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Open-File Report 2013–1245

Extreme Ground Motions and Yucca Mountain

By Thomas C. Hanks (chair), Norman A. Abrahamson, Jack W. Baker, David M. Boore, Mark Board, James N. Brune, C. Allin Cornell, and John W. Whitney

Thumbnail of report PDF 10.6 MB)Abstract

Yucca Mountain is the designated site of the underground repository for the United States' high-level radioactive waste (HLW), consisting of commercial and military spent nuclear fuel, HLW derived from reprocessing of uranium and plutonium, surplus plutonium, and other nuclear-weapons materials. Yucca Mountain straddles the western boundary of the Nevada Test Site, where the United States has tested nuclear devices since the 1950s, and is situated in an arid, remote, and thinly populated region of Nevada, ~100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Yucca Mountain was originally considered as a potential underground repository of HLW because of its thick units of unsaturated rocks, with the repository horizon being not only ~300 m above the water table but also ~300 m below the Yucca Mountain crest. The fundamental rationale for a geologic (underground) repository for HLW is to securely isolate these materials from the environment and its inhabitants to the greatest extent possible and for very long periods of time. Given the present climate conditions and what is known about the current hydrologic system and conditions around and in the mountain itself, one would anticipate that the rates of infiltration, corrosion, and transport would be very low—except for the possibility that repository integrity might be compromised by low-probability disruptive events, which include earthquakes, strong ground motion, and (or) a repository-piercing volcanic intrusion/eruption.

Extreme ground motions (ExGM), as we use the phrase in this report, refer to the extremely large amplitudes of earthquake ground motion that arise at extremely low probabilities of exceedance (hazard). They first came to our attention when the 1998 probabilistic seismic hazard analysis for Yucca Mountain was extended to a hazard level of 10-8/yr (a 10-4/yr probability for a 104-year repository “lifetime”). The primary purpose of this report is to summarize the principal results of the ExGM research program as they have developed over the past 5 years; what follows will be focused on Yucca Mountain, but not restricted to it.

First posted November 25, 2013

For additional information, contact:
Director, Menlo Park Earthquake Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
345 Middlefield Road MS 977
Menlo Park, California 94025
(650) 329–4668

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Suggested citation:

Hanks, T.C., Abrahamson, N.A., Baker, J.W., Boore, D.M., Board, M., Brune, J.N., Cornell, C.A., and Whitney, J.W., 2013, Extreme ground motions and Yucca Mountain: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2013–1245, 105 p.,

ISSN 2331-1258 (online)



Extreme Ground Motions and PSHA

Geologic and Tectonic Setting of Yucca Mountain

The “Million-Year-Old Landscape”

The Many Dimensions of Extreme Ground Motions

Physical Limits to Earthquake Ground Motion

Unexceeded Ground Motion

Event Frequencies

Points in Hazard Space

Discussion and Implications

The End...of the Beginning



Appendix I. Data for Exposure-Age and Erosion-Rate Determinations

Appendix II. Erosion-Rate Estimates from Detritus Volumes on the West Face of Yucca Mountain

Appendix III. Fragility Data and Calculations for the Lithophysal Units

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