The Department of Energy (DOE), which would operate the Yucca Mountain facility if it opens, states: "The basic idea of geologic disposal is to place carefully packaged radioactive materials in tunnels deep underground."
The goal for the potential repository is to isolate the waste from the environment in these ways
- position the waste above the water table where the relative dryness of rocks would minimize exposure to groundwater
- contain the waste in thick walled containers using corrosion resistant metal
- bury the waste deeply - approximately 1,000 feet below the land surface - greatly reducing the potential for human contact with the waste and providing protection from natural events and processes.
EPA is responsible for developing site-specific standards for Yucca Mountain. These standards protect public health and the environment from harmful exposure through all environmental pathways: air, ground water, and soil. See, Public Health and Environmental Radiation Protection Standards for Yucca Mountain, Nevada (40 CFR Part 197).
When an estimated 70,000 metric tons of waste have been disposed, the repository would be closed.
More details can be found on the Department of Energy's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management's Yucca Mountain page.