For More Information Contact -- State of Nevada, Nuclear Waste Projects Office, Capitol Complex, Carson City NV 89710 (702-687-3744, FAX 702-687-5277):
NO ACTION ALTERNATIVE
RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PLAN
NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH PARK
TIMBER MOUNTAIN CALDERA
RADIONUCLIDE SOURCE TERMS
SPECIAL CASE WASTE (SCW)
BIG EXPLOSIVE EXPERIMENTAL FACILITY
The sole commendable component of this draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Nevada Test Site (NTS) is Volume 2, Framework for Resource Management Plan (RMP). This alone reflects the ongoing environmental policy changes occurring within the Department of Energy (DOE). The remainder of the draft EIS is poorly conceived and executed in the manner typical of many of DOE's National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) compliance documents. The scientific, methodological, and empirical aspects of Volume 1 of the EIS are deficient well beyond acceptable professional standards for environmental impact assessment and NEPA compliance. Documentation concerning the conceptual bases and methodologies used for assessing impacts is exceedingly poor throughout the EIS. Omissions, oversights, discrepancies, and contradictions are commonplace. In addition, by not putting forth a proposed action in the EIS while simultaneously distorting the No Action Alternative, DOE has served only to encumber the State's ability to conduct a detailed review of the potential environmental impacts of the numerous alternatives and actions under consideration.
Furthermore, omissions of data and information throughout the draft EIS reflect a lack of attention concerning the use of documented environmental information that is readily available. The potential extent of this oversight repeatedly undermines any confidence that DOE may wish reviewers of the EIS to gain. More seriously, the obvious shortcomings contained in the draft EIS seem to reflect a lack of concern for truthfulness and openness regarding stakeholder interests in DOE's current and future management of the NTS.
The State's comments were mindfully crafted so that objections to the document are clearly articulated. We believe that the remedies necessary for rendering the Final EIS acceptable will require textual changes throughout the body of the document. Major points and highlights of particular concern to the State's review of the subject EIS are presented in this summary.
NO ACTION ALTERNATIVE
A review of the existing public land orders that established the NTS clearly show that certain activities proposed in the EIS are inconsistent with both the purpose and intent of those orders. For example, the NTS was not established to serve as a waste disposal site for off-site generated defense wastes. In fact, the description of the NTS waste management program described under Alternative 2 ( Discontinue Operations - Section 18.104.22.168) aptly describes the type of on-site disposal program that would be remotely consistent with the existing site mission stipulated under the public land orders.
In the State's scoping comments for this EIS, we indicated that "the only action appropriately described as no action at the NTS includes only national defense and nuclear weapons testing activities defined under the public land orders as consented to by the State of Nevada for the NTS withdrawal." We further stated that the activities described by DOE in its Notice of Intent as "No Action" was in fact "Expanded Use." The State's position on this issue has not changed. Hence, receipt of waste from out-of-state waste generators can only be assessed in the EIS as "Expanded Use," not as part of the site's continuing current operations.
In a related matter, State officials insist that DOE must safeguard future generations from exposure to radioactive contamination at the NTS. Such prevention, moreover, can only be achieved through permanent control of the contaminated surface and subsurface areas at the site. To achieve such safeguards, however, exclusive federal jurisdiction of these contaminated areas must be acquired in perpetuity. Alternatively, the only activities that can be performed on the NTS are those that were originally consented to by the Nevada Legislature, and/or activities that may not require exclusive jurisdiction.
In addition, as the original weapons testing activities are phased out, the site must be "cleaned" to meet natural background radiation levels and returned to public land status. However, since "cleanup" to active natural background conditions is not proposed, the EIS must discuss how DOE intends to acquire exclusive jurisdiction over certain NTS lands, given the constitutional requirement that exclusive jurisdiction may only be acquired in the manner set forth in Art. I, Section 8, Clause 17 of the United States Constitution. Of particular interest to Nevada in this regard is the requirement that DOE obtain the consent of the Nevada Legislature in order to acquire exclusive jurisdiction over the particular sites.
If the DOE intends to exercise less than exclusive jurisdiction, however, then the EIS must propose alternatives and actions that discuss the rationale upon which DOE bases its assumption that it can accomplish the isolation of contamination and radioactive waste at the site while preventing human intrusion. These are important considerations for the State, since it is the State's responsibility to protect the health and welfare of its residents.
RESOURCE MANAGEMENT PLAN
The relationship of the Framework for Resource Management Plan (RMP) to the remainder of the EIS should be stated early in Volume 1. An explanation is needed on DOE's changing environmental policy that involves resource stewardship and ecosystem management. Much of this information is contained in Volume 2. However, both volumes of the draft EIS fail to acknowledge DOE policies regarding ecosystem-based initiatives, comprehensive land use planning, life cycle asset management, and resourceful reuse of DOE-controlled lands. In addition, Volume 2 of the draft EIS should be strengthened by discussing the concepts of resource stewardship and sustainable development implied by DOE's Land and Facility Use Policy. This should include the role to be played by ecosystem management, especially regarding conservation of undisturbed land as an important resource for future development by DOE. The concept of the health of ecosystems like those of the NTS and surrounding areas being tied to soil-water-biota interactions also is directly associated with the importance of minimizing site disturbances as a means of conserving undisturbed land.
Also, State officials contend that the Record of Decision for the EIS should contain a schedule for implementing the RMP. By including such a schedule, DOE will demonstrate an enforceable commitment to the RMP process. This commitment will ensure that new facilities are sited using a systematic approach that will sustain and preserve the natural environment at NTS.
A discussion is needed early in Volume 1 on the reasons the portion of the NTS dedicated to the Yucca Mountain Project and the project itself are excluded from the EIS. The EIS should make use of the environmental studies conducted by the Yucca Mountain Project. This information is extensive and addresses many of the database gaps that exist for the NTS, such as soil productivity, revegetation success, and natural rehabilitation.
NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL RESEARCH PARK
The National Environmental Research Park program at the NTS and the activities involved should be included in the EIS. This is a major omission from the draft EIS.
TIMBER MOUNTAIN CALDERA
More information is needed regarding the Timber Mountain Caldera National Natural Landmark, such as what this designation signifies, environmental studies already performed or planned for the area, and DOE activities that have occurred within the landmark boundaries.
The Final EIS must contain a discussion about the Department's plan to address the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board's Recommendation 94-2. That recommendation outlines problems and issues concerning DOE's low-level radioactive waste management and disposal program. DOE's subsequent response to the Board's recommendations (i.e., DOE's implementation plan), as well as a discussion of pending revisions and changes to the Department's waste management order (5820.2A) should be discussed in the Final EIS. These discussions are particularly relevant concerning DOE's potential plans to proceed with a co-disposal decision for dissimilar waste types at the NTS. Dissimilar wastes classified as low-level, special case, or other wastes considered not appropriate for shallow land burial (i.e., high activity low-level waste, transuranic waste, etc. ) are considered under the EIS Expanded Use Alternative for disposal in a single contiguous facility at the NTS Area 5 disposal site. To proceed with such an action, State officials contend that DOE must address the problems associated with the "composite effects" defined by the Board's recommendation 94-2 (i.e., the disposal sites' ability to meet performance objectives for confining future, current, and pre-1988 waste from the biosphere). The State also contends that before any more waste is disposed at either Area 3 or Area 5, DOE must complete a performance assessment for each site. Only then would DOE be in compliance with its own waste management orders.
Failure to address these disposal issues could subject federal decision makers to consider actions that may harm the environment and thus create unpredictable health risks for future generations. In other words, avoiding action concerning the Board's recommended detailed composite performance analysis will likely cause additive risks through additional waste disposal, which might cause unknown and unpredictable environmental impacts to the human and natural environments.
RADIONUCLIDE SOURCE TERMS
More detailed information is needed on radiological source terms and surface contamination throughout all environmental media at the NTS, including the locations where radionuclide levels exceed regulatory standards. This includes the Tonopah Test Range, the Project Shoal Area, and the Central Nevada Test Area. The EIS provides certain data which indicates that nearly 40 percent of the source term at the site is bound up in the groundwater. However, statements in the EIS suggest that there is considerable uncertainty about the actual quantity of radioactivity that could enter the groundwater in the future by the release of radionuclides from the melt glass and cavity rubble within each shot cavity. While the EIS suggests that future studies are needed to reduce the current levels of uncertainty concerning both the mechanisms and consequences of radionuclide transport via groundwater flow at the NTS, no information is provided about the radionuclide source term that is contained in soils above the water table (i.e., in the unsaturated zone).
State officials do acknowledge that DOE has sponsored two long-term studies concerning potential movement of radionuclides beneath the NTS: the Hydrologic Resources Management Program and the Long-Term Hydrologic Monitoring Program. However, initial conclusions from these programs are muddled, and results to date were not discussed in detail in the EIS. Finally, the EIS suggests that there are over 200 significantly contaminated surface areas that collectively occupied 52 square miles, yet the EIS fails to provide a detailed map or suitable listing of these areas. Because radiological contamination is one of the primary environmental impacts caused by nuclear testing, the Final EIS must provide this information.
SPECIAL CASE WASTE (SCW)
The Department of Energy's NEPA compliance strategy for the management and disposition of SCW and its relationship to the NTS EIS must be clarified in the Final EIS. State officials are aware that SCW has been disposed at NTS in the past. Yet DOE has never conducted either a programmatic or site-specific NEPA analysis for the management and disposition of this waste type. SCW is generally long-lived, contains high concentrations of radionuclides, and thus represents a significant threat to human health and the environment. SCW must be isolated from the biosphere for thousands of years.
The NTS EIS contains language that clearly indicates that the disposal capability at NTS for wastes defined as "inappropriate for shallow land disposal" (i.e., SCW) will be increased under Alternative 3, Expanded Use. State officials assume that this refers to expanding waste disposal through the "greater confinement disposal boreholes concept" and/or other deep trenches at the Area 5 disposal facility.
Accordingly, if either the Area 5 or Area 3 disposal sites at NTS are considered for confinement of SCW, the difficulties associated with meeting the waste acceptance criteria for dissimilar waste types must be acknowledged and assessed. Additionally, DOE must complete a programmatic analysis at the weapons complex level that evaluates alternative storage and disposition strategies for SCW. In fact, State officials understand that alternatives for storage and disposal of DOE's SCW, along with Greater-Than-Class-C waste (GTCC), will be evaluated in a forthcoming Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement tiered from DOE's Waste Management Programmatic EIS. This EIS will likely consider a disposal strategy which proposes co-disposal of SCW with GTCC waste in a single NRC-licensed disposal facility. This is an important policy consideration for Nevadans, since the proposed repository at Yucca Mountain would be one of the candidate disposal sites for such an activity. This NTS EIS fails, however, to discuss any of these issues. Hence, DOE's NEPA compliance strategy for the management and disposition of SCW waste and its relationship to the NTS EIS must be clarified.
The basis for finding no adverse impacts should be given in each case, and the data to substantiate the finding should be cited. The draft EIS relies far too much on unsubstantiated subjective judgement that has no basis in fact. This shortcoming occurs even where scientific and technical information for a topic exists. Credible attention to impact assessment methods and analyses is lacking in the draft EIS, and where methods are cited, their usefulness for assessing environmental impacts is questionable. Current state-of-the-art environmental assessment methodologies should be adopted by DOE for the NTS EIS.
The coverage of cumulative impacts in the EIS is unnecessarily deficient with respect to methods of analysis, and none of the analyses discussed are empirically based. While there is a considerable body of DOE literature regarding methods for analyzing cumulative environmental impacts, it appears that none of this literature was used in the EIS. The presentations of cumulative impacts in the EIS are subjective in nature and thus unacceptable, given current scientific approaches for assessing cumulative environmental impacts.
A determination of whether actions are cumulative should be focused on the proposed action defined in the EIS instead of on several loosely defined alternatives or other unrelated factors. Since DOE has chosen not to put forth a specific proposed action in the draft EIS, and given the variable content of the existing alternatives, the Department's presentation of potential cumulative impacts is understandably deficient. This is unfortunate, since certain "reasonably foreseeable future actions", such as massive increases in low-level and mixed waste shipments (from 6,800 to 25,000 shipments in ten years) along with shipments of special nuclear materials are conceivable and should have been subjected to a detailed cumulative impact analysis in the EIS. However, no such analysis is provided. The potential cumulative impacts from the transportation, treatment, storage, and disposal of both radioactive waste and special nuclear materials are simply not assessed in the draft EIS. Evidently, DOE has decided that no cumulative human health risks or risks to the environment would occur from these and other reasonably foreseeable future actions within the region of influence of the NTS. For example, no mention is made of how cumulative impacts from the Yucca Mountain Project will be considered, and the claim that the evaluation of such impacts will be tied to those in the NTS EIS rings hollow in the face of the inadequacies of the draft EIS. Accordingly, if a proposed action for the Final EIS is adopted that includes the transportation, treatment, and storage/disposal of special nuclear materials and radioactive waste at the NTS, then an objective, scientifically based cumulative impact analysis must be prepared.
The treatment of the possible socioeconomic effects from NTS activities for all of the alternatives is wholly inadequate. The draft EIS presents an overly optimistic picture of the "economic" implications of proposed alternatives and is entirely silent with respect to the "socio" or social/cultural/political impacts, which, in the case of controversial activities such as those proposed for NTS, can be very significant.
The analysis of economic effects focuses solely on those effects that are driven by employment and population increases resulting from various alternatives, and then does so only with respect to their potentially positive contributions to state and local economics. Such analysis is almost irrelevant, since, even for the most ambitious alternative, job and population growth related to NTS are not projected to be more than 1% of the total for Clark County and just a fraction of 1% for the State of Nevada. Even for Nye County, NTS-related population growth, job growth, and revenue impacts are relatively small (e.g., 3% or so increase in jobs in 2005) since most workers and their families are projected to live in Clark County.
What the EIS fails to assess, and what must be included in the Final EIS if economic impacts to affected jurisdictions and the State as a whole are to be adequately evaluated, are the implications of projected NTS population increases (related to employment) that do not pay for themselves in terms of the revenue (taxes, fees, etc.) generated. NTS-related growth has the potential to cause negative impacts in a variety of "standard" economic areas. While most types of economic growth and diversification are viewed positively in Nevada, one result of the State's rapid growth is that public services and facilities are already under considerable stress. Nevada's tax structure is such that any growth that does not directly increase the contribution of revenues from visitors (i.e., sales and gaming taxes) will not pay its own way, except for mining with its legislative revenue tax. In recent years, the phenomenal growth of gaming and tourism has kept pace with other forms of development and population growth. However, it cannot be assumed that this will remain true into the next century. These standard economic effects associated with additional NTS-related population growth could, therefore, generate negative fiscal impacts for state and local jurisdictions in the event that tourism/gaming growth fails to maintain its current rate of increase. (As was seen during the recession in the early 1990's, gaming/tourism does not have to actually decline for serious negative consequences to occur. The rate of growth merely needs to slow.)
The most significant omission in the draft EIS with respect to socioeconomic impact assessment, however, is the lack of any attempt to identify potential impacts to the State that could result from the stigmatizing effects of various NTS activities, particularly those involving nuclear, hazardous, toxic, and related materials. Research conducted by the State of Nevada has demonstrated that nuclear-related activities (i.e., storage facilities, radioactive materials transportation, etc.) have the potential to result in significant socioeconomic impacts at all levels within the state, from the local communities to the state government. These effects originate in intense negative perceptions and avoidance behaviors by the public in response to nuclear facilities/activities which, combined with the unique vulnerability of the Nevada economy to changes in its public image, could produce large negative impacts. The great public and media interest in things nuclear makes it almost certain that any association with these negative perceptions will adversely affect Nevada's attempts to attract tourists, conventions, retirees and other in-migration, and new business investments. This could be especially troublesome in the event of a nuclear waste accident that was in or near Las Vegas, one of the world's major tourist destinations and the dominant contributor to Nevada's economy and tax revenues. While there is considerable uncertainty about the federal government's ability to manage radioactive materials safely and about future public responses to accidents and events, it is clear that over the last half century, the public has developed a very strong aversion to such wastes and the facilities associated with them. The conclusion of the Nevada researchers who have studied the issue is that, under certain circumstances, stigma impacts could be very negative and very large.
The existing research on stigma effects and potential impacts provides a viable theoretical and methodological base so that DOE should be able to provide a detailed assessment of these types of impacts on Nevada's economy, public revenues, public services, and community quality of life. These assessments should take into account the increasingly competitive gaming and tourist marketplaces and the important role that any negative perceptions could have. It is very possible that through the social amplification of risk process even relatively minor events or accidents could have serious economic consequences. Such impacts could dwarf any expected benefits derived from NTS employment and spending. Such "stigma" effects of NTS activities will be reflected in "standard" economic, fiscal, and other impacts that can be characterized in the same units of measurement as standard effects, such as tourist visitations causing employment, tax revenues, and other social responses. In fact, the standard and stigma impacts should be seen as interacting forces working on the same social-economic system. It is essential that the NTS EIS thoroughly assess "standard" and "stigma" impacts in a comprehensive and integrated manner.
Research has also shown that there is widespread opposition to radioactive waste disposal and transportation based on health and safety concerns, the potential threats to the economy, the creation of divisive policy issues, distrust of the Department of Energy, and the fear of diminished quality of life. This public opposition is itself an impact that the EIS must address, together with the implications for long-term socioeconomic disruptions that may derive from it.
Insufficient use has been made by DOE of cooperating federal agencies for input into the NTS EIS. This is apparent in both Volume 1 and Volume 2 of the draft EIS, especially with regard to ecosystem management policies and activities of the agencies of the Department of Interior.
BIG EXPLOSIVE EXPERIMENTAL FACILITY
The purpose of the Project-Specific Environmental Analysis for the Big Explosives Experimental Facility should be clarified, including the status of NEPA compliance for the facility. The information presented in the draft EIS does not include impact analyses. It appears that DOE is attempting to satisfy NEPA requirements for this facility through the NTS EIS, rather than tiering, as required by federal regulations (CEQ 1508.28).
A review of the classified appendix of the EIS was undertaken by a qualified State official, and it was determined that the impact analyses of certain classified activities at the Lyner facility were incorporated in the overall evaluation of impacts assessed in the NTS EIS. The analyses of potential long-term impacts of classified activities to the vadose zone are representative of the analysis presented in the EIS for other proposed defense testing activities at the site. In reference to potential human health and safety impacts associated with activities at the Lyner complex, the risk assessment for the Defense Assembly Facility adequately bounds the potential above-ground risks and impacts.
The approach to estimating human health consequences presented in the EIS excludes the role of humans in the environment. The Final EIS must allow readers the ability to comprehend how health effects findings and conclusions are reached in a credible scientific manner. In addition, there is no attention given in the EIS to the transport of contaminants within ecosystems and landscapes. This requires an ecosystem approach to managing resources at the site and should be described in Volume 2 of the EIS as a benefit to be derived from ecosystem-based management activities. The relevance of this to the DOE's environmental restoration program should be emphasized.
The EIS failed to provide a sufficiently detailed description of the transportation activities associated with each proposed alternative. Such information is needed to allow State and local officials and other affected parties the ability to accurately assess the on-site and off-site transportation risks and impacts of each alternative. Detailed transportation information is especially important for assessing the risks and impacts of materials and waste shipments under Alternatives 1 and 3. Furthermore, for each alternative, the EIS did not fully describe expected shipments of the following categories of hazardous materials to and from NTS: (1) special nuclear materials; (2) radioactive and mixed wastes; (3) conventional explosives, non-nuclear weapons, and munitions; (4) petroleum products, including liquefied petroleum gases; and (5) all other hazardous materials regulated under the Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act.
The EIS also failed to provide a detailed inventory of expected shipments within each category. For example, under radioactive materials, specific information was not provided on expected shipments for the following materials listed in Chapter 3.0: nuclear weapons; plutonium pits; nuclear weapons components; weapons-usable fissile material; transuranic wastes; transuranic mixed wastes; other radioactive materials requiring shipment in Type B packages; low-level radioactive wastes; and low-level mixed wastes.
If DOE adopts a proposed action for the Final EIS that includes the transportation of any of these nuclear materials and radioactive wastes, then a cumulative impact analysis for transportation must be prepared that covers the combined functions of DOE's Environmental Management and Defense Program activities at the NTS. At a minimum, this must include transportation information for each specific material. The information must include: (1) origin and destination; (2) quantity or volume shipped; (3) total radioactivity and maximum radioactivity per individual shipment; (4) shipping container characteristics and capacities; (5) shipment mode or modes; (6) transportation service options; (7) carrier qualifications and selection procedures; (8) shipment route or routes; (9) cumulative shipment miles; and (10) timing of shipments.
As presently written, the EIS provides useful information on only two of the twelve types of radioactive materials that could be shipped to NTS under Alternatives 1 and 3, low-level radioactive waste(LLW) and low-level mixed waste. The EIS does not even attempt, however, to provide comparable information on the other, more highly radioactive materials or on high-hazard, non-radioactive materials that would be shipped to NTS under Alternatives 1 and 3. State officials note that such information has been disclosed and assessed by DOE in other comparable EIS documents
Because the EIS fails to provide basic information on most of the hazardous materials expected to be shipped to NTS, it is not possible to fully evaluate the transportation risk assessment provided in the Transportation Study. It is clear, however, that the transportation risk calculations used in the Transportation Study [Appendix I], and summarized in the EIS, Table 3-5 [pp.3-41], apply only to shipments of low-level radioactive and mixed wastes. As mentioned above, this analysis will need to be expanded, depending on the proposed action selected in the Final EIS.
With regard to the Transportation Study, the reported risks associated with off-site transportation accidents involving low-level radioactive and mixed waste cannot be verified based on the information provided. In particular, the Transportation Study fails to provide a detailed discussion of the consequences of a maximum credible severe accident or terrorist incident involving release of radioactive materials. Given the EIS's deficient transportation risk analysis, it is not surprising that it fails to adequately address the perceived risk impacts which may result from transportation activities under Alternatives 1 and 3. Large-scale shipments of low-level radioactive and mixed wastes along Nevada highway routes, especially through the Las Vegas Valley, may potentially cause significant adverse socioeconomic and cultural impacts even if no accidents occur. The current level of shipments to NTS has already caused widespread public concern in Clark County. The potential socioeconomic and cultural impacts resulting from shipments of more highly radioactive materials, particularly under Alternative 3, could be very significant. The EIS must address these impacts.
Finally, the EIS must clearly provide for a process by which routes are identified for shipping low-level waste, mixed LLW, Special Case Waste, and special nuclear materials to NTS. State officials contend that it is not acceptable to leave routing decisions solely to each carrier's discretion. DOE must commit to stipulating, by means of contract requirements with carriers, routes or segments of routes that cannot be used for waste and nuclear materials shipments to NTS.
The State of Nevada has analyzed this issue and has determined that the use of contract provisions that require adherence to routing preferences is not in violation of any federal or state law or regulation dealing with radioactive or hazardous materials route designations. DOE, as the shipper of these materials (or the facility operator acting on behalf of DOE), may incorporate provisions into contracts with carriers that require the carrier to perform in specified ways. As long as DOE is not attempting to bind contractors/carriers to provisions that are illegal or in violation of existing regulations, there is nothing to prohibit DOE from using the contracting process to enforce the use of routes that are acceptable to DOE/NTS stakeholders (i.e., affected local governments and sovereign nations impacted by shipments to NTS).
The State has further determined that the process by which DOE is permitted to solicit and award contracts can readily accommodate the requirement that carriers use certain routes or avoid certain unacceptable segments of routes. Doing so may mean that DOE will need to forego the use of general freight for shipments of LLW and other materials to NTS for disposal, although it is not altogether clear that DOE cannot reach needed accommodations with carriers using general freight. If such accommodation is not possible, DOE should commit to the use of contract carriers that are willing to bid on and enter into contracts that contains stipulations with respect to shipment routing, even if that means incurring additional costs. State officials believe that DOE should commit to such a process in the Record of Decision for the EIS.