December 19, 1997 -- Governor Bob Miller's Letter To
DOE Secretary Pena

Capitol Complex
Carson City, Nevada 89710
(702) 687-4486
Fax: (702) 687-4486
December 19, 1997
    The Honorable Federico Pena
    Secretary of Energy
    U.S. Department of Energy
    1000 Independence Avenue, SW
    Washington D.C. 20585
    Dear Secretary Pena:

    The incidents involving the release of low-level radioactive materials in shipments from the Department of Energy's (DOE) Fernald facility to the Nevada Test Site (NTS) have caused serious concern in Nevada. Disturbingly, these do not appear to be isolated incidents. You will recall that, last May, there were problems with similar materials awaiting shipment at Fernald when the contents of a waste package exploded.

    With these incidents in mind, I would like to commend you for your decision to create an independent committee to investigate this matter, and I suggest the investigation include the following:

      (1) A careful analysis of the waste packaging and inspection operations at facilities where waste is generated and/or prepared for shipment;

      (2) A review of waste characterization procedures and how those procedures are implemented in practice;

      (3) A compliance review of the waste acceptance criteria used for determining what radioactive wastes may be disposed of at NTS, the extent to which such criteria is being adhered to by generator sites in identifying waste acceptable for disposal at NTS, and the adequacy of procedures at NTS for assuring that waste arriving at NTS does, in fact, meet the established acceptance criteria; and,

      (4) An evaluation of procedures that are currently in place for notifying State and local officials about incidents involving low-level waste shipments and the identification of any changes/improvements to those procedures that may be needed.

    I would also like to express my appreciation for your quick and decisive action in ordering a temporary halt to all low-level waste shipments to NTS, and I ask that the moratorium be maintained until the investigation is complete. Given the history of problems related to such shipments, I am also recommending that you consider the following additional measures to avoid future incidents and pro-actively assure adequate protections for public health and safety. These measures have been discussed with Undersecretary Alvin Alm and other DOE headquarters and Nevada Operations personnel and included in State comments on the 2006 Plan initiative.

      (1) Establish procedures for waste acceptance at NTS that require generator facilities to ship low-level waste to avoid the heavily populated and congested Las Vegas Valley;

      (2) Institute a shared regulatory oversight program with the State of Nevada regarding low-level waste disposal at NTS. Among other activities, such a program should include the ability to inspect, at the State's discretion, packaging and loading activities at generator facilities and the waste packages as they arrive at NTS;

      (3) In accord with item # one above, designate specific shipping routes to be used by waste carriers within Nevada and establish a system of radiation monitoring stations along those routes to monitor exposures and identify any contamination resulting from such shipments; and,

      (4) Provide for the implementation of a program for assessing potential health effects to Nevadans resulting from past and current DOE radiological activities at NTS and a system for ongoing monitoring to identify any health effects that may result from future waste disposal. transportation, and other activities.

    Thank you again for you prompt action in suspending low-level radioactive waste shipments in response to the events of the past week. It is my hope that, by taking the actions recommended in this letter and by working together, these incidents can become opportunities for further reducing health and safety risks associated with this activity.

    Bob Miller
    cc: Senator Harry Reid
    Senator Richard Bryan
    Congressman John Ensign
    Congressman James Gibbons
    Lew Dodgion, NDEP
    Yvonne Sylva, NV State Health Office

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