Intermodal Transportation of low-level nuclear Waste
to the Nevada Test Site



Proposed Action: Institutionalize and Encourage Intermodal Transportation of Department of Energy (DOE) Complex-wide Generated Waste to the Nevada Test Site

Program Office: Environmental Management

Location: Southern California and Southern Nevada

Proposed By: Waste Management Division

Description of the Proposed Action: See attached Action Description Memorandum.

Determination of Appropriate Level of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Review: I have determined that the proposed action is not listed in the classes of action in 10 C.F.R. 1021, Subpart D. Although the proposed project is not a major federal action that is likely to have a significant impact on the human environment, there is sufficient uncertainty that further environmental review is warranted. Therefore, I have determined that an environmental assessment be prepared as the appropriate level of NEPA review for the proposed action.

Signature:  GW Johnson   Date:11-21-97
Title: Manager, DOE Nevada Operations Office


Institutionalize and Encourage Intermodal Transportation of Department of Energy (DOE) Complex-wide Waste to the Nevada Test Site (NTS)

Purpose and Need for Action

To date, shipments of low-level radioactive waste (LLW) have been transported to the NTS by means of legal weight trucks transiting public roadways. There is some evidence that a combination of truck and rail (i.e., intermodal) transportation would substantially reduce costs and may result in reduction of the already low risks to public health and safety posed by present transportation methods. The Department of Energy/Nevada Operations Office DOE/NV) is proposing to institutionalize and encourage approved generators to use intermodal transportation for shipments of LLW to the NTS. This may be achieved by one or more of several means, such as changes to the DOE/NV Waste Acceptance Criteria, use of site agreements with waste generators, or other administrative means.

The Final Environmental Impact Statement for the Nevada Test Site and Off-Site Locations in the State of Nevada (NTS EIS) addressed the impacts, including risks to human health and safety, of transporting LLW and mixed low level radioactive waste (MLLW) from off-site generators to the NTS for disposal. That assessment was based on legal weight trucks on established highways. In addition, the Final Waste Management Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Managing Treatment, Storage, and Disposal of Radioactive and Hazardous Waste (WM PEIS) assessed the impacts of transporting wastes via trucks and via railroad but specifically excluded intermodal shipments. Also, because it has no railroad connection, transportation of waste to the NTS via rail was not assessed in the WM PEIS.

Description of the Proposed Action

Currently, approved waste generators ship LLW to the NTS by means of trucks. Based on recent studies, DOE/NV believes that significant cost savings could be achieved by using intermodal transportation. In addition, many of the trucks transporting LLW to the NTS utilize routes that cross Hoover Dam and transit the Las Vegas valley. Although a number of studies have indicated that transportation of LLW poses very little risk to the public, there are concerns by members of the public and some state and local officials that continued transportation of these wastes, through these areas, poses a risk to public health and safety and could adversely affect the local tourist economy. These highly congested areas could be avoided by using intermodal transportation and a combination of strategically located intermodal transfer points and specified highway routes.

The Affected Environment

This section contains a brief general description of the potentially affected environment.

Topography and Physiographic Setting

Both potential intermodal transfer points and the NTS are within the Basin and Range Physiographic Province. The Basin and Range Province is characterized by more or less regularly spaced, generally north-south trending mountain ranges separated by alluvial basins that were formed by faulting.


There are no known geological features that would be affected by the proposed action or any of the alternatives.

Surface Water and Groundwater

The NTS and Caliente are within the Great Basin, a hydrographic basin in which no surface water leaves except by evaporation. The Great Basin is part of the Basin and Range Physiographic Province. Hydrographic basins in the region have internal drainage controlled by topography. Streams in the region are ephemeral. Runoff results from snowmelt and from precipitation during storms that occur most commonly in winter and occasionally in fall and spring, and during localized thunderstorms that occur primarily in the summer. Much of the runoff quickly infiltrates into rock fractures or into the dry soils, some is carried down alluvial fans in arroyos, and some drains into playas where it may stand for weeks as a lake.

Throughout the region, springs and manmade impoundments are the only sources of perennial surface water. There are no known springs in the vicinity of the Caliente site. Yermo is located in the Mojave Desert near Barstow, California. Annual precipitation is low and there are no perennial surface water bodies in the vicinity. Precipitation either rapidly percolates into the soil or runs into washes and other drainages. This description does not provide information regarding groundwater in the region around the Yermo site.

Air Resources

Except for fugitive air emission of particulate matter, the NTS has no significant known sources of pollutants for which air quality standards exist. The present air quality on the NTS is good.

Inasmuch as it is in a rural area, it is assumed for purposes of this description that there are no significant sources of air pollutants in the vicinity of Caliente.

Air Resources

The potential air impacts from the proposed action include generation of fugitive dust during construction of the intermodal transfer facility at Caliente and vehicle emissions from construction equipment and from trains and trucks; however, these impacts would likely be less overall if intermodal transportation is implemented.

Biological Resources

The Yermo site is an existing facility and there would be no incremental increase in impacts to biological resources resulting from using the site for a LLW cargo transfer point. The Caliente facility would be constructed on railroad right-of-way within the town of Caliente, Nevada. The area has been previously disturbed and provides only marginal habitat values for wildlife. Some wildlife could be killed by collisions with trains or trucks transporting LLW but such losses would be very minor. Implementation of the intermodal transportation would not adversely affect biological resources in the areas around the transfer points nor along transportation routes.

Cultural Resources

DOE/NV would determine if it is necessary to conduct a cultural resources survey of the area proposed for construction. If significant cultural resources were found, attempts would be made to avoid them or if they were unavoidable, DOE/NV would consult with the Nevada State Historic Preservation Officer to identify mitigation measures sufficient to achieve a status of no adverse effect. Transportation activities associated with the proposed action would not adversely affect cultural resources. In addition, DOE/NV will consult with the Consolidated Group of Tribes and Organizations to identify potential impacts to American Indian cultural resources.

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