Governors Letter

Governor's Objections to the Proposed Greater-Than Class C Pilot Project at the Nevada Test Site

Capitol Complex
Carson City, Nevada 89710
(702) 687-4486
Fax: (702) 687-4486
April 2, 1997

    Mr. Alvin L. Alm, Assistant Secretary for
    Environmental Management
    U.S. Department of Energy
    Washington D.C. 20585

    Dear Secretary Alm:

    I would like to convey my concerns about a "preliminary" proposal being considered by the Department of Energy (DOE) Nevada Operations Office and the Yankee Atomic Electric Company of Massachusetts. The proposal has been described by DOE officials as the Greater- Than-Class C Pilot Project. The project calls for the "interim storage" of Yankee Atomic's inventory of Greater-Than-Class C waste (GTCC) at the Nevada Test Site (NTS). The storage proposal has been touted by DOE officials as a "pilot" project for implementing various approaches DOE must consider in taking possession of utility-generated GTCC materials. The proposal was first made public at the December 6, 1996 meeting of the NTS Community Advisory Board (CAB) in Las Vegas. A briefing for DOE/EM headquarters staff was subsequently provided on November 13, 1996.

    As might be expected, officials in my administration took immediate action to convey the State's concerns about the transportation and storage of commercially generated high activity low-level radioactive waste at NTS. A letter dated December 5, 1996 was sent from my administration to DOE officials in Nevada outlining in detail the State's concerns with this so called "pilot" project for interim storage of GTCC waste at the NTS. A copy of the correspondence was sent to your office (see attached).

    On March 5 of this year, Mr. Carl Gertz of DOE/Nevada provided a subsequent presentation to the NTS CAB on the Yankee Atomic/DOE GTCC "pilot" project (a copy of his presentation is attached). Mr. Gertz stated that DOE/Nevada has decided not to respond to the State concerns. As a result those concerns remained unchanged and unresolved.

    For example:

      The "pilot" project overlooks the need to jointly evaluate the treatment, storage, and disposal of both commercially generated GTCC waste and other DOE waste types that have similar hazard characteristics;1

      The project conflicts with existing and stipulated land-use activities at NTS, as authorized by the Department of Interior, and it flatly ignores existing federal decisions and thus duplicates DOE activities for managing GTCC waste types;2

      The "pilot" project also fails to embrace implementation of external regulatory oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) or the State of Nevada for management of commercial waste at a federal site.

    You should further be aware that officials from DOE/Nevada have yet to disclose any substantive technical or regulatory issues that would be "resolved" by implementing this "pilot" demonstration project. To the contrary, a careful review of DOE's documentation indicates that the real goal of the project is to dispose of Yankee Atomic's total inventory of Greater- Than-Class C waste at the NTS. In the State's view, such action would overtly preempt the need to address a programmatic analysis for disposition of this waste type along with other defense wastes having similar hazard characteristics.

    In addition, actions by the Department to fund this "pilot" interim storage project for GTCC waste, will directly conflict with repository siting activities underway at Yucca Mountain. The administration's policy in this regard remains focused on determining the technical and scientific basis for waste isolation through deep geologic disposal, and such determinations must be fully addressed before consideration is given to any interim storage options. This is important since the NRC has determined (by rule) that GTCC waste and/or like materials, must be disposed of in a geologic repository, in the absence of other disposal options in a licensed facility.

    Finally a decision to move forward with the project calls to question the validity of maintaining DOE and NRC separate regulatory authorities, at a time when DOE is actively pursuing external regulatory oversight of its nuclear safety and waste management functions.3 And because waste management activities at the NTS have failed to consistently meet acceptable disposal standards, any effort by the Department to proceed with the referenced "pilot" project must be subjected to external regulatory oversight by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and/or the State of Nevada.

    I hope that you seriously consider these concerns prior to any decision on the GTCC pilot project, and I would appreciate a response from your office on the points discussed in this letter. Sincerely,


    Bob Miller


    Nevada Congressional Delegation
    Robert R. Loux, NWPO
    Lew Dodgion, Environmental Protection
    Diana Weigmann, State Science Advisor
    Leo Penne, Nevada Washington Office
    Terry Vaeth, Joseph Fiore, Leah Dever, DOE/NV
    Ann Morgan, BLM/NV
    John Thomasian, NGA
    John Greeves, NRC
    Members CAB, NTS Programs

    1 DOE orphan wastes and/or waste classified as high activity (special case) wastes having no firm disposal plans.

    2 DOE's Record of Decision for the Spent Fuel EIS [issued 1/30/95] stipulates that GTCC storage and demonstration will be conducted at Idaho National Engineering Laboratory.

    3 See DOE Press release 12/20/96 "Department of Energy to Submit Legislation for External Regulation of Nuclear Safety".

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