Posts Tagged ‘Nevada Test Site’

Nevada Cites Concerns With Transport Of Hazardous Waste In Response To Draft Plan For Former Test Site

By Sean Whaley | 2:00 am December 4th, 2011

CARSON CITY – A draft environmental statement addressing the future of the former Nevada Test Site appears to be setting the stage for the transportation of mixed hazardous and low-level radioactive waste to the site through heavily populated areas of Las Vegas, the state response to the document says.

The response, filed by Nevada Attorney General’s office after consultation with multiple state agencies, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, the Agency for Nuclear Projects and the Department of Transportation, says the draft document appears to be abandoning a long-standing agreement to use highway routes that avoid urban Las Vegas for the shipping of low-level radioactive waste. The agreement was made between then-Gov. Kenny Guinn and then-Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson.

The DOE has been using a portion of the site to bury low-level radioactive waste shipped to Nevada from other department sites from around the country for more than a decade.

Nevada officials also express concerns in their response that the discussion of groundwater contamination at what is now called the Nevada National Security Site is not adequate for assessing the loss of the resource due to underground nuclear testing at the site located about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The draft EIS also fails to identify any areas of the site that might be suitable for a return to public use, the state says in its 83-page response filed Friday with the U.S. Department of Energy.

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.

Subsidence craters from underground nuclear testing at what is now called the Nevada National Security Site. / Photo: U.S. Government via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday was the deadline to comment on the plan. A final report is expected to be issued by the DOE next year.

Joe Strolin, a consultant with the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, said in an interview Friday that a major emphasis from the state in its response is to get the DOE to move away from the use of the site for the disposal of hazardous and low-level radioactive waste.

Alternative energy development and even mineral extraction are potential uses of the site, he said. A new approach could greatly improve relations between the state and the DOE, Strolin said.

“If Yucca Mountain is off the table, it makes it a lot easier for elected officials – the governor, the attorney general, public officials – to approach these kinds of issues much more cooperatively,” he said.

The transportation issue is the major concern identified in the state response.

Under what is called the “unconstrained routing scenario” evaluated in the draft EIS, the Department of Energy is proposing to abdicate this agreement and allow shipments of low-level radioactive waste directly through the Interstate 15-U.S. Hwy. 95 interchange known as the Spaghetti Bowl, the state says. It would also allow the waste to be shipped over the new Hoover Dam bypass bridge and funnel waste into the Las Vegas metro area from the south.

The state “strongly opposes” shipments of waste through the urban Las Vegas area and the Hoover Dam bypass bridge, “and will aggressively contest any decision to undertake such shipments using all means available,” the response says.

Sandoval has also sent a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu objecting to this change to the 12-year-old agreement.

Strolin said an accident involving low-level radioactive waste, while remote, could cause both economic and public safety consequences for Southern Nevada.

“Even the perception of a radiological incident in that area could cause major problems for everyone,” he said. “That was the motivation in 1999 for moving the waste out of the Las Vegas valley.”

The reason for the proposed change is likely to save money, but the state has never received a clear answer to the question, he said.

Groundwater contamination, and the loss of this resource to the state, is the other major concern expressed in Nevada’s response to the draft EIS. The document does not fully assess the cumulative loss of groundwater due to the testing, the response says.

“Nor does the information contained in the draft EIS provide an adequate basis for evaluating the value of that resource which has been – and will continue to be – lost to present and future generations as a result of past, present and future contamination,” the state says.

The state response notes that the 2011 Legislature passed a resolution asking the attorney general’s office and state agencies to report to lawmakers in 2013 on whether Nevada could potentially receive financial compensation from the federal government for the environmental contamination, including groundwater contamination, at the site.

The EIS needs to provide, “a full and complete picture of the groundwater resource that has been removed from the public domain and rendered unavailable for beneficial use, the level and distribution of contamination of that resource, and the potential, if any, for future beneficial uses of the resource,” the state response says.

Strolin said the state would like to see more research on the issue as part of the final environmental report.

“So we had hoped that the EIS would do a better job of helping us to scope that out and it appears that it did not,” he said.

The groundwater issue is also a major concern of Nye County officials. Gary Hollis, chairman of the Nye County Commission, testified at a September public hearing on the document, saying 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.

“Not allowing Nye County access to water on the Nevada National Security Site is a big deal to us,” he said at the hearing. “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.”

The state response also says the draft EIS should address the potential for the freeing up of areas of the 1,375-square-mile secured site that are not needed for national security or other purposes.

“The final EIS should contain a section dealing specifically with the potential relinquishment of any areas of NNSS that are potentially reasonable candidates for return to the public domain,” the state says in its response.

-

Audio clips:

Joe Strolin with the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, says an incident in urban Las Vegas could cause major economic and public health problems:

120211Strolin1 :13 Las Vegas valley.”

Strolin says the state would like additional research and analysis in a variety of areas:

120211Strolin2 :20 will address them.”

Strolin says Nevada would like to see the DOE move away from the waste disposal mission:

120211Strolin3 :33 development out there.”

Strolin says with Yucca Mountain off the table, cooperation with the DOE will be much easier for Nevada officials:

120211Strolin4 :16 much more cooperatively.”

 

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

By Sean Whaley | 2:00 am September 29th, 2011

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.

-

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.”

 

 

 

 

Resolution Seeks Federal Government Discussion Over Water Contamination At Nevada Test Site

By Sean Whaley | 2:44 pm March 15th, 2011

CARSON CITY – Nevada is getting shortchanged from the federal government when it comes to addressing contamination from the underground nuclear weapons testing era, with the Nevada Test Site getting only a small amount of funding for cleanup efforts, a state lawmaker said today.

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, testified in support of his measure, Assembly Joint Resolution 5, which seeks discussions with the federal government over much-needed cleanup efforts from years of underground testing of nuclear weapons at the site northwest of Las Vegas that has resulted in massive groundwater contamination.

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart/Photo: Cathleen Allison/NevadaPhotoSource.com

The resolution is supported by 19 other lawmakers.

Now called the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), the facility was used from 1951 to 1992 to detonate hundreds of nuclear warheads, most of them underground, Goedhart told the members of the Assembly Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining Committee.

“Each explosion deposited a toxic load of radioactivity into the ground and in some cases directly into the aquifer,” he said. “The underground contamination under the NNSS is the most significant contamination in the country.”

Even so, “the Department of Energy has ranked Nevada at the very bottom of its priority list for cleaning up major sites in the nuclear weapons complex,” Goedhart said. “The test site only receives about $65 million a year out of DOE’s nuclear cleanup budget. Contrast this paltry sum to the $1.8 billion spent annually cleaning up the Hanford plutonium production site in Washington state.”

Nevada’s contamination is 1,000 times worse than at Hanford, he said.

Nye County consulting hydrogeologist Tom Buqo has estimated the underground tests have polluted 1.6 trillion gallons of water, as much as the Southern Nevada Water District is allowed to draw from the Colorado River in 16 years, Goedhart said.

“The federal government needs to ‘man up’ and either clean up, or pay up,” he said.

Darrell Lacy, director of community development for Nye County, also testified in support of the resolution, saying the contaminated waters cannot be used for economic development. When Nye County sought uncontaminated water on and adjacent to the test site, the applications were opposed by the U.S. Dept of Energy. Most of the applications were denied by the Nevada State Engineer, and they are currently on appeal, he said.

The concern is that pumping groundwater might accelerate the movement of contaminated groundwater from the test site, Lacy said.

Goedhart said water is in short supply in Southern Nevada, so having a large amount of it contaminated is a serious economic problem for the region. He could not put a dollar value on the water, saying the intent of the resolution is to raise awareness of the federal government’s inequity to Nye County and Nevada.

Several other speakers, including Kyle Davis, political director for the Nevada Conservation League, and Nancy Scott, representing the League of Women Voters, testified in support of the resolution.

No one spoke in opposition.

The committee did not immediately act on the measure.

Audio clips:

Assemblyman Ed Goedhart says underground testing contaminated groundwater at the Nevada Test Site:

031511Goedhart1 :23 into the aquifer.”

Goedhart says Nevada is at the bottom of the federal government’s priority list for cleanup:

031511Goedhart2 :10 nuclear weapons complex.’

Goedhart says the Hanford site in Washington gets far more money:

031511Goedhart3 :17 in Washington state.”

Goedhart says the federal government needs to clean up the site or pay up:

031511Goedhart4 :05 pay up, thank-you.”