Draft Plan For Future Of Former Nevada Test Site Questioned At DOE Public Hearing

CARSON CITY – Speakers at the fifth and final public hearing to comment on a draft environmental statement that seeks to map the future of the former Nevada Test Site expressed a variety of concerns Wednesday, including a failure to adequately address contamination of groundwater at the site.

Another concern focused on an indication in the document for what is now called the Nevada National Security Site that a previous agreement with the state of Nevada to avoid metropolitan areas in the transportation of low-level radioactive waste to the site for burial will be abandoned.

This concern, presented by Robert Halstead, the new executive director of the Agency for Nuclear Projects, on behalf of Gov. Brian Sandoval, would lead to the transport of such wastes through urban Las Vegas via Interstate 15 and other major highways.

Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects Executive Director Robert Halstead. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Halstead said an accident involving the transport of such wastes could cause both public safety and economic problems, and he urged the DOE to continue to support the 12-year-old agreement with the state.

Sandoval has sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu objecting to this change.

“The draft EIS asserts that using I-15 and the Las Vegas beltway through metro Las Vegas is now acceptable because of improvements to the area’s highway system that were not in place when the original agreement was made,” Halstead said, reading from the letter. “This is emphatically not the case.”

The hearing at the Carson Nugget was sparsely attended. But an official with the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees the site 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, including Yucca Mountain, formerly designated for a now abandoned high-level radioactive waste dump, said comments will be accepted through Dec. 2, an extension from the original Oct. 27 cutoff date.

The Draft Site Wide Environmental Impact Statement (SWEIS) presents a 10-year plan with three options: continuing uses as they are now occurring; reducing the uses of the property; and increasing activity at the site formerly used for both above- and below-ground nuclear tests.

Other speakers presented different views.

Erik Emblem, representing the Western State Council of Sheet Metal Workers, urged the DOE to support an expansion of uses for the site, saying it is important for Nevada and the nation.

The site is used for multiple purposes, including training of first responders to terrorist acts and disposal of low-level radioactive waste.

John Hadder of Reno, representing a group called HOME, or Healing Ourselves and Mother Earth, said the draft report appears to completely ignore the idea of returning some portions of the site that are not contaminated to public use.

The groundwater concerns were cited both by Gary Hollis, chairman of the Nye County Commission, and Marta Adams, representing the Nevada Attorney General’s office.

Nye County Commission Chairman Gary Hollis. / Photo: Nevada News Bureau.

Hollis said Nye County’s efforts to tap into the uncontaminated groundwater on the site have consistently been opposed by the DOE. He said there should be some consideration of compensation for the loss of the resource due to the nuclear testing and other uses of the property.

While supporting the uses of the site for national security needs over the decades, the time has come for the DOE to return the water resources to the county, he said. The vast majority of the water is safe for public use, Hollis said.

“Not allowing Nye County access to water on the Nevada National Security Site is a big deal to us,” he said. “The ongoing impacts of denying access to the county is huge, and no compensation has been made for our loss of the access to that water.”

A final report is expected to be issued in the summer of 2012.

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Audio clips:

Nevada Nuclear Projects Chief Robert Halstead says the DOE proposes to ship low-level radioactive waste through urban Las Vegas:

092811Halstead1 :23 Las Vegas beltway.”

Halstead says it is not accurate to suggest that improvements made to urban Las Vegas highways make their use to transport low-level waste acceptable:

092811Halstead2 :15 not the case.”

Nye County Commission Chairman Gary Hollis says opposing Nye County’s use of groundwater from the former test site is a major issue:

092811Hollis1 :26 agencies, including DOE.”

Hollis says the impact to the county is huge:

092811Hollis2 :13 to that water.”