Pahrump Valley Times

Bradshaw: EPA Nye's 'best friend'

Friday, October 08, 1999
Rich Thurlow

TONOPAH - It may not he true in all cases, but when it comes to the Yucca Mountain Project and the storage of high level nuclear waste, the Environmental Protection Agency is Nye County's "best friend."

Les Bradshaw, the director of the county's Nuclear Waste Repository Projects Office, offered that opinion during Tuesday's county commission meeting as part of an overall review of Yucca Mountain and related issues.

The key at this point is the decision on which agency, the EPA or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Will set radiation standards should Yucca Mountain be licensed as the permanent storage site for the waste. EPA radiation dose standards, if adopted, would essentially eliminate risk to county residents,

The EPA standards also have the potential of derailing the YMP, Bradshaw hinted, since the "permanent storage" will be anything but that.

"People are beginning to realize the Dept. of Energy is not guaranteeing the isolation of the waste," Bradshaw said, perhaps partly in reference to public hearings on the draft environmental impact statement that started last week.

"Ultimately the mountain will leak (radioactive waste). I think it's important for people to realize the waste will be isolated in the near term, as the centuries go by there will be a release. These (EPA) standards will protect future generations."

"We've got to take the position we prefer zero exposure and encourage EPA to go to zero," Commissioner Cameron McRae said, adding the federal government should pay for medical examinations of all area residents to determine if there has been exposure.

The EPA will hold a hearing on exposure levels in Amargosa Valley on Oct. 19. Bradshaw said he made EPA officials aware of the conflict with the county commission meeting that will be held the same day in Pahrump and said he was assured the hearing will last into the evening to allow more citizens and officials to comment.

Bradshaw also received permission to go ahead with the Early Warning Drilling Program, which is designed to monitor underground water quality where it flows from the Nevada Test Site into Amargosa Valley.

The project includes the hiring of six geologists at $50 per hour and $50 per diem. They will assist in water sampling over a two year period. A drilling engineer will also be hired for $55 an hour, plus $55 per diem.

The high-priced talent is necessary, McRae said since the data they collect will be sent to the NRC. "We need that caliber of people on site to validate (the. data)," he said.

The commissioners also awarded the drilling contract to Layne Christensen, despite protests filed with the State Labor Commission by the Foundation for Fair Contracting. The labor commission has verbally notified the county it has no jurisdiction because the work will he on federal land, but has not yet issued a written opinion to that effect.

All of the drilling work and payroll, which could be up to $5 million over two years, will be paid through federal over-sight grants to the county.

Monitoring how that oversight money is spent led to the rejection of a request by Bradshaw that an employee in the repository office be reclassified and given a higher wage. In the past audits conducted by the county have indicated the funds were not always appropriately spent, although discrepancies were always corrected before they evolved into serious problems.

McRae voiced the objections to the raise for the employee citing the accounting issues that have not been resolved to his satisfaction. He moved to deny the reclassification, and also urged staff to "look at the accounting and budget process" in the repository office that "has been lacking the last year or so."

McRae's motion passed 4-0.

McRae said after the meeting that to his knowledge the accounting "has been screwed up, but we always corrected it when it came up in audits. If I find out otherwise Les is going to be looking for a job."