Ely Daily Times

Board prepares for nuke waste shipments

By Brad Pierce
Daily Times Reporter


"We have already received shipments through here," White Pine County Commissioner Kevin Kirkeby said about low-level nuclear waste, adding that "one was in the last week or two."

In order to better understand and be prepared for large loads traveling through White Pine County, Kirkeby said, the Nuclear Waste Advisory Board went to New Mexico last week on "a fact finding mission."

The board, which includes Kirkeby, White Pine County Commissioners Brent Eldridge and Cheryl Noriega, White Pine County Nuclear Waste Program Director Debra Kolkman, Local Emergency Planning Committee Chairman Russell Peacock, Ely City Councilman Jean Kneese, Fire Chief Jack Cummings, Lund firefighter Bruce Farnsworth, Carol Mackenzie and Jerry Charles toured the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) near Carlsbad last Friday.

It was a good tour," Kirkeby said, adding that he was impressed with the sealed containers used which had undergone extreme testing for durability. However. materials brought through White Pine will be more like "drums and boxes," Kirkeby said, due to the low levels of radioactivity.

Kirkeby noted that, to his knowledge, only three emergency incidents have occurred within the 25 years that the Department of Energy has been shipping contaminated material, even though none resulted in a radioactive release.

Kolkman said that low level waste, coming through White Pine County is taken to the Nevada Test Site, about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, for storage.

Yucca Mountain, still under study for environmental stability, will house high level waste, however, it probably won't be transported through White Pine, Kolkman said, but rather through Caliente where it will be brought in on rail then transferred to trucks.

Because the risk with low level waste is minimal, the DOE does not restrict the manner in which its transported, therefore no governmental agency controls its transportation, Kolkman said. She explained that the carrier companies determine specific routes without the DOE or state's interference.

Low level waste is brought from nuclear generators, located all over the country, Kolkman said, and mostly consists of clothing, tools, X-Rays and various other materials that may have been contaminated.

Kirkeby said that "safety and the health of the public" is the board's first concern when investigating these matters. Right now, they are "looking at different modes of transportation to get to the storage site."