State of Nevada Comments

DOE 2006 Discussion Draft
Accelerating Cleanup Plan

September 9, 1997

Mr. Gene Schmitt
U.S. Department of Energy
P.O. Box 44818
Washington, D.C. 20026-4481

Dear Mr. Schmitt:

   Thank you for providing the State of Nevada the opportunity to review the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Environmental Management "Accelerating Cleanup: Focus on 2006 -- Discussion Draft" Plan. The following comments focus on 2006 Plan issues concerning DOE Environmental Management (EM) activities at the national level and at the Nevada Test Site (NTS).

General Comments -- Focus on 2006, National Plan:

   We credit DOE for adopting a ten-year vision to address the legacy of environmental contamination that exists throughout the weapons complex.a  While it remains to be seen if the enhanced program performance objectives presented in the plan can meet the cleanup challenge ahead, the prospect of remediating a significant number of DOE contaminated sites within a decade is commendable. Establishing this vision is also commendable, given the enormous task at hand, i.e., remediation of 381 separate projects across the DOE complex. We also acknowledge that other barriers must be overcome to achieve the stated vision, such as the institutional relationships between DOE defense programs and EM, as well as the unique and historical role played by private sector contractors throughout the complex.

   In reviewing the 2006 Plan, we recognize the goal of reducing the out- year mortgage of EM cleanup activities, as well as defining the long-term stewardship requirements to reflect the "end state" at any given site. According to the Plan, definition of these "end states" will be developed in consultation with representatives of tribal nations, regulatory agencies, states, and others. We further recognize that in pursuing these goals, DOE intends to maintain full compliance with applicable environmental and other legal requirements. We also understand that regardless of the "performance enhancements" that might be achieved, DOE officials acknowledge that remediation and waste management activities would continue beyond 2006 at several major DOE sites.1

   Finally, we understand that in DOE's enthusiasm to achieve significant performance enhancements, the Department will remain committed to ensuring the safety and health of its workers while continuing to reduce risks to the public and the environment. It also appears that DOE will continue to foster the involvement of Native Americans and stakeholders, as well as address worker transition issues as part of the 2006 Plan process. State officials contend that all of these principles are admirable and necessary, if DOE is to maintain a credible program to address the legacy of hazardous and radioactive contamination that exists throughout the weapons complex. To help the Department in this endeavor, we offer the following perspective on how the Nevada Test Site fits into the 2006 Plan concept.

Nevada Perspective

   It must be understood that radioactive contamination at the Nevada Test Site (NTS) is unique in comparison to all other DOE sites. More than 900 nuclear tests were conducted at NTS, and of these, over 200 tests were conducted within the vicinity of the groundwater. Underground testing alone left more than 300 million curies of radioactive contamination spread through millions of cubic meters of environmental media (NTS Site-Wide EIS). In fact, no other site in the DOE complex contains a comparable volume of contamination, and no other site is faced with the mounting uncertainties concerning how this contamination can be effectively characterized, monitored, and contained over the long-term.

   Given these unique contamination issues, in October 1996, Governor Bob Miller advised DOE Assistant Secretary Alvin Alm that "implementing the proposed ten-year cleanup plan [2006 Plan] for the NTS site is premature and may in fact increase Nevada's mortgage while hampering, if not forgoing, an orderly long-term site investigation, monitoring, and corrective action program . . ." Governor Miller went on to say that "understanding the magnitude of this contamination and its impact on future generations and future uses of the site including effects on local and regional groundwater resources is a responsibility that we in Nevada cannot and will not ignore." He also said that "by significantly limiting the groundwater monitoring program [at the NTS], there is the potential for the radionuclide contamination to migrate and impact in excess of 1000 square miles of groundwater resources [in southern Nevada] . . . "

Groundwater Contamination NTS

   State officials are concerned that current budget constraints proposed in the 2006 Plan and their subsequent effect on NTS EM programming may limit DOE's ability to assess the movement of groundwater contamination at the site. In other words, it would appear that DOE's 2006 Plan with its vision of reducing the "environmental mortgage" as well as defining an acceptable "end state" to facilitate long-term stewardship at a given site may not correspond to the unique contamination problems at the NTS. In this regard, Governor Miller suggested that the plan "would greatly increase Nevada's mortgage" since the intent of the plan is to institutionalize a ten- year "flat-line" cleanup budget for the DOE complex. In essence, by flat- lining the EM budget [at least at the NTS], DOE will negate its ability to maintain full compliance with applicable environmental laws and other legal requirements. We note that maintaining legal requirements is a tenant of the 2006 Plan.

   In a related matter, on June 30, 1997, Paul Liebendorfer (State of Nevada, Division of Environmental Protection) advised officials from the DOE's Nevada Operations Office that an additional $15 to 20 million dollars annually would be needed to develop additional groundwater characterization and/or monitoring wells to assess the movement of groundwater contamination on the western border of the NTS (i.e., Pahute Mesa Corrective Action Unit-CAU). The additional funding request for DOE's FY 99 budget year was proposed under the auspices of the State/DOE cleanup agreement for the NTS.2

   Obviously, understanding, monitoring, and containing the movement of contaminated groundwater at the NTS is a major issue for the State of Nevada. This means that the responsible stewardship of the NTS will require an active long-term monitoring, surveillance, and maintenance program for the foreseeable future. The national 2006 Plan states that the completion of site cleanup would be accomplished when groundwater contamination has been contained, and long-term treatment or monitoring is in place [page 1-5]. While the 2006 Plan assumes this definition, DOE officials at headquarters should realize that the NTS site specific plan does not make this assumption. Accordingly, long-term stewardship of the contaminated groundwater at the NTS will require an active, evolving, and ongoing monitoring, surveillance, and maintenance program for at least 100 years.

  State officials also believe the life-cycle cost estimates presented in the NTS Site-specific 2006 Plan that are needed to fund long-term surveillance and maintenance of the Under Ground Test Area (UTA) program, are inaccurate and must be re-assessed. For example, under the most favorable assumptions such as allowing DOE to develop acceptable Corrective Action Unit (CAU) characterization models with limited, albeit new well data, DOE would nevertheless need additional [new] well monitoring information to validate existing models. Thus, new monitoring data [wells] will be needed every decade or so (over the 100-year period) to validate these models. Cost estimates for these new wells are not, however, included in the existing life- cycle cost estimates presented in the NTS 2006 Plan.

   State regulatory officials have consistently stated that there is no sound basis for, or agreement on, how many additional wells would be needed to achieve an acceptable level of site characterization of the contaminated groundwater at the NTS. It has always been the State's belief that new wells would almost certainly be necessary to achieve an acceptable level of groundwater characterization at the site.3  Accordingly, and to address these issues, a realistic life-cycle cost assessment of the UTA program must be presented in the NTS site-specific 2006 Plan.

Remediation -- Off-Site Contaminated Areas b and Industrial Sites

   The site-specific 2006 Plan for the NTS states that "contaminated surface sites outside the NTS boundaries will be characterized and remediated and the surface restored for unrestricted use" [page 4]. The document further states that institutional control of the subsurface will be retained, and the groundwater will be monitored to ensure there is no risk to the public." The document further assumes that "acquisition of additional subsurface rights will be required to ensure protection against inadvertent penetration of the subsurface by entities outside the DOE." [page 4 & 5]

   We must point out that these general statements are largely inaccurate. In fact, many of the off-site contaminated areas have existing or temporary 4  land-use restrictions in place, and many others will have restrictions associated with final closure actions. In addition, radiation cleanup standards for plutonium/uranium contaminated surface soils have not been fully negotiated nor agreed to by the State of Nevada. This means that existing sites where work has been performed (e.g., Double Tracks) may need to be revisited before closure can be concluded. In any event, the NTS 2006 Plan states that "completion of a DOE/NV Resource Management Plan is required before the state regulator will negotiate final cleanup levels for corrective activities and particularly for radiological contaminants." [see page 11]. These negotiations will largely depend on a more complete characterization of soil contamination including verification of particle size information. On this point, DOE's assertion that 200 pCi/gram is an appropriate remedial level for plutonium contaminated soils remains an open question.

   DOE should also be aware that the acquisition of additional groundwater rights for the sole purpose of allowing contaminated groundwater to migrate uncontrolled is not an approved action under State law. To the contrary, the appropriation of water in Nevada is governed by the concept of beneficial use. Finally, DOE's assertion that all industrial sites within the NTS nuclear testing area will not be remediated is not an acceptable action. State officials have consistently held that rememdiation of these sites will be addressed through future land-use decisions, via the NTS Resource Management Plan,c to reflect the concept of "how clean is clean for what use." The final site-specific 2006 Plan for the NTS should reflect all of these concerns.

Waste Management Activities at NTS

   As noted in the national 2006 plan, DOE has Low-Level Waste (LLW) and Mixed Low-Level Waste (MLLW) disposal capabilities at several sites throughout the weapons complex. However, as part of the Department's Waste Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (Waste Management PEIS), officials in Nevada acknowledge that a decision will soon be made to send significant volumes of defense LLW and MLLW to only a few regional disposal sites. 5  It is also strongly suspected that NTS will remain on the short list and in the end, will likely be selected as one of DOE's regional disposal sites for disposition of these waste types. While State officials do acknowledge that the Waste Management PEIS will drive the decision to select a LLW disposal configuration, such a decision is irrefutably linked to the final disposition of DOE's inventory of LLW and thus, to the goals of the national 2006 Plan.

   Accordingly, in meeting the goals of the national 2006 Plan, DOE will likely reduce its complex-wide environmental mortgage; however, the decision to move significant volumes of waste to the NTS will serve to intensify Nevada's long-term mortgage. In fact, it could be argued that Nevada would see a net mortgage gain in terms of risks and costs for long- term surveillance, maintenance, and waste site monitoring activities.

   To mitigate these "gains," officials in Nevada have long sought several policy and program changes from DOE. While some of these changes are discussed in the NTS site-specific 2006 Plan, we are taking this opportunity to readdress these issues. They include:

Shared Federal/State Regulatory Oversight

   If the NTS is selected as a central or regional disposal site for LLW waste and/or if the site continues to provide waste disposal services for off- site waste generators, then DOE must consider implementing a shared regulatory oversight program with the State of Nevada for managing waste disposal activities at the site. The State currently has legal authority to initiate a permitting and monitoring program for this activity (NRS 445.625).

   To actually initiate such a program, the State (Nevada Division of Environmental Protection) would develop regulations requiring DOE to comply with certain State permitting requirements for disposal of LLW at NTS. Development of State regulations could readily be accomplished by essentially adopting DOE's new waste management order (DOE Order 453.1), thereby diminishing any state/federal regulatory conflicts. State oversight would likely focus on technical reviews of the DOE's disposal site performance assessment process, waste acceptance criteria, waste stream analysis, disposal fee structure, life cycle facility costs, and postclosure monitoring activities. Enforcement of State permitting requirements would be accomplished through a process identical to what is presently in place for commercially permitted facilities.

Programmatic NEPA Analysis of DOE Waste Types Considered Not Suitable for Shallow Land Burial

   Officials in Nevada believe that DOE has finally acknowledged the need for a programmatic NEPA analysis to address disposition of certain radioactive wastes types that, because of their hazard characteristics, are considered unsuitable for shallow land burial. In the past, certain DOE officials in Nevada proposed interim storage/disposal of GTCC waste at the NTS. In recent DOE correspondence, however, Governor Bob Miller was assured that "prior to any decision being made concerning the disposition of GTCC wastes, appropriate National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) reviews will be conducted."6  In the letter, DOE also agreed that there are advantages of examining both GTCC and special case waste jointly, where similar hazard characteristics exist. State officials are encouraged that DOE has finally acknowledged the need for an assessment of the disposition alternatives for GTCC waste and DOE-equivalent defense wastes defined generically as "high activity special case wastes."

Transporting Low-Level Waste and Mixed LLW through the Las Vegas Valley

   State officials contend that DOE must implement a strategy that eliminates radioactive waste shipments through the Las Vegas Valley. Such a strategy, moreover, must preclude any further actions to establish an intermodal waste transfer facility in the Las Vegas metropolitan area. According to the Waste Management PEIS, and under a worst case scenario, the largest number of radioactive waste shipments to a single site would occur at the NTS, if the site was selected as a central disposal facility for LLW, Mixed LLW, and waste destined for Yucca Mountain if that site is found suitable as a high-level radioactive waste repository.

   In terms of waste shipments, the PEIS found that a combined total of more than 295,000 truck shipments or more than 106,000 rail shipments of waste could be transported through the Las Vegas Valley. According to DOE, this translates to about 118 truck shipments or 42 rail shipments per day for a period spanning 10 years. These estimates also fail to account for DOE's inventory of "cleanup waste" that could add thousands of additional shipments for decades to come.

   Given that Las Vegas continues to be the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country and considering the unprecedented volume of tourists who visit the city (now estimated at 30 million annually ), any transportation accident involving radioactive waste could have a devastating socioeconomic impact on the economy of the State. While the probability of such an accident is small, the perceived risk effects and potential economic consequences of such an event could be devastating. As such, eliminating the transportation of radioactive waste through the Las Vegas Valley is a State equity issue that has wide support from State and local officials and the public at large.

   To effectively address this issue, DOE headquarter officials must demonstrate decisive leadership by developing a nuclear waste transportation program that focuses on excluding the use of transportation modes and routes that would allow the movement of radioactive waste through the Las Vegas Valley. In terms of State equity, a commitment to address these issues should at least be "conceptually" discussed in the Record of Decision for the Waste Management PEIS.

   Overall DOE must alter the practice of allowing common carriers to determine transportation routes for radioactive waste; and this could be accomplished in part by emulating the transportation program adopted by the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico for routing waste shipments through states and communities.

Assessment of the Fee Structure and Life-Cycle Costs Analysis for Waste Disposal Facilities at NTS.

   State officials believe DOE has no provisions in place to assess the fee structure for the life-cycle costs that will be needed to support both near- term and in perpetuity management of the radioactive waste disposal facilities at the NTS. Such an analysis is needed to provide real "market driven" estimates for determining the adequacy of fees paid by off-site waste generators. As mentioned in the NTS 2006 Plan (Appendix D), an underlying component of this issue is equity. Yet, while DOE seems to recognize that off-site generators should provided full life-cycle funding to support waste management operations, closure activities, and long-term monitoring, there are no firm plans in place to address this issue. The NTS 2006 Plan does state that "a plan has been developed which should offer the waste generators a more customer-oriented and stable fee, provide adequate funds to cover disposal-related costs, and support an equitable return to Nevada for providing the service to the complex" [page 24]; however, State officials are not privy to, nor have we seen such a plan. In any event, State officials believe that a "third party" review of a fee structure assessment is paramount to gain public acceptance.

Concluding Remarks

   As mentioned above, we do credit DOE for adopting a ten-year vision to address the legacy of environmental contamination that exists throughout the weapons complex. Yet, we must remind DOE officials that the legacy of environmental contamination at the NTS is unique among all DOE sites. In addition, because the nuclear testing mission at NTS was only recently concluded (the last nuclear test was conducted in September 1992), funding for EM activities came late to the site. Thus, assessing groundwater and surface soil contamination while DOE was still actively testing nuclear weapons, was not exactly a corrective action priority -- particulary at a secure DOE Defense Program site like the NTS.

   DOE officials should also be aware that the presently conceived national 2006 Plan may, in fact, increase Nevada's mortgage by under- funding an orderly long-term site investigation, monitoring, and corrective action program at the NTS. Unless DOE is willing to address certain equity issues, (i.e., transportation, shared regulatory oversight, assessment of disposal fees revenues & costs, and health monitoring ) Nevada's "mortgage liability" could be compounded through an expansion of the historically underfunded waste management program at the site.

   Finally, we encourage the department to address these equity issues, at least conceptually, in the Record of Decision for the Waste Management PEIS. And while we are sensitive to the 2006 Planning process in terms of obtaining strategic planning and budgeting advantages, we believe when the National Environmental Policy Act process is implemented at the programmatic level, DOE has wide authority to conceptually address controversial issues, whether they be real or perceived.

   We hope you pay careful consideration to these comments, and we look forward to working with DOE officials to address these issues. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact Paul Liebendorfer (NDEP 702-687- 5872 ex 3039) or John Walker (NWPO- 702-687-3744).

Julie Butler, Coordinator
State Clearinghouse


cc: Nevada Congressional Delegation
   Richard Urey & Tim Crowley, Governor's Office
   Robert R. Loux, NWPO
   Lew Dodgion, Environmental Protection
   Diana Weigmann, State Science Advisor
   Leo Penne, Nevada, Washington Office
   Alvin L. Alm, Assistant Secretary, DOE/EM
   G. Johnson, Leah Dever, Don Elle, DOE/NV
   John Thomasian, NGA
   Local Government Representatives
   Members CAB, NTS Programs


1 The Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee, the Hanford Site in the State of Washington, the Idaho Engineering Laboratory in Idaho, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina

2 The additional funding request was made as part of the "three year rolling milestone" concept. This concept was a process proposed by DOE and agreed to by the states during national negotiations involving DOE compliance with requirements of the Federal Facilities Compliance Act. The three year rolling milestone concept was subsequently incorporated into the State/DOE Cleanup agreement for Nevada.

3 See June 30, 1997 letter from Paul Liebendorfer, State of Nevada (NDEP) to Leah Dever, Assistant Manager, DOE/EM Nevada Operations Office.

4 The 3 million acre Nellis Air Force Range land withdrawal expires in the year 2001. The withdrawal area includes the Tonopah Test Range and other sites that contain plutonium and uranium contaminated soils.

5 The preferred alternative for LLW disposal presented in DOE's Waste Management PEIS calls for the selection of two or three sites from the following six sites: Hanford, Idaho Engineering Laboratory, the Los Alamos National Laboratory, NTS, the Oak Ridge Reservation , and the Savannah River Site. See DOE Final Waste Management PEIS -DOE/EIS-0200-F, page 20.

6  U.S. Department of Energy, August 4, 1997. Letter from Assistant Secretary Alvin Alm to Governor Bob Miller, Nevada.


a DOE Weapons Complex

The DOE Weapons Complex is generally described as consisting of 15 major nuclear materials development and manufacturing facilities located in 10 different states. The complex produced nuclear weapons through a series of integrated manufacturing activities that included: mining; milling and refining uranium; isotope separation of uranium; fuel and target fabrication for production reactors; reactor operations; chemical separation of plutonium; component fabrication; weapons assembly; and weapons testing.

b  Description of Off-Site Areas

The Tonopah Test Range (TTR):  is comprised of just over 600 square miles. The facility is surrounded on three sides by the Nellis Air Force Range. The TTR is located about 150 miles northwest of Las Vegas. During the 1960s, DOE conducted several "safety-related" nuclear weapons tests that resulted in significant plutonium surface soil contamination at three sites on the TTR (i.e., Clean Slates I, II, and II).

Project Shoal Area:   Located in northern Nevada east of the city of Fallon, the site was used to detonate a nuclear device with an estimated yield of 12.5 kilotons. The underground test was conducted in 1963 at a depth of 1,320 ft. According to DOE, the test was conducted to study the effects of different geological media on seismic waves produced by an underground nuclear shot and to determine if seismic waves produced from such tests could be differentiated from natural earthquakes.

Central Nevada Test Area (CNTA):  Located in a remote area in south-central Nevada, CNTA was obtained for the purpose of developing a potential alternative site for nuclear testing. Several emplacement holes were drilled at CNTA; however, Project Faultless was the only nuclear test conducted at the site. The Faultless event was conducted on January 19, 1968 at a depth of 3,200 ft. The shot had a yield of approximately one megaton.

c Resource Management Plan:  

A commitment to prepare a Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the NTS was included in the Record of Decision for the 1996 site-wide FEIS for the test site. This was preceeded by the "Framework for the Resource Management Plan," Vol. 2 of the FEIS. The RMP concept stems from steps being taken at the NTS to comply with DOE Policy 430.1, Land and Facility Use Planning, and DOE Order 430.1, Life Cycle Asset Management. These directives commit the DOE to stewardship of its land and facilities based on ecosystem management and sustainable development. At the NTS, the RMP will result in current information being available on all resources, both land and facilities, that will be useful to the DOE EM Program, to the Future Use Program and to NEPA compliance.

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