November 30, 1998
Carl P. Gertz, Assistant Manager
U.S. Department of Energy
Nevada Operations Office
P.O. Box 98518
Las Vegas, NV 89193-8518
Re: State Review Comments on the Preapproval Draft Environmental Assessment: Intermodal Transportation of Low-level Radioactive Waste to The Nevada Test Site
Dear Mr. Gertz:
The State of Nevada has reviewed the Department of Energy's (DOE) Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) for Intermodal Transportation of Low-Level Radioactive Waste (LLW) to the Nevada Test Site (NTS). As we understand the document, DOE is proposing to "encourage" DOE-approved Low-Level Waste (LLW) generators and their transportation contractors who send waste to NTS to use transportation alternatives that would minimize radiological risk, enhance safety, and reduce costs.
To address these objectives, the EA assesses two basic alternatives. The first alternative describes the use of intermodal transportation (i.e., rail to truck) at three separate sites. Two of the sites are in California in the communities of Barstow and Yermo; the third site is located north of Las Vegas, Nevada, in or near the city of Caliente. The second alternative examined in the EA addresses the shipment of LLW to the NTS with "trucks only" on highway routes that avoid Las Vegas Valley and Hoover Dam.
While the State of Nevada supports actions by DOE to keep radioactive waste shipments out of the Las Vegas Valley, we found the EA wholly deficient in the examination of the intermodal transportation issue. In fact, the document appears to inappropriately mix the objectives of "minimizing risk, enhancing safety, and reducing costs" of low-level waste transportation with the promotion of intermodal transportation. More importantly, the document reflects an inappropriate bias toward the development of an intermodal transfer facility at Caliente, Nevada, without fully evaluating the requirements and impacts of such a facility.
As has been pointed out in previous comments, State officials contend that the purpose of the EA is to support a decision that requires generators of LLW to use transportation routes that avoid the metropolitan Las Vegas area and Hoover Dam. The feasibility of intermodal transportation of LLW is a unique issue that requires detailed National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) documentation. Such documentation, moreover, must include a regulatory analysis that addresses either DOE oversight or licensing under NRC regulations of an intermodal LLW transfer facility. Hence, the analysis in the EA should focus exclusively on evaluating the alternative highway routes that are currently available for transporting LLW by truck to the NTS that bypass the Las Vegas metro area. Contrary to this level of analysis, however, the document reads more like a promotional report for a Caliente intermodal facility.
Overall, State officials contend that any action taken by DOE to establish an intermodal LLW transportation capability, as outlined in the EA, is entirely inappropriate. If DOE intends to site an intermodal waste transfer facility, then the agency must follow established procedures under the NEPA and DOE implementing regulations (40 CFR Part 1500-1508 & 10 CFR Part 1021). Likewise, if such an action is contemplated, the required NEPA documentation must disclose regulatory impacts associated with the management and licensing of a nuclear facility for handling and storage of radioactive wastes.
Concerning an intermodal LLW transfer facility, if DOE proposes actions that are connected, closely related, or would automatically trigger other actions, then these actions must be analyzed together in a single NEPA document (See 40 CFR 1508.25). This is significant, considering that the referenced EA fails to present an adequate environmental impact analysis for the two separate but connected actions described in the document (i.e., the analysis of routing alternatives for minimizing radiological risks and the use of intermodal radioactive waste transfer facilities).
In any event, and despite what the proposed action is, the subject EA fails to meet the "test" of connected actions specified under NEPA regulations. Given these considerations, State officials believe the EA is fatally flawed since the document "infers" the use of one or more intermodal facilities, yet fails to include an adequate analysis of environmental impacts associated with such an action.
Specifically, the EA fails to consider, among other things, a detailed flood assessment of the Caliente sites. The scoping comments for the EA issued by the Nevada Department of Transportation stated that "siting plans" for a Caliente intermodal site show that it would be located within a canyon capable of extensive water flow at flood periods. Caliente is located within the Meadow Valley Wash watershed that flows into the Muddy River and then into Lake Mead. Although it is acknowledged that the Caliente sites(s) are found in a 500-year flood plain, in these days of El Nino and global climate change, the wisdom of building a radioactive waste transfer facility anywhere in a credible flood zone is absurd at best.
In terms of socioeconomic effects, the EA fails to assess the potential negative economic impacts that may be caused by siting nuclear facilities, such as a radioactive waste transfer facility. Siting these types of facilities can, under certain conditions, have significant negative economic consequences by suppressing other business activity, lowering property values, and causing potential new residents, tourists, and businesses to avoid areas associated with things nuclear.
Alternative 1 also fails to address the issue of regulatory oversight and/or licensing of an intermodal radioactive waste transfer facility. If, for example, the intermodal transfer facility at the Marine Corps Logistics Base at Yermo were used for LLW, such an activity would necessarily fall under the Marine Corps delegated licensing authority to handle and/or store radioactive waste and associated materials. On the other hand, if an intermodal radioactive waste transfer facility was sited in or near Caliente, then regulatory oversight and/or licensing of the site would be required. Specifically, if DOE were the owner of such a facility, then it would be self-regulated by DOE under the Atomic Energy Act. However, if a private entity or a local government were to own such a site, then NRC and/or the State delegated authority would require a licence for such a facility. In any event, the entire issue of regulatory oversight of a nuclear waste transfer facility must be addressed in any action, either direct or indirect, that DOE might take concerning intermodal transfer of defense radioactive waste.
The State of Nevada continues to support the elimination of radioactive waste shipments over Hoover Dam and through the Las Vegas Valley. While some may still believe that transport of LLW poses little risk to public health and safety, State and local officials contend that moving these wastes through the Las Vegas Valley presents a significant risk and one that could adversely affect the State's tourist-based economy. The fact remains that Las Vegas is the fastest growing metropolitan area in the country, and when considering the unprecedented volume of tourists who visit the city each year (now estimated at thirty million), a transportation accident involving radioactive waste could cause significant negative impacts that would devastate the State's economy. The gaming, hotel, and recreation sectors in Nevada remain the State's principle employer, generating millions of dollars in private and public revenues.
When DOE initiated the development of this EA, State officials prepared scoping comments for the document that specifically suggested DOE initiate a programmatic environmental analysis (per: 10 CFR 1021.330) & (40 CFR 1508.18(b(3)) that would lead to a federal decision basis that could be used to require existing and future LLW generators to use highway routes that exclude Hoover Dam and the Las Vegas Valley. This recommendation has been ignored, however, as evidenced by the current proposed action in the EA that states that DOE will simply "encourage" waste generators to avoid the Las Vegas Valley. Likewise, DOE has rejected the State recommendation to include stipulations in contracts between waste generators and shippers that would allow for the exclusion of certain transportation routes, (i.e., routes through the Las Vegas Valley).
Because of DOE's lack of leadership on these issues, State and local officials are now left with a cumbersome and generally undefined "administrative" process for "encouraging" waste shippers to avoid shipping LLW through the Las Vegas Valley. While this is not the State's recommended approach, State officials will insist upon the following actions developed in cooperation with local government officials in southern Nevada:
- DOE must notify State and local officials about each new LLW shipment campaign destined for the NTS. The notification should include information such as number of shipments, estimated times of arrival, origin of shipments, type and volume of LLW, the instate routes to be used, and related information.
- DOE must provide periodic traffic advisories to waste generators and carriers concerning hazards, delays, accidents, level of service, and other information that will help them in choosing the most efficient and safest routes.
- DOE's Nevada Operations Office must modify the NTS Waste Acceptance Criteria to require that LLW carriers develop transportation plans before the authorization of any shipping campaign to the NTS. Using available data and analysis, these plans must include descriptions of the routes to be used that avoid Hoover Dam and the Las Vegas Valley.
Again, the State of Nevada supports actions by DOE to keep radioactive waste shipments off Hoover Dam and out of the Las Vegas Valley. Nevertheless, State officials believe that DOE should have examined a decision basis that would have allowed DOE to address routing of LLW by contract stipulations between waste generators and shippers. Since this approach was not addressed, the State of Nevada will insist, along with local governments, on the pursuit of "administrative means" to insure that shippers of LLW avoid Hoover Dam and the Las Vegas Valley.
For the intermodal transportation issue, the State's review of the EA concludes that the document is wholly deficient. In fact, an assessment of the feasibility of using an intermodal LLW transfer facility is an issue that would require detailed NEPA documentation. Also, because of the unique hazards associated with handling radioactive waste, State officials firmly believe that a regulatory analysis, per NEPA, to address DOE oversight and/or licensing under NRC regulations of an intermodal waste transfer facility would be mandatory. Since the EA is silent on this matter, and if DOE authorizes an action that would directly or indirectly lead to the development of an intermodal waste transfer and storage facility, without adequate NEPA documentation, the State of Nevada would consider legal action to insure issues involving public health and safety are addressed.
Robert R. Loux
Robert R. Loux
cc: Governor Bob Miller
Nevada Congressional Delegation