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Scientists may have underestimated the likelihood of earthquakes and volcanic activity near the proposed storage facility for the United States' nuclear waste, researchers said Thursday.

Writing in the journal Science, geologists said they found the earth's crust at Yucca Mountain in Nevada was moving at a higher rate than previously had been thought. This stretching could cause an increase in the magnitude and frequency of earthquakes in the region.

"It means at the present time we haven't thought through the seismic and volcanic activities because it might be more than we thought," said Brian Wernicke, a professor at the California Institute of Technology, who led the study.

Scientists have studied the area's geological history for years in an attempt to determine how stable the region will be during the 10,000 to 100,000 years it will take for the radioactive waste to decay.

Jim Davis, a researcher at Harvard-Smithsonian Institution, said the rate at which the earth moves is connected to the frequency of episodic activity, such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.

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