Pahrump Valley Times

3/26/99

Low-level nuke waste may roll through PV
Decision on southern, northern routes from Ohio could be made this morning

By RICH THURLOW

The resumption of transporting low-level nuclear Waste from Fernald, Ohio, to the Nevada Test Site is expected to resume in mid-April, and today the Dept. of Energy will turn over emergency response equipment to Nye County that is part of the agreement for a new shipping route that could go right through Pahrump.

A quorum of county commissioners could be on hand with DOE officials at 2 p.m. at the county, complex. At that time DOE will give the county possession of a seven-passenger van, emergency response suits and accessory equipment, the result of a memorandum of agreement between the county and DOE that was approved March 16.

Also expected to be present are members of the town board, county administration representatives, and first responder and fire department personnel.

Although low-level nuclear waste has been transported to the NTS in southern Nye for years from a number of sites, the resumption of shipping from Fernald will likely mark a new route through Nye. Previous discussions between the DOE and county officials, including the commissioners, focused on the trucks traveling on U.S. 6 and Highway 395 across northern Nye, then turning south on U.S. 95 at Tonopah and going through Goldfield, Beatty and northern Amargosa Valley before entering the NTS.

Commissioner Cameron McRae said Thursday a teleconference call this morning could finalize plans for a different route, one that comes up from the south on I-15, with trucks turning west on Highway 160 and rumbling through the heart of Pahrump on the way to U.S. 95 and the NTS.

The telephone conference call will focus on how DOE is to "limit the time frame" the trucks can pass through Pahrump.

"The bottom line is the route looks like it will bypass the dam and the Spaghetti Bowl," McRae said. If that happens, McRae wants the trucks - about five a week - to roll through Pahrump in the wee hours of the morning when there is little traffic.

The probable new route is the direct result of a leak on a truck transporting depleted and slightly enriched uranium residues from the Fernald Environmental Management Project. At Kingman, Ariz., the driver noticed fluid leaking from the trailer. Although DOE Radiological Assistance Program team members confirmed the liquid that leaked - about two gallons - was not radioactive, the resulting publicity led to the suspension of shipments from Fernald and prompted corrective actions.

It also sparked demands that the waste not be shipped through Las Vegas, particularly on the Spaghetti Bowl interchange. DOE officials repeatedly told the commissioners they don't have the legal authority to tell truckers how to get to the NTS from Fernald, but Les Bradshaw of the county's federal facilities and natural resources office said DOE could exert unofficial pressure.

That prompted the agreement between the county and DOE for the equipment Nye will receive today. Low-level waste from about 10 other sites has continued being shipped to the NTS since the 1997 leak and many of the trucks carrying the waste go through the Spaghetti Bowl.

The equipment will be used for training exercises - training that will be useful should an actual serious accident involving nuclear waste occur.

McRae said he was not particularly concerned that the low-level waste would be coming through Pahrump.

"But any time you add the words 'waste' or 'nuclear' to a term regardless of the character of it, it gets people excited," McRae said, adding he told DOE officials that plan to roll the trucks through Pahrump "stinks. But we just gut told it's the interstate transport of a product and there's nothing they Can do about it."

McRae said he was not aware of any pressure DOE might exert on truckers from other low-level sites to urge them to take the Highway 160 route.

"This (the transport of low-level waste) has been extremely safe in the past," McRae said. "Thousands of truckloads have gone to the test site. There have been some incidents, but nothing that created a health and safety issue. All of the incidents are things that come about in normal trucking of any product."

The public talks at commission meetings with DOE officials outlining the agreement included suggestions by some commissioners DOE should pump some money into Nye Regional Medical Center, the Tonopah hospital, to assure it remains open. DOE officials said they had no mechanism that would allow them to do that

Both DOE and county officials have downplayed the toxicity of the low-level waste, but the new route is a source of concern for some of the commissioners. They believe once it's established it could lead to high-level waste being shipped on the same public roads, should interim or permanent storage of it at the NTS or Yucca Mountain be approved.

Fernald has shipped 5.3 million cubic feet of waste to the NTS since 1985.