November 14, 2002
DOE waste to be moved
Southeast county will see nuclear shipments on S.R. 127 in near future
By Darcy Ellis
With the news that the Department of Energy plans to begin shipments of nuclear waste through Death Valley early next year, Inyo County officials and staff may be seeking assistance in safeguard development.
Word of the DOE's decision to start shipping waste in February on State Route 127 comes after plans were stalled for more than a year in the post 9/11 atmosphere.
According to Inyo County's Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository Assessment Office Coordinator Andrew Remus, the shipments were originally slated to start in fall of 2001. The DOE plans to transport waste from the Nevada Test Site to a waste isolation pilot plant in Carlsbad, N.M. via S.R. 127 and 1-15.
In preparation of the upcoming activity, Remus reported, Inyo County staff has started discussing with the State of California its training and safeguard efforts, paid for with funding the state receives to respond to such shipments.
Remus explained that in the meantime, additional funding for the Southern Inyo Fire Protection District, which covers the area of southeast Inyo County through which S.R. 127 winds, may be sought.
Last year, the fire district received about $50,000 in grant funding to help beef up its response capabilities.
In early December, Remus and Fifth District Inyo County Supervisor Michael Dorame will travel to the Carlsbad pilot plant to discuss its project with local representatives of affected governments and the DOE.
Remus explained, meanwhile, that though waste shipments from the Nevada Test Site will start in about three months, the DOE is targeting 2010 as the start date for shipments to the recently approved Yucca Mountain repository.
Right now, the Yucca Mountain Project is in the very early permitting stage, having been given the go ahead by both Congress and President Bush earlier this year.
Remus explained that the DOE is busy initiating the license application process, and, though its primary focus will be on that phase, the department may also be conducting detailed transportation studies.
The DOE has about three or four years to prepare its application for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's approval. The NRC in tam will have 2-4 years to render its decision.
Initially, the DOE will be seeking a license to construct the repository, and once that is received, a license to operate it, Remus reported.
Assuming there is no change in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, he added, it will still be sometime before the DOE is allowed to begin shipping the nation's nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. However, with Republicans now controlling the White House, Congress and Senate, an effort may be on the horizon next year to amend the law to expedite the process
"It wouldn't surprise me," Remus said, explaining that though the Yucca Mountain Project received bipartisan support in Congress, "Republicans have been historically more strongly behind the project."
A large part of the urgency, according to Remus, comes from the millions of dollars in lawsuits levied against it by nuclear utility operators who had contracts with the federal government and were told Yucca Mountain would be operational by 1998.
The project now looks like it will be 12 years over that expected fruition date.
Essentially, he explained, the DOE may seek a change to the NWPA that would allow waste to be stored at Yucca Mountain temporarily in the interim between now and license approval.
Remus, meanwhile, will be one of many county staff members participating in a disaster preparedness drill being staged today in Bishop.
Similar drills for the southeast Inyo area, considering the upcoming DOE shipments, could be a likely prospect.