Spencer Abraham, Secretary of Energy
Department of Energy
1000 Independence Ave S.W.
Dear Secretary Abraham:
I am writing to express my concern regarding the recent incident involving a truck shipment of low-level nuclear waste from the West Valley site in New York destined for the Nevada Test Site. As you know, on Monday, July 30, the truck was detained in West Wendover, Nevada, after the driver detected a foaming substance on the truck's bed. Upon investigation, the Department of Energy's (DOE) response team discovered a breach in one of the truck's containers. The team secured the container and moved it to the Envirocare site in Utah. While we are informed this particular incident did not result in detectable harm to human health and the environment, it created a great deal of anxiety in the Wendover community.
This incident gives further credence to Nevada's long-time concerns over the transportation of radioactive waste through our state. This is the second incident where a truck shipment of low-level nuclear waste destined for the Nevada Test Site experienced a breach in transit. In 1997, a truck shipping radioactive waste from Fernald, Ohio, was stopped in Arizona when it was discovered that radioactive liquid material was leaking from the truck. This escape of radioactive material into the environment was serious enough that DOE suspended all further shipments from Fernald pending a system wide analysis of the transportation of radioactive waste. From this investigation came a report ("the Fernald Report") containing several recommendations for corrective action to ensure such an incident would not occur again.
Given the recent incident at Wendover, and based upon our review of the Fernald Report, it appears that many, if not most, of the recommendations made were either ignored or simply brushed aside. It appears DOE's protocol for the transportation of nuclear waste is seriously ineffective in protecting public health and the environment. We believe DOE should engage in a fundamental study of the transportation of radioactive waste which includes a collective investigation and analysis of all incidents in which radioactive waste was released, or at risk of being released into the environment during the transportation process, rather than analyzing these accidents on a case by case basis. Therefore, I am requesting that DOE suspend all further shipments from West Valley until the completion of such a review and the preparation by DOE of a corrective action plan to address this very serious problem. Certainly, we would hope the investigation, review, and corrective action plan would include input from state regulators. I hope you share my belief that the health and safety risks inherent in the transportation of radioactive waste demand such action.
I look forward to your commitment in addressing our concerns, and your timely response to our request.
KENNY C. GUINN