To Use A Mountain

Seconds of exposure, generations of debate, the history of nations, and epochs of geologic change – all overlap in the landscapes that define the American nuclear legacy and the quest to isolate 77,000 tons of nuclear waste for 10,000 years.

In the 1980s, six rural communities across the nation’s interior were studied in detail by the Department of Energy to determine the feasibility of geologic nuclear waste disposal in their vicinity. This process was met with almost unanimous distress and resistance, leaving an enduring emotional and psychological imprint. In the end, only one site was chosen: a desert ridge in Nevada called Yucca Mountain, on the unceded lands of the Western Shoshone Nation. The radioactive material buried there would require isolation from human contact for countless generations – 10,000 years at a minimum. But the project was never completed, and still no durable solution exists for dealing with the most dangerous material ever created.

TO USE A MOUNTAIN visits each candidate site in present day vignettes, with immersive character driven stories that place us directly in the landscapes and the lived experience of those who inhabit them. In distant pockets of rural America we meet characters whose lives and family histories speak directly to the human experience never acknowledged by the government’s scientists, bureaucrats, maps, and assessments. With each new site and cast of characters, the crisis of nuclear waste grows more confounding, calling into question our relationship to history, technology, and the mythologies of the American landscape. 

Directed by Casey Carter

Produced by Colleen Cassingham

Executive Produced by Brett Story