OCTOBER 26, 1999

Since the inception of the federal high-level radioactive waste program in 1983, the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) work with respect to the candidate Yucca Mountain repository site has been characterized by bias and inappropriately favorable interpretations of data that mask serious and even fatal flaws present at the site and within the federal program as a whole. The State of Nevada's review of this draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) indicates that the document continues this pattern. The State believes the draft EIS to be legally and substantively deficient.

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires that federal agencies, in preparing environmental impact statements supporting major federal decisions and projects, consider alternatives to the action being proposed, including the alternative of taking no action. In the draft EIS for the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level nuclear waste repository, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has chosen two "no action" scenarios that are unrealistic, unreasonable, and legally deficient.

The draft EIS postulates a situation where, in the place of a repository at Yucca Mountain, spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive wastes are assumed to be stored on-site at reactor and generator locations for a period of 10,000 years. In the first "no action" scenario, DOE assumes that active institutional control is maintained for the entire time, while under the second scenario, institutional control ceases after the first 100 years.

Both scenarios are wholly inappropriate, even absurd. The Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) interprets the "no action" alternative as "the federal agency not acting at all" (i.e., not constructing and operating a repository at Yucca Mountain). In the absence of a repository, it is unacceptable to assume that spent fuel and HLW would simply be left at reactor sites forever. The most plausible "no action" scenario is one where there would be some period (50 to 100 years) of at-reactor storage (most likely in dry storage configurations), combined with the application of waste reduction technologies, and followed by some form of revised (and, hopefully, dramatically improved) process to site and construct storage and/or disposal facilities.

DOE's "no action" scenarios cannot be defended on the basis of reasonably foreseeable courses action in the absence of a decision to move ahead with the development of a repository. Instead, what DOE appears to have done is select for analysis scenarios designed to generate the greatest public alarm and political pressure in favor of its proposed action. In so doing, DOE has violated the clear intent of NEPA that a realistic and reasonable "no action" alternative be evaluated and compared to the proposed action.

This draft EIS also does not describe the proposed repository project in a manner that allows an analysis of its impacts. Asserting that the design for the facility is still "evolving", DOE describes a number of design alternatives and options in the draft EIS with the expectation that whatever design is finally selected, its impacts will have been bounded by the analysis of the alternatives and options. The range of possible impacts is wide, and they all lead to releases of radionuclides from the repository that contaminate a groundwater source that is currently used for drinking water and agricultural purposes. What we don't know, and can't know from this draft EIS, is how much is released, how fast it is released, and how soon it is released. In simple terms, this draft EIS does not tell us what the future risks of the proposed repository are to people and the environment.

The Draft EIS that DOE has released for public comment, however, does not reflect the fundamental concept of geologic isolation as required by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982. This Act calls for the isolation of spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste through the vehicle of deep geologic disposal. Instead, the "evolving" facility design described in the document relies almost exclusively on engineered barriers, including a 750,000 year waste package and over 100 miles of titanium drip shields, to compensate for the inadequacies of the site and to make the facility work. The Draft EIS implicitly acknowledges that Yucca Mountain, as a geologic formation, is incapable of isolating highly radioactive and long-lived wastes from the environment.

Not only, then, is the "project" set forth in the Draft EIS inadequately described for purposes of assessing impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, but what is proposed also violates the intent of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act that disposal of spent fuel and high-level radioactive waste be accomplished through geologic disposal.

In a glaring omission, the draft EIS also fails to identify the cross-country rail and truck routes used in DOE'S transportation impact analysis. This despite the fact that DOE contractors who prepared the draft document actually selected specific routes for analysis using the HIGHWAY and INTERLINE models. A draft EIS reference [TRW, Environmental Baseline File for National Transportation, with Data Files (June, 1999), Chapter 4] even describes the procedures followed, but does not contain route summaries or maps. Despite the fact that the radioactive materials transportation campaign required by the proposed action outlined in the draft EIS would be massive and unprecedented, with up to 96,000 truck shipments and as many as 20,000 rails shipments of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste shipped continuously over a 24 - 39 year period, DOE decided not to reveal the actual highway and rail routes used in the draft EIS.

Nevada believes that DOE has violated NEPA by concealing crucial information used in the draft EIS. Absent this information, persons affected by transportation impacts of the proposed action are denied their rights to participate in the NEPA process of analysis and decision making. This action can only further diminish public confidence in DOE's ability to safely transport these highly radioactive and dangerous materials.

The State of Nevada further believes that the draft EIS systematically underestimates radiological, social, and economic impacts of spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste. At upcoming public hearings, the State will comment on the impacts of routine repository shipments, highway traffic gridlock incidents, and severe highway and rail accidents which could result in releases of radioactive materials and exposures to members of the public. Nevada will also present detailed comments on DOE's refusal to mandate the use of dedicated trains and DOE's failure to support full scale testing of shipping casks. Later in this hearing the State of Nevada transportation advisor Robert Halstead will address recent developments regarding the potential for terrorism and sabotage against repository shipments and the inadequacy of the draft EIS analysis of the consequences of a successful terrorist attack using high energy explosives.

The State of Nevada will be submitting extensive written comments on this draft Environmental Impact Statement. It is our hope that these comments and those of all others will be seriously considered, and that a reasonable No Action alternative (as opposed to the unreasonable and unrealistic ones contained in the draft document) is selected as the preferred action in the Final Environmental Impact Statement.

Attachment #1 and Attachment #2.