Why These Trips? An ASIDE

(with Yucca Mountain photos from before 2003, and one added in 2008)

I work for the US Department of Energy on its Yucca Mountain Project.  In the days when the site was not given as high a security classification as it has now, I was able to take some pictures of the yuccas of Yucca Mountain (there are very few!).

In a 2002 Wired magazine piece (linked below) I was pleased to see that the photographer began with the same view that caught my eye when visiting Yucca Mountain: its one and only stand of Yuccas!  Yucca brevifolia, a variety of Joshua tree, it is the same family. Here are some of my pictures of that stand, a veritable extended family:

Looking to the southeast through these trees, the snow on Las Vegas' Spring Range, with Mount Charleston at almost 12,000 feet above mean sea level, is visible on the horizon:

To the south, there is a little snow on the Funeral Range, and to the right lies the snowy Panamint Range with its Telescope Peak. In between those two ranges lies Death valley (go there via my Amargosa Valley pages). In the foreground to the right lies a set of sand-dunes as well as some cinder cones at its right edge (these are a million years old, there are older and younger ones about, it is thought the next volcanic activity in the area will be close to or in Death valley, which is still deepening):

In 2008 I had the opportunity to take a look at Yucca Mountain from the west, from the southern boundary of Crater Flat: note the three layers of tuff rock laid down by volcanoes to the north (left) of this photo.  The first and third layers were laid down very hot, likely from pyroclastic flows, and colled down to form a solid, hard, fractured rock.  The middle one was an ash-fall tuff, cooler, so it became like a sandstone.  The different hydrological properties of these three layers delay and redistribute incoming water from storms or snowmelts.  This turns out to be important for the way Yucca Mountain would work as a repository for the nations high-level radioactive wastes and spent nuclear fuel.  In June of 2008, there will be a plain-language explanation of how the mountain works available on the US Department of Energy website.

From that same vantage point I also could see the southwesternmost cinder cone in Crater Flat, one of the ones to the right of and well to the north of the sand dunes in the above photo:

From beneath the stand of Yuccas, Yucca Mountain stretches out to the south, with the southeastern extent of Amargosa Valley in the distance:

So, that's nice. This is what I work on daily, but why the trip to  Vienna (Wien) in Austria in 2003?

I had a week-long assignment to work at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a branch organization of the United Nations, based in Vienna.

The assignment involved the writing of a guidance document. The guidance is on how to pull together and evaluate evidence from which to judge whether a deep, geologic disposal system for highly radioactive waste is safe or not.

As usual, the writing team is international, and made up of both "implementers" and regulators. Implementers are people involved in making such a waste disposal system happen, and evaluating its safety. Regulators are people who are empowered by national governments to judge whether the planned system is sufficiently safe to allow it to go forward. During my workdays I am in the former category, I work for the US Department of Energy, on its Yucca Mountain Project.

I make a concerted effort to not confuse who I am with what I do for a living. I am who I am. What I do reflects what I am, sure, if it did not I would be an actor.  What I do carries the title "Senior Policy Advisor."  It is a category of worker in the US government.  

One of the privileges I have enjoyed as part of my work has been my twenty-plus years of taking part in, and for four years to be chairman of, an expert group on the same subject being addressed during my week of writing in 2003 at the IAEA. It is a group that is part of the activities of the Nuclear Energy Agency in paris, and it is the reason for my French, Spanish, and other European trips mentioned in this website.

Some of the press materials that come up when people search for my website using my name are not fun, not nice, not accurate. However, there are others that are accurate, that reflect what I told the particular reporter(s) involved. And some are fun reads. A few are both informative and fun.

Here is a selection of such links, leaving out local and other non-national newspaper articles because there are quite a few and they range all over the place in terms of their reflecting my statements- or intent- accurately.

There have been articles in other news and science magazines for which i was an unnamed source. Perhaps the one that I contrubuted the most time to, anonymously, was a National Geographic article on the national radioactive waste problem. A thoughtful piece (only an excerpt is available on the Internet, see the rest in the July 2002 issue).

An hour-long talk at a national laboratory (prepare for boredom).

National Public Radio (an interview).

MSNBC (an interview recently repeated, with photo).

CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Co. interview).

Men's Journal (well done overview with just a few tidbits from me, text not online).

Wired Magazine (excellent photography not available online, a fun read).

The Wall Street Journal (my favorite, a very thoughtful, thought-provoking piece; go to February 10, 2003, front page).

NOTE: If you are NOT a WSJ paper or online subscriber, this won't work.

I was pleased to see that the student contributing their work. mentioned in the WSJ article, were recognized in their school magazine, The Campus Chronicle, Accolades section (go to Archives for Volume 3, No. 22, May 2, 2003), which has this at the end of the page:_______________________________________________________________________________________
The work of senior graphic design student Maho Kishi was featured in a Feb. 10 article by Peter Waldman in The Wall Street Journal. The article concerned a project professor Chercy Lott's Alternative Design class worked
on with the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington, D.C. The students' challenge was to design warning markers that would last more than 1,000 years and would be able to communicate the dangers within the Yucca
Mountain. Kishi's work was chosen for the article by Dr. Abraham Van Luik, senior policy advisor for the DOE, who said each submission "was a top-rate product in terms of originality, artistry, thoughtfulness, attention to detail, awareness of the technical challenges of needing to last and communicate a long time. I really appreciate the thoughtful and technically credible work done by all the students." Waldman's article can be viewed online at The Wall Street Journal's Web site at
(subscription required)

As hinted at above, here are some of my own pictures of Yucca Mountain, a dry ridge about a hundred miles northwest of Las Vegas, in Amargosa Valley (see my Nevada pages for Amargosa Valley pictures).

Go Back to Vienna

Go Back To Austria 2003 Pages to see more Lower Austria

Go Back to The Journey in 2003