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‘Survival Beneath Yucca Mountain’: La Jollan Monty Nereim’s new book explores life underground

In his new novel, "Survival Beneath Yucca Mountain," La Jolla author Monty Nereim tells of a group of people sealed in an underground bunker after an asteroid strike.
In his new novel, “Survival Beneath Yucca Mountain,” La Jolla author Monty Nereim tells of a group of people sealed in an underground bunker after an asteroid strike.
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La Jolla-based author Monty Nereim has written his second book, “Survival Beneath Yucca Mountain,” a science-fiction novel that explores human survival instincts after a cataclysmic event.

It tells of wealthy Heinz Globitz, who hatches a plan to convert the unused nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada into a bunker system for 50 families with the ability to survive underground for 20 years, Nereim said.

The book, published in April, closely follows the characters Randall Meredith and his family, who are sealed in the bunker for 15 years after an asteroid strike. “Meredith’s kids end up growing up there,” Nereim said.

Nereim, a retired Marine officer with experience in the publishing industry, based his story on his research of the Yucca Mountain facility. “This is a real controversial subject,” he said of Yucca Mountain, which intrigued him while he was living in Las Vegas for a short time.

Established in 1987 after a years-long survey by the U.S. government to locate a place to store nuclear waste safely, the Yucca Mountain site was chosen, Nereim said, “because it was remote and stable from earthquakes. It had the right consistency.” After a series of tests, the government “drilled a giant, horseshoe-shaped tunnel under Yucca Mountain, over 5 miles long.”

The repository, which cost about $12 billion, has a long history of federal funding and de-funding over several presidential administrations, Nereim said. Currently, Yucca Mountain is “boarded up,” Nereim said. “Nobody goes there. It’s a wasted program.”

After a futile attempt to visit the site, Nereim studied the facility’s history at the Pahrump Valley Museum in Nevada. “I thought this would make an intriguing story,” he said. “It went from there.”

“Survival Beneath Yucca Mountain” also incorporates information from the Environmental Protection Agency on storage of spent nuclear fuel, as well as Nereim’s research about NASA asteroid mitigation programs, he said. “All of that is covered in the first couple chapters of my book.”

Nereim said he created characters who “go to great lengths to make sure they can survive when no one else can.” Called “preppers,” they “store water, all kinds of safety equipment. They learn to survive without any community support,” he said. “They’re interesting people.”

“All those things fit together in my mind,” Nereim said. “If Yucca Mountain becomes an underground bunker system for these people that are interested in surviving a great catastrophe, that would be a great place for them to go if it were properly outfitted. The story launches from there.”

“Survival Beneath Yucca Mountain” isn’t just science fiction, Nereim said. “It’s actually a techno-science book. All those things I include in describing the Yucca Mountain sanctuary [the book’s term for the bunker] are, in fact, doable. I didn’t manufacture anything.”

He said the characters grow underground gardens and fish (tilapia), purify water and tap into geothermal energy. “All that technology exists; it could happen today,” he said.

The book looks at how “survival instincts manifest differently in human beings,” Nereim said. His characters can be “conniving, bored, suspicious … when you put people in a contained environment like that, some of the best of human society comes out, but also some of the worst.”

Nereim is now writing his third book (about a group of people trying to escape from Yucca Mountain), and has ideas for a fourth running through his mind. His first book was a 2016 biography of controversial handball player Paul Haber.

Living in The Village with his wife, Sharon, Nereim said he tries to carve out time for swimming in the ocean, playing golf and “enjoying life,” he said. “There’s not enough time in the day.”

“Survival Beneath Yucca Mountain” is priced at $20.99 and is available at bit.ly/nereimyucca.