughout all areas of human habitation, I'm guessing we don't make it with the current trend.
I'm guessing D'agata is feeling the same way, which is why he treats Yucca as kind of a silly waste of time. At least that's the impression I got.
When you consider that there are already several million tons of radionuclides circulating through Earth's natural systems due to the past near 80 years of dumbfuckery, an estimated 77,000 tons of high level nuclear waste doesn't seem all that important, especially when we won't be around to worry about it?
In summary, a fun book to read, and I enjoyed it.