Pahrump Valley Times

County to present drilling results at NWTRB meeting

By Henry Brean

June 25, 1999

As measurements begin to trickle in from the desert west of the Nevada Test Site, the Nye County Nuclear Waste Repository Project Office is preparing to share some of the early results from its drilling program with the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board.

The review board, which will meet in Beatty on Tuesday and Wednesday, is charged with evaluation the U.S. Department of Energy's work at nearby Yucca Mountain, the only site being studied as a permanent repository for the nation's high-level radioactive waste. Next week, board members will hear a report on Nye County's early Warning Drilling Program, which officially got under way late last year.

But the NWTRB is not the only federal agency that will have access to the county's data. According to Nick Stellavato, on site representative for Nye's oversight office, the samples taken from the wells are being divided amongst the county, the DOE and the U.S. Geological Survey. That way, the samples will be analyzed independently by several different scientists to ensure the most accurate results.

Stellavato said analysis began last week on the information gathered thus far from the more than half a dozen wells the county now has scattered across the northeastern end of the Amargosa Valley. Already, the wells are producing some interesting and unexpected results, including samples water that vary greatly in age, temperature and purity.

A detailed report on the federally funded drilling program is expected to be given during the second day of the NWTRB's meeting, which is set to begin at 8 a.m. Wednesday at the Beatty Community Center. The first day of the meeting, which will get under way at 9 a.m., is dedicated to the analysis of several different designs for the repository itself, as well as an update on DOE's ongoing site-characterization study and the draft of the department's criteria for determining Yucca Mountain's suitability.

In addition to the county's presentation, day two is expected to include the latest information of ongoing studies of the area's geology and the effects of heat on the mountain — heat like what might be generated by a repository containing tens of thousands of tons of high-level waste.

Time will be set aside on both day for comments from the public.

Eventually the county plans to drill nearly 20 wells on and off the western edge of the Nevada Test Site. Data from the wells will be used in models of the area's geologic, hydrologic and geochemical makeup. It will also provide baseline information — a "before" picture of sorts — that could one day help scientists detect any radioactive contaminants that might escape from Yucca Mountain of the test site.

The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board was formed as part of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1987. According to a release from the board, its purpose is to "evaluate the technical and scientific validity of activities undertaken by DOE related to managing the disposal of the nation's spent nuclear fuel and (other) high-level radioactive waste."

A transcript of next week's meeting will be made available on the board's web site (, via e-mail, on computer disk and on a library loan basis beginning July 19.