January 17, 2001

Secretary Bill Richardson
Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue S.W.
Washington, D.C.   20585

    Re:  Disposal of Low-Level and Mixed Low-Level Radioactive Waste
             At the Nevada Test Site

Dear Secretary Richardson:

    The Department of Energy's (the Department or DOE) Record of
Decision (ROD) that was issued pursuant to the Waste Management Programmatic
Environmental Impact Statement (WM PEIS) identifies the Nevada Test Site
(NTS) as a primary disposal site for low-level radioactive waste (LLRW) and
mixed low-level waste (MLLW) generated at various DOE sites across the
country.  Further, the Department has amended its 1996 ROD for the NTS
Environmental Impact Statement to implement the Expanded Use Alternative for
waste management activities at NTS.  These actions by the Department will
have the effect of significantly increasing out-of-state radioactive waste
shipments from DOE sites for disposal in Nevada.

    We are extremely concerned about the Department's plans to dispose of large
quantities of LLRW and MLLW from other sites at the NTS.  The state of
Nevada and our constituents have done more than their fair share in
disposing of radioactive waste from the Department's weapons complex.
Nevertheless, DOE's intends to increase this burden on our state even more.
We do not understand why the state of Nevada has been made to bear the
weight of DOE's radioactive waste disposal, particularly when other options

    We urge the Department to look at alternatives to NTS for the disposal of
low-level radioactive wastes, including options that currently are available
and anticipated in the commercial sector.  We understand that the Department
disposes of LLRW and MLLW at appropriately licensed and operated commercial
facilities under certain circumstances and two key factors DOE assesses in
determining whether to ship waste to a commercial site for disposal are cost
and protection of public health and the environment.  Several commercial
facilities have received authorizations to dispose of DOE waste, and such
facilities certainly are a viable option to the Department for the disposal
of LLRW and MLLW.

    We understand that rail transportation is generally safer for the
shipment of large volumes of waste.  As you know, the NTS has no rail access
for the disposal of radioactive wastes from other DOE sites while several
commercial facilities do have such rail access.  We do not understand how
the Department can justify shipping LLRW and MLLW to NTS when it must ship
such waste in trucks over narrow roads and through small towns that were
never intended for the shipment of large volumes of radioactive waste.

    Further, commercial disposal facilities must be licensed by external
regulatory agencies.  They are not self-regulating like DOE.  We have
confidence that independent regulation helps to ensure appropriate
protection of public health and the environment at commercial facilities.

    In addition, it appears that the Department is not utilizing the
Hanford site for the disposal of off-site LLRW and MLLW despite the WM PEIS
ROD that Hanford would be a primary disposal site for the Department's LLRW
and MLLW.  Indeed, recent news articles have reported that the state of
Washington has conditioned Hanford's acceptance of out-of-state DOE wastes
from the Department, satisfactorily addressing the large cleanup problems at
the Hanford site.  We would appreciate a full explanation of the current
status of the Department's plans to use all of the disposal options
available to DOE for the disposal of LLRW and MLLW.

    As you may know, the General Accounting Office issued a report dated April
12, 2000 entitled "Low-Level Radioactive Wastes -- Department of Energy Has
Opportunities to Reduce Disposal Costs."  We would like to know the progress
made by DOE in addressing the GAO's recommendation that the Department
"develop criteria and guidance for DOE's waste managers to use in making
decisions on the best available options within DOE and at commercial
facilities for treating, storing, and disposal of their wastes."

    Further, DOE recently developed a so-called "flat-rate disposal fee
proposal" program for the disposal of LLRW at NTS.  This program appears to
create an incentive to encourage DOE sites outside of Nevada to dispose of
as much waste as possible at NTS.  The proposal raises numerous questions
about DOE's compliance with the Economy Act, 31 USC ? 1535 and its overall
intentions to make the NTS DOE's primary dumping ground for LLRW.  We have
very strong concerns about this program and we would like to receive a full

    In addition, we have the following questions:

    What is the overall cost (transportation and disposal) to
the Department on a unit price basis for the disposal of LLRW at the NTS as
opposed to commercial options that are available to the Department?

    We understand that the Department is shipping waste for disposal
from DOE sites in Ohio to both commercial facilities and the NTS.  What is
the cost of transportation, on a unit price basis, for the shipment of LLRW
waste from Ohio sites to commercial facilities via rail as opposed to
shipments to the NTS via truck? What is the cost, on a unit price basis, for
the disposal of LLRW waste from Ohio sites at commercial facilities as
opposed to disposal at the NTS?

    What risk analyses have been performed by the Department or others
analyzing the risks of transportation of radioactive wastes via rail versus

    How much LLRW does the Department plan to ship from off-site sources
to NTS over the next 20 years?  How does DOE plan to ship this waste?  Where
does DOE plan to dispose of this waste?

    How much MLLW does the Department plan to ship from off-site sources
to NTS over the next 20 years?  How does DOE plan to ship this waste?  Where
does DOE plan to dispose of this waste?

    What are the Department's plans for obtaining permitting in order to
ship MLLW from out-of-state sources to the NTS?

    Has the Department made the determination required by the Economy
Act, 31 U.S.C. ? 1535, that the LLRW disposal services to be provided at NTS
cannot be provided by an independent commercial enterprise as conveniently
or cheaply?

    What steps has the Department taken to implement the recommendations
made by the General Accounting Office in its April 2000 report entitled
"Low-Level Radioactive Wastes: Department of Energy has Opportunities to
Reduce Disposal Costs"?

    We understand that the scope of the Bechtel Nevada contract for
operation of the NTS was enlarged in October 1999 to include operation of a
Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Facility to receive wastes from local
operations as well as off-site locations.  How does the Department justify a
non-competitive award of this new scope of work?

    Finally, DOE recently changed its truck transportation routing for
shipments of radioactive waste for disposal at NTS so that the city of Las
Vegas is bypassed.  However, the new routing now involves a much longer
route over county roads and through small towns.  While we certainly do not
want to see shipments of radioactive waste through Las Vegas, we remain very
concerned about the safety of DOE's shipments to NTS on this new route.
Please identify all studies that have been prepared by the Department
analyzing the health and safety risks involved in this transportation route.
Also advise us of any evaluation of the infrastructure impacts on these
roads and whether DOE intends to provide funding for costs incurred by local
governments that result from such shipments.

    In view of the foregoing as to DOE's disposal of LLRW at NTS from
sites throughout the complex, we respectfully request you to terminate the
flat-rate disposal fee program and shipments of LLRW at NTS until the new
Secretary of Energy has had an opportunity to review these issues and
address our concerns.

    We look forward to receiving a response to this letter and answers
to our questions at your earliest convenience.  Thereafter, we would
appreciate receiving a briefing so we can follow up on these matters and
obtain additional information on the Department's plans for the shipment and
disposal of LLRW and MLLW in Nevada.

    Thank you for your attention to this matter.


       Jim Gibbons                    Shelley Berkley
    Member of Congress       Member of Congress

cc: Governor Kenny C. Guinn
     Senator Harry Reid
     Senator John Ensign
     Carolyn L. Huntoon, DOE-EM