April 4, 2001
Ms. Leah Dever, Manager
U.S. Department of Energy
Oak Ridge Operations Office
200 Administration Road
Oak Ridge, TN 37831
Dear Ms. Dever:
It has come to my attention that a DOE/Oak Ridge contractor, British Nuclear Fuels (BNF), is proposing to ship low-level radioactive waste (LLW) from clean-up activities at the K-25 Plant to the Nevada Test Site (NTS) for disposal. The BNF plan apparently calls for the LLW to be transported by train to Caliente, Nevada, where it would be off-loaded onto trucks for shipment to NTS. I am requesting that you reconsider this transportation plan and look for alternative methods of transporting the waste to NTS. As you may know, in Nevada we are very concerned about any actions contemplated by DOE involving the intermodal transfer of radioactive waste within Nevada.
Over the past few years DOE's Nevada Operations Office (DOE/NV) and the State of Nevada have made significant progress in addressing LLW transportation issues and concerns. This has resulted in substantial improvements in the way LLW shipments are managed including a more responsive understanding by DOE of the unique circumstances involving radioactive waste transportation in Nevada. Please be aware that establishing an intermodal transfer waste operation in Caliente, will do serious harm to the productive State-DOE relationship that has evolved with respect to NTS LLW shipment and disposal activities.
Over the past two years, Governor Guinn has met personally with former Energy Secretary Richardson and his staff and received assurances that intermodal operations in Nevada would not be used to transport LLW or Mixed LLW to the NTS. We would hope that DOE intends to continue to honor these assurances.
In recent years, the State of Nevada expressed serious concern over a prior proposal for LLW shipments to NTS that would have included intermodal operations in Nevada. In fact, it was a proposal by Fluor Daniels on behalf of DOE's Fernald facility that resulted in the Governor's discussions with Secretary Richardson. In comments on the Fernald proposal, the State asserted the following:
"It is the State's view that any action by DOE that either directly or indirectly leads to the development of an intermodal LLW facility on lands not owned or controlled by the federal government would constitute a major federal action under National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA - per Council of Environmental Quality [CEQ] regulations 1508.18(4)). At a minimum, we contend that a NEPA analysis must address the potential environmental, public health and safety, and economic impacts that may be caused by siting an intermodal LLW transfer facility in Nevada. Siting nuclear facilities can, under certain conditions, have significant negative effects by suppressing business activities, lowering property values, and causing potential new residents, tourists, and businesses to avoid areas associated with things nuclear."
We also said that if DOE proposes an action that is connected, closely related, or would automatically trigger other actions associated with an intermodal waste transfer facility, then all these actions must be analyzed together in a single NEPA document (see 40 CFR 1508.25). This is significant when considering that NTS hosts more than 15 offsite waste generators, and any one of these might take advantage of a intermodal LLW transfer facility to ship waste to Nevada for disposal. Hence, allowing development of such a facility would likely trigger other actions which would cause cumulative impacts to the human and natural environment (e.g., expanded use of an intermodal facility with associated transportation and added risks). To address such impacts, DOE's NEPA implementing regulations require that such actions be assessed together to address cumulative effect, and DOE is prohibited from categorically excluding these actions in cases where a given proposal is ‘connected' to other actions or would otherwise result in cumulative effects to the environment (see 1021.410(2)).
We also said that "because of the unique hazards associated with handling radioactive waste, State officials believe that a regulatory analysis, conducted as part of the required NEPA analysis, must be undertaken to address DOE oversight and/or licensing under NRC regulations of an Intermodal LLW transfer facility." In other words, the State of Nevada still contends that any facility that handles and stores defense low-level radioactive waste (as an intermodal facility would necessarily do), must be licensed by NRC -- where such a facility is not located on withdrawn federal lands or lands otherwise owned/controlled by the DOE/DoD. We contend that such licensing is mandatory to insure full protection of public health and the environment.
Please note that Nevada will exercise whatever legal and other prerogatives it has to assure that these concerns are addressed if DOE Oak Ridge and BNF continue to pursue using intermodal transportation from Caliente or elsewhere in Nevada for LLW shipments to NTS.
Relationship to Yucca Mountain
As you know from your tenure here in Nevada, it is very difficult to "decouple" NTS LLW issues from the proposed Yucca Mountain high-level waste repository and the highly charged atmosphere that has been created here as a result of the repository program. The fact that DOE/OCRWM's Yucca Mountain draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) proposes to site and use an intermodal facility for the transport of spent nuclear fuel to the proposed repository creates a situation where any proposal for intermodal facilities involving radioactive materials, even LLW, is untenable because of the precedent that would be set and the perceptions of risk involved. (The referenced DEIS contains an alternative that sites an intermodal facility at Caliente, Nevada - see DEIS transportation map at http://yuccamountain.org/s-27.gif)
While it is my understanding that there are readily available alternatives to transhipping the BNF LLW at Caliente, if BNF is permitted to move ahead with plans for intermodal transfer of LLW in Caliente, or elsewhere in Nevada, we will take whatever legal action required to oppose such shipments. Such action would also undermine the cooperative and productive working relationship developed between the State and DOE/NV with respect to ongoing LLW and Mixed LLW shipping and disposal activities at NTS.
Thank you for you attention to this important matter. If you would like to discuss the issue further, please contact me at (775) 687-3744.
Robert R. Loux