The Impacts of Sabotage and Terrorism on Nuclear Waste Shipments: A Critique of the U. S. Department of Energy's Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DOE/EIS-0250D) for the Proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada, Geological Repository


Abstract of Analysis and Review

The following report represents an analysis of the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for the proposed Yucca Mountain repository. The United States Department of Energy (DOE) published this report in July 1999. This document (DOE/EIS-0250D) represents an effort by the DOE to provide information on the potential impacts of the construction of a nuclear waste disposal/storage facility at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, transportation of the radioactive materials that compromise its inventory, monitoring of this inventory and the eventual closure of this geological repository.

This review focuses on transportation-related details relative to sabotage and terrorism. Sabotage is generally considered motivated behavior intended to create disruptions in a work or social environment. Terrorism is generally defined as politically motivated actions designed to create fear within a social setting.

In particular, details from Section 6 and Appendix J of the DEIS are referenced, analyzed and an alternative perspective is put forward. This review presupposes that the reader has knowledge of the overall structure of the DOE Yucca Mountain program and relevant transportation issues associated with this project.


This analysis represents an analytical synthesis applicable to the proposed action, shipment program and transportation issues relative to movement of nuclear wastes to the proposed Yucca facility. These comments reference Section 6 and Appendix J of the overall DEIS and focus on those issues relative to sabotage and terrorism against shipments. Besides general comments about the overall program, this analysis will focus on three specific stages of the transportation effort: loading, transport and unloading.

Several issues must be recognized prior to undertaking this review. First, the DEIS was written using safeguard assumptions that may not be current. For example, the DOE assumes that current regulations relative to safeguards (i.e., Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations, 10 CFR Part 73) are sufficient in scope to remediate the risks associated with this highly visible transportation effort. Several recent research efforts undertaken by the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects and independent scholars suggest that the DOE’s methodology of assessing the risks severely underestimate the risks associated with sabotage and terrorism against radioactive shipments. The limited scope of this review document does not allow for a complete remuneration of the methodological limitations of the DOE’s analysis, but several limitations are suggested herein and as they pertain to Section 6 and Appendix J of the DEIS.

The second issue that must be recognized is that an academic review of documents like the DEIS should generally focus on what is contained within the document and not on what was left out by the authors. This analytical philosophy assumes that the authors of the document to be reviewed included sufficient discussion and alternatives to allow for critical analysis. Unfortunately, with respect to the issues surrounding the potential for sabotage and terrorism, the DOE has chosen to omit relevant issues and apparently base this omission on the perceived rigor of current regulations. With the exception of several paragraphs in Section 6 and Appendix J, the DOE completely discounts the potential effects of human initiated actions against shipments of radioactive cargoes. Even within the brief discussion of relevant issues offered within the DEIS, the DOE underestimates the consequences of a successful act of terrorism or sabotage. The author of this review believes this is a critical omission of the DEIS and may be a serious violation of the public trust by the DOE.

To offer constructive critique of the DEIS and to help create an alternative to the flawed presentation contained within this document, this review will focus on several of those issues left unattended by the DOE. The organization of the analysis will be as follows: initial loading of materials; point to point transfer; unloading at the final destination; and general comments.

Initial loading of radioactive shipments:

Section 6 and Appendix J of the DEIS fail to address the potential for human initiated risks associated with the loading process. The existing analysis assumes that no human initiated risks (sabotage or terrorism) are risk factors. This is a critical omission in the DEIS. In fact, if one makes a cursory review of NRC’s Safeguards Summary Event List (SSEL) it becomes clear that sabotage is a much more common practice in nuclear related facilities than the public would assume and clearly a known factor transportation planners should address. In particular, the level of human initiated activities documented in the SSEL clearly suggests that the loading operations will not be without incident.

Several risk categories should be addressed by the DEIS and incorporated by transportation safeguard planners. First, those risks that fall into workplace dangers should be incorporated in the assessment. These include the potential effects of such factors as firearms on the loading facility; workplace violence; and the use of alcohol and/or drugs by loading personal. These risks are relatively minor and existing regulations, if enforced by the DOE and/or contractors, should be manageable. The second category of risks, terrorism and sabotage acts, would include such activities as intrusions, trespassing, vandalism, arson, and bomb related incidents. The potential for such human interventions into the transportation effort of radioactive wastes, and the potential accessibility of shipments at this initial stage of transport, require the DOE address these issues in the DEIS. Little or no formal recognition of these risks is incorporated within the current document.

Point to point transfer:

Section 6 and Appendix J of the DEIS fail to address the potential for human initiated risks associated with the point to point transfer of nuclear wastes from existing facilities to a central geologic repository. The DOE’s assumption that no human initiated risks like sabotage or terrorism should be factored into the DEIS is a critical omission.

These omissions follow a pattern. The DOE has repeated failed to address the concerns expressed by the State of Nevada and independent researchers focusing on the transportation risks associated with the massive transfer of nuclear wastes to the Yucca facility. Critical to any discussion of the transportation risks associated with the Yucca facility would be a formal recognition of the potential for terrorism and sabotage during the point to point transfer of these materials.

In particular, the DEIS does not address such risk factors as the potential symbolic and highly visible nature of shipments; the shipment schedule, including duration and frequency; the predictability of waste shipments and the safety and security risks such regularity poses; and the changing demographics of the country during the shipment timeframe. Terrorism is a highly symbolic activity. Planners must understand the symbolic value of the target to plan for potential human initiated events. The fact that the federal government is the primary agent of this transportation effort and that these transfers will be highly visible both physically and symbolically, should demand that transportation planners recognize terrorism and sabotage as risk factors. The State of Nevada, private contractors and independent research have addressed these issues and the complete failure of the DEIS to address these concerns is a serious omission.

In addition to the more theoretical issues associated with security and safeguards regarding the point to point transfer of nuclear wastes, several practical issues are missing from the DEIS document. The dated computer code found within the risk assessment programs used in the DEIS suggest that the DOE does not take the risk of accidents, let alone human initiated actions, seriously. The RISKIND and RADTRAN4 models are seriously outdated and do not use contemporary and readily available upgrades like GIS, or weather prediction models, to factor in easily predictable potential risks. Given the frequency, duration and relatively predictable nature of shipments, such a complete disregard for updating the risk assessment technology suggests a poor-planning effort. Needed is an updating of these computer codes to factor in geographically disadvantageous points along the most likely routes and associated prevailing weather patterns that may increase risks. Without such updates the DEIS is seriously flawed and its predictive value diminished.

Lastly, the complete lack of analysis within the DEIS relative to demographic migration, economic development patterns and population shift data must be corrected. Over the extended period of time this program will transpire, these shifts may seriously impact the potential routes and methodologies currently used to evaluate risks. Any responsible risk assessment of radiological release effects should be recomputed to account for such shifts in population and economic development activity. In relation to sabotage and terrorism, such shifts in population centers and demographics may increase the number of potential target areas, victims and adversaries.

The DEIS fails to even tangentially address these serious concerns about the potential for terrorism against shipments of nuclear waste. Glossing over these concerns by using outdated risk assessment models or just ignoring the issues raised by various stakeholders is a serious omission in the DEIS. One suggestion would be for the DOE to incorporate a standardized human initiated event analysis during preparation of all environmental assessments (EA's) and/or draft or final environmental assessment statements (DEIS/EIS's). This presupposes a formal recognition by the DOE of the risks that human initiated events pose to shipments of nuclear materials. In particular, the DOE should revise their guidelines for the preparation of EA and EIS documents to formalize and standardize the analysis of these risk categories.

Unloading of shipments:

Section 6 and Appendix J of the DEIS fails to address the potential for human initiated risks associated with the unloading process. In fact these two sections do not address the unloading issue at all. Assuming that no human initiated risks like sabotage or terrorism exist, is a critical omission in the DEIS. Following the loading analysis above, human initiated activity relative to unloading these shipments should not be assumed to be without risks and must be analyzed in the preparation of DOE EA and EIS analysis documents.

Several risk categories for the unloading efforts should be addressed by the DEIS and incorporated by transportation safeguard planners. First, those risks that fall into workplace dangers should be incorporated in the assessment. These include the potential effects of such factors as firearms in the workplace, workplace violence, and the use of alcohol and/or drugs by unloading personal. These risks are relatively minor and existing regulations, if enforced by the DOE and/or contractors, should render them manageable. The second category of risks, terrorism and sabotage acts, would include such activities as intrusions, trespassing, vandalism, arson, and bomb related incidents. The potential for such human interventions into the unloading of radioactive wastes require the DOE address these in the DEIS. Similar concerns should also be placed on the intermodal transfer stations currently under consideration.

General comments:

The DEIS has serious flaws and omissions. The discussion above and the following general notes regarding Section 6 and Appendix J provide evidence of some of these flaws. The following suggestions and recommendations are strategic in nature and intended to help guide the discussion on what should be included in the DEIS.

Foremost among the strategic critiques is the complete failure of the DOE to recognize human initiated events as risk factors associated with the loading, transportation and unloading of radioactive waste shipments. This overriding denial philosophy is evidenced in the complete lack of critical or even antidotal discussion of sabotage and terrorism within Section 6 and Appendix J of the DEIS. The final revision of the EIS should incorporate a formal recognition of these factors and actually offer critical analysis of the whole program based on this recognition.

This review has noted several shortcoming, omissions and faulty assumptions within the DEIS. This review will conclude with several relevant recommendations for the DOE and authors of the DEIS.

First, the authors of the DEIS should admit the existence of risks from sabotage and terrorism. They should also plan for sabotage and terrorism as potentially serious problems for the transportation of nuclear wastes. The symbolic value of these shipments as targets and the regularity, frequency and duration of shipments increase the risks of human initiated events. Currently, no plans exist that address these risks.

Secondly, the loading, transfer and unloading efforts should be recognized as vulnerable to sabotage and terrorism attacks. These risks should be addressed in the DEIS and adoption of new regulations designed to limit the effects of human initiated events should be designed into the planning phase of the overall shipment program.

Thirdly, the complete point to point shipment process needs to be recomputed using updated technology and more realistic expectations for the potential of sabotage and terrorism attacks. The State of Nevada has begun this process by publishing several relevant documents on target typologies and risks associated with potential adversaries. Recognition of these concerns, analysis of the risks associated with terrorism and the addition of actual planning designed to control for these risks must be incorporated within the final draft of the EIS.

Comments Relative to Section 6

The comments below represent initial analytical reactions to the proposed action, shipment program and transportation issues relative to movement of nuclear wastes to the Yucca facility. These comments reference Section 6 and the pages listed herein likewise reflect this portion of the overall DEIS.

The introduction to Section 6 details how this DEIS focuses on the loading of materials at seventy-seven commercial facilities and five DOE facilities. Additionally, national and Nevada level transportation activities are analyzed. Three areas not addressed include unloading activities, transfer activities, and similar analysis relative to all states effected by this transportation effort. It is reasonable to assume that up to 40 additional states will require a similar level of environmental impact assessment.

Section does not address the potential adverse socioeconomic effects of an unsuccessful or successful act of sabotage or terrorism. These effects could be economically detrimental to local and national level interests. Such an omission clearly discounts the potential effects of deliberate and malicious human interventions into the shipment process.

Section 6.2.1 should be revised to more clearly address the serious flaws in the analytical methodology (see Appendix J notes). Failure to update computer codes to account for advances in technology and computer processing capabilities (i.e., introduction of geographic information systems into the analysis or considering localized prevailing weather patterns) seriously under estimate the risks/impacts of the shipment program.

Section references loading accident scenarios. Conspicuously missing is an analysis of potential deliberate and malicious human interventions at this stage of the program. Additionally, the same or maybe even more serious issues should be addressed at the transfer and unloading stage of the program. Failure to recognize these issues underestimate the risks associated with the program. For a reasonable approximation of these types of potential impacts, the NRC’s SSEL should be used as a guide. Using SSEL inspired methodology, estimates of sabotage and terrorism related activies could be factored into the safety and security regulations associated with the Yucca program.

Section suggests that the "specific number, location and severity of an accident can be predicted only in general terms" (p. 6-27). The deliberate omission of human induced risks like terrorism and sabotage are a direct violation of the public trust. Considering such activies could be factored into the analysis using existing technology (i.e., GIS, SSEL) this omission demonstrates a clear violation of the duties of the DEIS drafters to reasonably address the health and welfare of the public.

On page 6-29 the DOE discounts the efforts of the Nuclear Waste Project Office (NWPO) to critique the modal study methodology. Nevada is not charged with creating radiological accident models and does not posses the expertise or resources to construct such models. The burden of proof exists at the federal level and it is disingenuous and counter-productive to suggest otherwise.

Page 6-29 also states that a peer evaluation of the risk model suggests that increasing the rigor of the analysis would lower the risk estimates calculated in the study. If this is true, then why has the DOE failed to construct rigorous models as a service to public health and safety? If is it true that such an analysis would demonstrate a decrease in the risks, then this should be motivation enough for DOE to conduct such analysis. The use of such terminology as "Maximum Reasonable Accident Scenarios" (p. 6-28) suggests that any critique of this methodology is ill founded and illogical. This is neither true nor reasonable. Exclusion of DEIS analysis for states along the transportation corridor, failure to address concerns expressed by the leading opponent of the Yucca project (Nevada) and a seemingly deliberate attempt to discount alternative discourse on the impacts (i.e. any discussion on terrorism) all demonstrate a pattern of exclusion by the DOE. Such reckless disregard for the public health and welfare is potentially harmful, actionable and not keeping with the role of public institutions in ensuring public safety.

In reaction to several critiques of the assessment methodology for sabotage consequences (section DOE contracted with Sandia National Laboratories to conduct an analysis of possible high energy explosive devices that may used against shipping casks. This research was conducted after years of neglect on this issue and its very late introduction into the DEIS further suggests that the results of this analysis were conducted ex-post-facto to the writing of the DEIS and thus not incorporated into the planning or analysis therein. The shear lack of information on terrorism and sabotage throughout the body of the massive DEIS document is testimony to this omission, as is the complete lack of comments addressing Nevada’s own research on the subject. The DEIS should not use the Sandia study as the primary basis of study relative to these issues because of four specific flaws in the study. First, Sandia and DOE underestimated the respirable release and the resulting human health effects by at least a factor of ten by refusing to acknowledge the likelihood that state-of-the-art explosive devices are available to attackers and would completely perforate a truck cask, and might also perforate a large rail cask. Secondly, Sandia and DOE fail to acknowledge that their calculated health effects following sabotage of a truck cask – 15 latent cancer fatalities resulting from a population dose of 31,000 person-rem – would constitute a localized radiological catastrophe of unprecedented proportions in the United States. Thirdly, Sandia and DOE fail to assess the implications of a successful sabotage incident for law enforcement, emergency response, and cleanup workers. Finally, Sandia and DOE completely ignore the socioeconomic impacts of a successful sabotage/terrorism incident, including the impacts of media coverage of such an event. 

Comments Relative to Appendix J

The comments below represent initial analytical reactions to the proposed action, actual shipment program and transportation issues relative to movement of nuclear wastes to the Yucca facility. These comments reference Appendix J and the pages listed herein likewise reflect this portion of the overall DEIS.

In the introduction to the appendix, the DEIS references three potential impacts. The focus of this analysis is on the radiological impacts (ref. p. J-1). One consideration would be to add a whole section to the DEIS and focus it on human initiated impacts. Such impacts could include the potential for sabotage and terrorism.

On page J-2, details of the methodological differences and limitations in the RISKIND and RADTRAN4 models should be noted. These programs do not accurately account for the prevailing weather patterns and/or geographic disadvantageous locations relative to potential sabotage and terrorism. Such an omission discounts the potential for such attacks and underestimates the potential impacts of a human initiated radiological release. Considering advances in geographic information systems (GIS) and weather modeling, these outdated programs need to be updated and the analysis recomputed.

The methodology of the RADTRAN 4 model (J-8) relative to release seems to ignore the potential for deliberate release caused by sabotage and terrorism. In such scenarios, the amount of radioactive materials released may exceed those calculated for accident scenarios. This would be a reasonable assumption if the sabotage or terrorist action were designed to release materials and/or used readily available weapons capable of cask penetration.

Section J.1.2.2 discusses training of local first responders and public safety officials. These training activities are expected to transpire four years prior to the onset of shipments. No discussions of the methods necessary to accomplish this task are included. In fact, recent research (Ballard 2000) suggests that for local law enforcement, no existing infrastructure exist to train officers on the potential impacts of radiological shipments. Furthermore, this research suggests that an extensive in-service training program will be needed to bring existing public safety officers up to speed on the risks associated with radiological shipments, the potential impacts of terrorism and sabotage against shipments or the proper planning necessary to respond to such incidents. Similar research efforts for other first responders (fire officials, emergency management agencies and emergency response personal) are needed.

On page J-27 the DEIS suggests that few states have thus far designated preferred routes for shipments. The DEIS focuses on the impacts on Nevada but fails to do a like analysis of the impacts on the potential 40 other states that shipments will transverse. The complexion and complexity of the DEIS will be significantly impacted when these states start to address the actual planning activities associated with the movement of so many shipments across state lines. Any discussion of the impacts without accounting for such activities seems premature and a waste of effort.

In section J.1.4, no discussion is included on deliberate and malicious acts against shipments. For example, these human based impacts could be the result of disgruntled employees, union actions or sabotage/terrorism. The analytical focus on only two variables (mechanical force and thermal energy) may discount the potential risks from such deliberate actions. Critical areas of analytical interest should include the end-caps and relatively unprotected walls of casks when considering modern and easily available penetrating weapons like anti-tank devices. This section also only considers two forms of accidents: loading and transportation. This assumption discounts the potential of deliberate human interventions against the shipments at any point in the transportation route. This would include loading activities, transportation activities, in-transit transfer stations and final unloading.

Page J-58 uses the term sabotage and fails to address any reasonable range of activies, potential human induced accidents or politically motivated actions against these shipments. Considering the very high profile these shipments will garner, the potential symbolic value of these as a target and potential adversaries because of the nature of the cargoes, such an omission is a serious omission.

Projectile analysis is not a new or unknown field of study. In fact on page J-97 the analysis of airplane engines impacting shipments suggest that research exist for such analysis and that it is not an unknowable factor in the study of risks associated with terrorism and/or sabotage. Once the DOE recognizes the risk of sabotage and terrorism, factoring in such calculations would be relatively easy. First and foremost, transportation planners and government officials must start to recognize that these shipments are potential targets.