For Immediate Release
June 24, 1999

Contact: Robert R. Loux
(775) 687-3744


Governor and Attorney General Seek Tougher
Protections Against Nuclear Waste Terrorism

On behalf of Nevada Governor Kenny Guinn, Attorney General Frankie Sue Del Papa today filed a petition with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission asking that the existing regulations governing the security and safety of spent nuclear fuel transportation be reexamined and strengthened. Specifically, the petition seeks to have the NRC reevaluate its requirements for safeguarding spent fuel shipments in light of the changing nature of threats involving domestic terrorism and sabotage, including the greater accessibility of new and powerful armor piercing weapons.

"It has been nearly two decades since the Commission reviewed the regulations designed to ensure the physical protection of spent fuel shipments, and we believe that many of the assumptions these rules are based upon no longer reflect real world conditions," explained Del Papa.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has the responsibility, under federal law, to certify that shipping containers and other elements of the transportation system used to ship spent nuclear fuel and high level radioactive waste on highways and railroads can, in fact, protect the public and the environment from the very real and evolving threat of attacks by terrorists. These rules have not been revised since the 1970s and do not take into account the availability of modern weapons and delivery systems that could be used by terrorists and others not only on the shipments themselves, but also on bridges, tunnels and rail lines throughout the country.

In addition, the U.S. Department of Energy and commercial shipping container manufacturers are striving to place larger payloads (a four-fold increase in the amount of spent fuel) in nuclear waste shipping casks in order to reduce the number of shipments required. However, the use of these new, larger casks may result in weaker containers due to the need to meet legal weight restrictions for use on highways and rail lines, thereby making shipments even more vulnerable to attack.

Del Papa pointed out that the purpose of the petition is to encourage the NRC to conduct needed risk and consequence assessments of existing safeguards and security regulations to determine if changes need to be made, publish new proposed rules for public comment, and ultimately make necessary modifications to the rules.

"I would encourage other states, local governments, Indian tribes, and public interest groups concerned about the security and safety of nuclear materials transportation to join with us in this rulemaking process. In our opinion the current regulations expose the public - not just in Nevada, but in almost every state in the country - to potentially unacceptable levels of risk when it comes to the transportation of highly radioactive materials."