March 2, 1998
Frank Di Sanza
U.S. Department of Energy
Nevada Operations Office
P.O. Box 98518
Las Vegas, Nevada 89193-8518
RE: Environmental Assessment -- Intermodal Transportation of Low-Level Nuclear Waste to the Nevada Test Site
Dear Mr. Di Sanza:
The State of Nevada has reviewed the Department of Energy's formal determination to prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) for intermodal (rail-to-truck) transportation of low-level radioactive waste (LLW) to the Nevada Test Site (NTS).1 According to this determination, the Department of Energy (DOE) is proposing to "institutionalize and encourage intermodal transportation of DOE complex-wide generated waste to the NTS."
Since a formal scoping process for the referenced EA was not conducted, we are taking this opportunity to again define the State's concerns about the shipment of LLW to Nevada. As we have stated in the past, the Environmental Assessment must define a set of alternatives, including a "proposed action," for siting intermodal waste transfer facilities, as well as for the use of highway routes that exclude transport of waste through the metropolitan Las Vegas valley.
In past correspondence,2 Nevada officials have suggested that DOE prepare a Programmatic EA in accordance with appropriate regulations (10 CFR 1021.330) & (40 CFR 1508.18(b(3))) to establish the decision authority to require existing and future waste generators not only to use intermodal transfer facilities, as appropriate, but to use highway routes that exclude the Las Vegas valley.
Accordingly, the State contends that the proposed action to be evaluated in the EA must go beyond efforts to "institutionalize and encourage intermodal transportation." To the contrary, the document must evaluate an alternative (the proposed action), which addresses the use of intermodal transportation in combination with highway routes. In addition, highway routes must be defined as routes from intermodal facilities to the NTS that avoid transport of waste through the heavily congested Las Vegas valley. Likewise, for transport of waste using trucks only, the assessment must focus on routes that avoid transport of waste through the valley.
Nevada officials have communicated this "equity issue" in formal comments on the Department's Focus 2006 Discussion Draft Plan (the 10- year plan)3 and in correspondence between Governor Bob Miller and Energy Secretary Federico Peña.4 State officials have also participated in numerous face-to-face discussions with former DOE Undersecretary Alvin Alm and other DOE headquarter and Nevada Operations Office officials.
This transportation issue is important to Nevadans, given the hundreds of shipments containing thousands of cubic feet of defense LLW transported to NTS each year by out-of-state generators.5 Nearly all of these shipments are trucked across Hoover Dam through the Las Vegas valley by way of the notorious "spaghetti bowl" freeway interchange. Movement of this waste has not gone without mishap; only recently, DOE officials have repeatedly discovered leaking waste containers shipped from DOE's Fernald site in Ohio through Las Vegas to the NTS.6
Disposal volumes reaching NTS could also skyrocket 7 if the site is selected as a central or regional disposal facility by DOE. The disposal facilities at NTS are currently on DOE's "short list" of national candidate sites, one of six being considered under the Department's Waste Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS). In reference to this document and as a matter of equity, Nevada officials have also requested that DOE conceptually discuss in the forthcoming Record of Decision for the PEIS, the exclusion of radioactive waste transportation through Las Vegas and the Las Vegas valley.2
Finally, while DOE officials may believe that the transport of LLW poses little risk to public health, State and local officials in Nevada contend that the continued transportation of these wastes not only poses risks to public health and safety, but could also adversely affect the State's tourist- based economy.
Las Vegas is the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country. This fact, along with the unprecedented volume of tourists who visit the city now estimated at 30 million annually, brings into question what might happen if a transportation accident involving radioactive waste were to occur. We believe it would have a devastating socioeconomic impact on the State's economy.
I hope DOE officials carefully consider these comments in defining a proposed action for the referenced Environmental Assessment.
Robert R. Loux
Governor Bob Miller
Leo Penne, Washington Office
Nevada Congressional Delegation
State Clearinghouse and State Agencies
Members, Clark County Commission
Members, Las Vegas, North Las Vegas, Boulder City, and Henderson City Councils
The Honorable Federico Peña, Secretary of Energy
G. Johnson, DOE/NV
1. U.S. Department of Energy, NON-SUBPART D ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT DETERMINATION "Intermodal Transportation of Low-level Nuclear Waste to the Nevada Test Site", DOE Nevada Operations Office, 11-21-97. (Internet Address: http://184.108.40.206/nucwaste/nts/intemod.htm)
2. See October 24, 1997 letter from Robert R. Loux (NWPO) to G. Leah Dever, Assistant Manager for Environmental Management, DOE Nevada Operations Office (Internet Address: http://220.127.116.11/nucwaste/nts/loux-em.htm)
3. See State of Nevada Review Comments on "Accelerating Cleanup: Focus on 2006 Discussion Draft," Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management, June 1997. (September 9, 1997 letter from Julie Butler, Nevada State Clearinghouse to Gene Schmitt [DOE/HQ]).(Internet Address: http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/yucca/doe2006.htm)
4. Letter to Secretary Federico Peña from Governor Bob Miller, December 19, 1997 (Internet Address: http://18.104.22.168/nucwaste/nts/ohio03.htm)
5. In 1997 alone, DOE reported that 782 shipments containing an estimated 850,000 cubic feet of LLW were received at the NTS. (DOE/NV Draft Annual Report "Transportation Mitigation" FEIS NTS and Off-Site Locations in the State of Nevada, February 1998 [DOE/EIS 0243])
6. Type B Accident Investigation Board Report of the December 15, 1997 Leakage of Waste Containers near Kingman, Arizona. (Note: Prior to the Kingman incident, on at least two other occasions, DOE contractors in Nevada discovered leaking waste containers that had been shipped from Fernald, Ohio through Las Vegas to the Nevada Test Site — see page 14 of the referenced document).
7. In terms of LLW shipments to the NTS, DOE's Waste Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (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.