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U.S. Air Force denies access for nuclear waste transportation
BY GEOFF DORNAN
Appeal Capitol Bureau Chief
June 11, 1998
A federal spokesman told Nevada lawmakers Wednesday trucks carrying nuclear waste may have to drive 331 miles around Nellis Air Force Base or take routes that pass through the Las Vegas Valley because the Air Force doesn't want a road through its land.
J.C. De la Garza made the statement while diagraming possible alternative truck routes for the waste if the Yucca Mountain storage dump is built.
He spelled out five routes for "heavy haul" trucks that would carry up to 150 tons of waste.
Three routes go through part of the Las Vegas Valley. One beginning at Caliente would cross to Tonopah, head south to Beatty and then to Yucca Mountain.
The last, the Caliente-Chalk Mountain route, would be just 174 miles long and cost less than all but one of the other routes. De la Garza said the Department of Energy prefers the shorter route through the Nellis range but the Air Force is opposed.
"It seems we are more concerned about disrupting a bombing range than disrupting the people of Nevada," said Sen. Ernie Adler, D-Carson City.
"We are working with the Department of Defense to determine whether we could be allowed to use the Chalk Mountain route," said De la Garza. "The Air Force would prefer to maintain their sovereignty over that range."
"We we'd like to maintain our sovereignty as well," said Adler, referring to Nevada's decade-long battle over whether the federal government has the right to force the dump on Nevada.
"It seems the health and safety of a million-plus people take a back seat to the military," he said.
The Air Force's primary prolem with the proposed Chalk Mountain route is that it would pass the top secret Area 51 facility.
Nevada Department of Transportation Director Tom Stephens made it clear Nevada has not agreed to any of the proposed transportation schemes and, in fact, opposes the whole idea of bringing nuclear waste to Nevada for storage.
The huge vehicles that would be used are more than three times the length of a tractor-trailer rig and weigh upwards of 500,000 pounds. Stephens said they are only capable of about 45 miles an hour under the best of circumstances. Other officials say the speed drops to as low as 5 mph up hills and on sections of winding road.
"It's disruptive to have just one of these moving across the state," he said. "It would be extremely disruptive to have several of these a week."
Stephens said federal officials would pay for road improvements to handle the load, "but they're not going to worry about our congestion and accidents."
De la Garza said if Yucca Mountain is opened, there would be two to three such transports into Nevada each week, and an equal number of trucks leaving the state empty.
"As far as NDOT is concerned we have great reservations about how this is going to work," Stephens said.
He also pointed out that current Nevada policy would prevent his department from cooperating with the nuclear waste transport program in any way.
De la Garza said, however, he hopes the waste would be transported by rail. He said the Energy Department is considering several alternatives to correct Yucca Mountain to major rail routes in Nevada.
The problem, he said, would be the initial cost.
The report was presented as information to the legislative committee studying the construction and maintenance of roads in Nevada. No action was taken