Gallup Independent

"Hot" waste shipments apparently in Navajo future.

February 02, 2007

By Kathy Helms
Dine Bureau

WINDOW ROCK -- When the Public Safety Committee heads to Washington next week, one of the federal agencies it will lobby for funds will be the Department of Energy.

PSC Chairperson Hope MacDonald-LoneTree told the committee this week that there are shipments of high-level nuclear waste proposed for transport on Interstate 40.

"That's what is being proposed and that is what they're working on right now," she said.

Last year, PSC was given a tour of Yucca Mountain in Nevada, a site slated to be the permanent burial ground for the nation's high-level nuclear waste.

"That's why we have meetings with Department of Energy: to find out what their plans are, what they're doing, how it's going to affect Navajo, what our recommendations are, how we oppose it," MacDonald-LoneTree said.

The Navajo Nation has approved a ban on future uranium mining and processing in Navajo Indian Country.

In a Dec. 21 preliminary draft of Section 180(c) of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act sent to the Navajo Nation, the federal Office of Management and Budget stated that DOE will provide grants and technical assistance to states and tribes affected by the transport of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste.

DOE intends to make two grants available to states and tribes affected by the shipments: an assessment and planning grant set at $200,000, and an annual training grant with a base amount of $100,000. Funding beyond the base grants will be according to a needs assessment conducted by the tribe.


OMB said the Department of Energy will notify each eligible state and tribal government through a letter to the governor or tribal leader approximately five years before shipments are scheduled through that jurisdiction. The letter will announce anticipated routes.

Jimson Joe of Navajo Deparment of Emergency Management said DOE already has given the tribe the requisite five-year notice that "hot" nuclear waste shipments will be moving on I-40.

"They don't have specific days. They just kind of gave us general information," he said.

The Navajo Nation Department of Emergency Management has been working on a proposed plan of how it will deal with public notification and what type of precautionary measures it will use in regard to the shipments.

Navajo Nation Council Delegate Lorenzo Curley introduced legislation last October which would have approved a cooperative agreement between the Navajo Nation and DOE's Carlsbad Field Office.

At that time, Curley said the shipments planned for I-40 are so "hot" they have to be handled by machines, rather than people.

The agreement included in the legislation would provide funding for a Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) Emergency Services Liaison who would provide community education in 10 Navajo chapters located in Apache and McKinley counties through which the shipments will pass.

Those include Nahata dziil, Houck, and Lupton in Apache County, and Manuelito, Tsayatoh, Red Rock, Church Rock, Iyanbito, Thoreau and Baca in McKinley County.

Through the WIPP liasion's educational efforts, "the members of the ten communities will better understand the effects of hazardous materials and be prepared to respond to incidents that may occur related to the transportation of transuranic waste materials over I-40," according to the statement of work.

Curley's legislation, which has been languishing since it was tabled by the Intergovernmental Relations Committee last year, includes a DOE financial assistance agreement totaling $50,000. However, DOE obligated only $31,250 for the budget period March 1, 2006-Feb. 28, 2007.

The project would continue through Feb. 28, 2011, during which time the Navajo Nation could receive up to $250,000. However, DOE said there is no guarantee that amount will be awarded.


On Jan. 16, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency removed one of the final roadblocks to transport of remote-handled transuranic waste by approving preparations at Idaho National Laboratory (INL), the source of waste from nuclear weapons work.

Don Hancock of the Southwest Research Information Center in Albuquerque said both Hanford, Wash., and INL have remote-handled (RH) wastes. INL is supposed to be the first DOE site to ship the RH waste, he said.

"However, the transportation route for those wastes is through Utah, Wyoming on I-80, Colorado, and then into New Mexico on I-25 and down US-285.

Hancock said DOE currently does not ship remote-handled waste on I-40. "In fact, those sites are prohibited from shipping on I-40," he said. "There are no remote-handled shipments planned from the west which would come on I-40."

"Idaho says it has 183 RH shipments in the waste stream that it's starting to ship. WIPP hopes to handle about two RH shipments a week, so that's more than a year's worth," he said.


OMB said there may be instances when unforseen events force the closure of a primary or alternate route, requiring shipments to be re-routed to a less prepared or unprepared route.

In instances where re-routing of the shipments is required, DOE will work with the tribe to reach a mutually acceptable solution and will make funds available, if necessary.

DOE also will work with states and tribes on an individual basis to determine whether fees levied on radioactive materials shipments will impact the amount of funds received.

Currently, 28 states levy fees on radioactive materials shipments, ranging from $25 to $4,000 on the initial rail cask. No tribes now assess fees on radioactive materials shipments through their reservations.

OMB said that if a tribe does impose a fee, DOE would have to decide whether it was paying twice for some activities if it pays fees and funds to the tribe through Section 180(c), and if so, what it can do to meet its obligations under that section, while complying with applicable tribal laws, and avoiding paying twice for the same service.