Yucca Mountain (proposed nuclear waste site): Policy and technology meet geology

Peter Malin, Professor, Earth & Ocean Sciences, Nicholas School of the Environment

Project descriptionMalin in DIVE

EOS223S is an open, interdisciplinary elective in Nicholas School which satisfies a seminar requirement of Trinity undergrads; it includes topics in geology, engineering, energy, environment, and policy. The course focused on the actual conditions and plans for a US national high-level nuclear waste deposit in Yucca Mountain, Nevada, through a guided field trip to the Yucca Mountain site. Pre-field trip classes included lectures on Yucca Mountain geology and student-prepared seminars/posters on specific aspects of Yucca Mountain and nuclear waste disposal. Geology requires students to visualize both scales and complex three dimensional relationships from 2 dimensional maps, which is particularly difficult for non-majors. The Duke Immersive Virtual Environment (DiVE Tank) provided three dimensional visualization of the geology and subsurface engineering, and an interactive way to explore the scale of the field site.

By the end of the course, students stated that the use of the 3-D Visualization before the field trip helped to frame the spatial relationships between sediment layers, faults, and topography. The students were asked write a position paper on the integrated geological, economic, and social aspects of the proposed site and state their position on its licensing using the graphical evidence. Their papers showed that they achieved most of the following goals: they referenced appropriate data bases of existing documents, and related these materials to the actual scales lengths, including time, space, economic, social, and political dimensions associated with the potential site and its use.

Project start date: May 26, 2006
Funding awarded: $5,000