CONTAMINATION AT THE NTS
DOE'S ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT PROGRAM AT NTS
WASTE DISPOSAL ISSUES AT NTS
STATE EQUITY ISSUES — RESULTS IN BRIEF
- Governor's Correspondence
- DOE Correspondence
- Correspondence from State of Nevada - NWPO
- Correspondence from State of Nevada - NDEP
- State Comments - DOE 2006 Plan
The State of Nevada has developed a number of equity initiatives to respond to changing missions and federal responsibilities at the Nevada Test Site (NTS). These initiatives or "equity issues" were in part developed to address potential cumulative impacts between NTS operations and the Yucca Mountain Site Characterization Program. Yucca Mountain is contiguous to the NTS, located on the southwestern border of the NTS. State officials have identified several problem areas and emerging questions concerning the future mission activities at the NTS that have the potential for cumulative impact on the Yucca Mountain site characterization program. These unresolved problems include:
- Management and accountability concerning the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) low-level radioactive waste program at NTS;
- The impact of radioactive waste cleanup at other DOE Weapons Complex sites1 on waste disposal programs at NTS;
- Cumulative risks associated with the potential transportation of thousands of shipments of both high-level and low-level radioactive waste through the Las Vegas Valley;
- Questions concerning appropriate soil remediation levels, allowable land-uses and long-term institutional controls at the NTS and Yucca Mountain; and
- The need to initiate health effects studies and monitoring programs to "baseline" the impact of past nuclear testing on exposed populations, as well as the need to reevaluate existing radiological monitoring programs in the region to address present and future radioactive waste disposal activities at NTS.
As mentioned above, State officials have developed a number of equity initiatives to address these problem areas and to respond to DOE's changing mission responsibilities at NTS. Development of these equity issues culminated with DOE's release of the Draft 2006 planning and budgeting process, (Accelerating Cleanup - Focus on 2006, Discussion Draft, June 1997). The actual formulation of these issues, however, were preceded by several years of tension between DOE and the State of Nevada. At one point, Nevada's Attorney General filed suit 2 to force DOE to comply with federal statutes requiring disclosure of environmental contamination at the NTS. The impact of the State's lawsuit resulted in the preparation of a Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the test site. The State's lawsuit was settled, and DOE is in the process of complying with the issues stipulated in the settlement agreement (See attachment: State/DOE Settlement Agreement).
To fully comprehend the circumstances surrounding the State's lawsuit and the development of the State's equity issues, clarification is needed about the NTS and its' evolving missions, including non-defense program activities conducted under DOE's Environmental Management Program (EM).
CONTAMINATION AT THE NTS
The Nevada Test Site (NTS) occupies over 1,300 square miles and is located 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada. The NTS was the nation's proving ground for nuclear weapons testing. Between 1952 and 1992, DOE and its predecessor agencies detonated more than 900 nuclear devices at the site; 100 of these tests were conducted above ground with the remaining 800 detonated underground.
With the signing of the Compressive Test Band Treaty, nuclear testing at NTS was indefinitely suspended; the last underground test was conducted in September 1992. DOE still conducts "subcritical" tests at NTS, although these tests are considered innocuous compared to the volume of surface and subsurface soil and groundwater contamination generated by the full-scale testing program.
In reference to underground testing, just over 200 nuclear detonations were conducted at or within the vicinity of the groundwater beneath the NTS. According to DOE, underground testing left more than 300 million curies of radioactive contamination spread through millions of cubic meters of subsurface area. In terms of groundwater contamination, DOE has estimated that about 112 million curies remain under or within 100 meters of the water table itself.3 State officials believe that an estimated 300 square miles of groundwater is contaminated beneath the site. Understanding the movement of groundwater contamination at the NTS is a critical issue for the State when considering the cumulative "load" of radioactivity that would be added to the region if the Yucca Mountain project is approved.
DOE'S ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT PROGRAM AT THE NTS
One of the primary missions of the Environmental Management (EM) program at NTS is to gain a better understanding of how groundwater contamination can be characterized, modeled, and validated through onsite well monitoring. The eventual goal of the program is to achieve containment of the groundwater contamination through various management approaches. However, as pointed out in the State's comments on DOE's Draft 2006 plan, officials in Nevada 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 fully assess the movement of groundwater contamination at the site.
In addition to Environmental Restoration activities, DOE's Nevada Operations Office (DOE/Nevada) has provided waste disposal services for numerous off-site (out-of-state) DOE waste generators. NTS currently receives low-level waste from various off-site generators for disposal at the Area 5 and Area 3 low-level radioactive waste management sites. These sites are located on NTS proper in Frenchman and Yucca flats, up-gradient from Yucca Mountain and in proximity to the closed Beatty commercial low-level radioactive disposal site.
Between 1974 and 1994, there were about 8,400 shipments of low-level waste to the NTS (DOE/EIS 0243, page 6-11). DOE estimates suggest that over 20 million cubic feet of defense low-level waste has been disposed of at NTS. (Of note, about 46% of this amount was from nuclear testing operations at the NTS.) In comparison, only 4 million cubic feet of commercial low- level waste was shipped to the Beatty site, which is located in Nye County, Nevada.
WASTE DISPOSAL AT NTS
In reference to waste disposal activities, DOE/Nevada has limited existing shipments to NTS to "approved generators" as per the Record of Decision (ROD) for the NTS Site-Wide EIS. Approved generators are generically defined as DOE sites and contractors that historically shipped waste to Nevada. One of the key decisions contained in the referenced ROD, at least from the State's perspective, is the moratorium on approval of new waste generators. DOE has decided that no new waste generators will be approved until the Department issues a decision on its Programmatic Waste Management EIS (Waste Management PEIS).
This concession by DOE largely follows from the State's litigation and its review comments on the NTS Draft and Final EIS. At issue, at least in part, is the continuing dispute over the land use restrictions contained in the public land orders that initially withdrew the NTS from public domain status. The lands encompassing the site are public lands that were "temporarily" withdrawn by the Department of Interior and "loaned" to DOE for atomic testing. The State has argued that atomic testing is not the same as using the site as a national waste disposal facility. This issue is being addressed by DOE as part of the settlement agreement (see attachments).
In reference to DOE's Waste Management PEIS, the ROD for this document, which is scheduled for release in May 1998, will in part focus on a national siting decision for low-level and mixed low-level waste disposal facilities. As it now stands, two or three sites from the following six sites will be chosen: NTS (Nevada), Hanford (Washington State), Idaho Engineering Laboratory (Idaho), the Los Alamos National Laboratory (New Mexico), the Oak Ridge Reservation (Tennessee), and Savannah River (South Carolina) (See DOE's Final Waste Management PEIS-DOE/EIS-0200-F, page 20). It is worth mentioning that officials in Nevada have reason to suspect that NTS will be strongly considered as a regional disposal site. Because of this and for the reasons mentioned above, State officials have developed the following equity issues for consideration by DOE. The State has formally requested that these issues be conceptually addressed in the forthcoming ROD for the Waste Management PEIS.
STATE EQUITY ISSUES — RESULTS IN BRIEF
Overall, the State of Nevada has proposed five major equity issues that should be addressed in either the ROD for the Waste Management PEIS, through the 2006 planning process, or though other analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act (i.e., in the Yucca Mountain Repository EIS .) The list of issues are presented below. Details about each issue are presented in the attached September 9, 1997 review comments on DOE'S 2006 plan, other referenced documents, and in letters between Governor Bob Miller and DOE officials.
- Development of a Federal/State shared regulatory oversight program for Low-Level Waste disposal activities at the NTS;
- Development of a Programmatic NEPA analysis of DOE "high-activity" waste and/or waste classified as Greater-Than-Class-C (GTCC) or equivalent waste types, which are considered not suitable for shallow-land burial;
- Addressing the issue of prohibiting the transportation of radioactive waste through the Las Vegas Valley;
- Assessment of the fee structure, as well as Life-Cycle Cost analysis for the operation, maintenance, and postclosure monitoring of LLW disposal activities at NTS; and
- Initiating a health effects studyand monitoring program to "baseline" the impact of past nuclear testing on exposed populations in southern and eastern Nevada as well as a reevaluation of existing radiological monitoring programs at NTS in light of new mission activities such as soil and groundwater remediation and potential transport of large quantities of radioactive wastes to the site.
- April 17, 1997 -- State/DOE Settlement Agreement, Nevada Test Site Lawsuit
- June 11, 1997 -- Letter from Alvin L. Alm, DOE Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management, to Governor Bob Miller. The Secretary's letter proposed a strategy for implementing a State oversight program for DOE low-level waste disposal activities at the Nevada Test Site.
- June 30, 1997 -- Governor Bob Miller's response letter to DOE Assistant Secretary Alvin Alm. The letter further outlines the Governor's proposal to initiate a shared regulatory oversight process for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste at the Nevada Test Site.
- June 30, 1997 -- Letter form Paul Liebendorfer (State Division of Environmental Protection -NDEP) to G.Leah Dever, DOE Nevada. Mr Liebendorfer's letter outlined the State's concerns about funding for DOE's Underground Testing Area (UGTA) Program in Federal Fiscal year 1999.
- August 4, 1997 -- Letter from Alvin L. Alm, DOE Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management, to Governor Bob Miller. The Secretary's letter addresses NEPA compliance of LLW classified as Greater-than-Class- C (GTCC) and/or Defense LLW waste that is considered equivalent to GTCC waste in terms of radiological hazard.
- September 9, 1997 -- State of Nevada Review Comments on: "Accelerating Cleanup: Focus on 2006 Discussion Draft," Department of Energy, Office of Environmental Management, June 1997 The State's comments provide the historical background on why the NTS is a unique site, in comparison to all other DOE Weapons Complex sites; the comments also define the State's equity issues referenced above.
- September 26, 1997 -- Studies of Potential Yucca Mountain Health Effects Seek To Learn From Past Experience, by Marie I. Boutté, University of Nevada, Reno.
- October 21, 1997 -- Letter from Alvin L. Alm, DOE Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management, to Lew Dodgion, Administrator, Nevada Division of Environmental Protection. This letter reaffirms the Secretary's commitment to pursue a Federal/State joint oversight program of LLW disposal operations at the NTS.
- October 24, 1997 -- Letter from Robert Loux, State of Nevada (NWPO) to G. Leah Dever, DOE\Nevada. The letter transmits the State of Nevada comments on the September 30, 1997 Draft report titled "DOE's Nevada Intermodal Transportation Evaluation" report. This report is seen by State officials as a first step in a process that will eliminate the transportation of radioactive waste through the Las Vegas Valley. The State's comments suggest that DOE should undertake development of a Programmatic EA. The EA would give DOE necessary decision authority to require existing and future waste generators to use the intermodal transfer facility (as appropriate) and to abide by a selected intrastate highway route that would avoid the Las Vegas Valley.
- November 21, 1997 -- "DOE Memorandum" DOE Nevada Operations Office (DOE/NV) Generator Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Fee
- November 1997 -- U.S. Department of Energy, Nevada Operations Office, NON-SUBPART D ENVIRONMENTAL ASSESSMENT DETERMINATION Institutionalize and Encourage Intermodal Transportation of Department of Energy (DOE) Complex-wide Generated Waste to the Nevada Test Site
- November 21, 1997 -- Memorandum from Carl P. Gertz, Acting Assistant Manager for Environmental Management (DOE Nevada) to Mark W. Frei, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Waste Management, DOE/HQ (EM-30). [ The memorandum address Joint Oversight Responsibilities with the State of Nevada at the Nevada Test Site(NTS)]
- January 12, 1998 -- Letter to Frankie Sue Del Papa, Attorney General State of Nevada concerning DOE compliance with the Settlement Agreement of April 15, 1997 (i.e., Nevada v. Pena Civil Action No. CV-94-00576-RMP-(RLH). The letter informed the Attorney General that DOE's Office of General Counsel has initiated consultation with the U.S. Department of Interior concerning the status of the existing land withdrawals for the Nevada Test Site.
- February 3, 1998 -- Letter from Governor Bob Miller to Dr. Barry Johnson, Assistant Director, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
The letter request federal assistance to develop a approach for identifying past and potential health risks associated with federal nuclear activities in Nevada.
- March 2, 1998 Letter from Robert R. Loux, Agency for Nuclear Projects to Frank Di Sanza (DOE/Nevada). The letter contains the State's scoping comments on DOE's proposed Environmental Assessment (EA) for Intermodal Transportation of Low-Level Nuclear Waste to the Nevada Test Site
- March 3, 1998 -- Nevada Department of Transportation issues scoping comments to DOE on the Environmental Assessment for Intermodal Transport of Low Level Nuclear Waste to Nevada Test Site
- March 12, 1998 -- DOE Memorandum "Guidance for Discussion with State of Nevada on Low-Level Waste Disposal Operations at the Nevada Test Site.
- March 13, 1998 -- "State Review Comments — Type B Accident Investigation Board Report [12/15/997] Leakage of Waste Containers near Kingman, Arizona." Letter from Robert R. Loux, Agency For Nuclear Projects to David R. Kozlowski, DOE/Ohio
- March 18 -- Letter to Governor Bob Miller from Barry Johnson, Ph.D., (HHS - Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry - ATSDR). The letter outlines ATSDR's intent to support an evaluation of current and future health concerns related to nuclear testing and waste disposal activities at the Nevada Test Site.
- March 19, 1998 -- Federal Register Notice "DOE Notice of Intent to Conduct Policy Analysis. (Request for Public Comment for conducting an analysis of its policy regarding disposal of low-level and Mixed low-level radioactive waste at commercial disposal facilities.
- March 24, 1998 -- Boulder City, Nevada issues "Resolution" requesting DOE to keep low-level radioactive waste shipments out of Bolder City and out of the Las Vegas Valley.
- April 1, 1998 -- City of North Las Vegas, Nevada issues "Resolution" requesting DOE to keep low-level radioactive waste shipments out of North Las Vegas and out of the Las Vegas Valley.
- April 21, 1998 -- Clark County, Nevada -- A Resolution Requesting The Department Of Energy (DOE) to Avoid Placing an Intermodal (Train to Truck) Transfer Facility in Clark County, and to Avoid the Use of Highway Routes over Hoover Dam and Highway and Rail Routed In and Through The Las Vegas Valley for the Transport of Low-Level Radioactive Waste to the Nevada Test Site.
- April 30, 1998 -- City of Las Vegas -- A Resolution Requesting the Department of Energy to Exclude the Use of Highway Routes over Hoover Dam and Through the Metropolitan Las Vegas Valley for the Transport of Low-level Radioactive Waste to the Nevada Test Site.
- May 1998 -- State of Nevada issues comments on DOE's Environmental Management Paths to Closure "cleanup plan" for the weapons complex
- May 6, 1998 -- DOE Memorandum - "Joint DOE/State of Nevada Oversight of Low-Level Waste Disposal at the Nevada Test Site (NTS)" - C. P. Gertz to K. A. Hayes Chaney
- May 18, 1998 -- State of Nevada Comments on the U.S. Department of Energy " Notice of Intent to Conduct Policy Analysis for the Disposal of Low- Level Radioactive Waste (LLW) and Mixed Low-Level Radioactive Waste (MLLW) at Commercial Facilities)
- August 20, 1998 -- Long-Term Stewardship at the Nevada Test Site. (By John B. Walker and Paul J. Liebendorfer, Nevada Division of Enviornmental Protection)
- September 8, 1988 -- State of Nevada Comments -- Notice of Availability; Draft U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Order and Manual on Radioactive Waste Management (Federal Register Notice /Vol. 63, No. 151/Thursday, August 6, 1998/Notices)
- October 29, 1998 -- State of Nevada -- Governor Bob Miller expresses concern about DOE's continued support for active investigation of radioactive groundwater contamination beneath the Nevada Test Site.
- James M. Owendoff, Acting Assistant Secretary for Environmental Management, responds to Governor Miller's letter of October 29, 1998.
1. 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
2. See United States District Court, District of Nevada, State of Nevada v. Pena, et al. CV-S-94-00576-PMP-(RLH)
3. U.S. Department of Energy, 1996. Environmental Impact Statement for the Nevada Test Site and Off-Site Locations in the State of Nevada (DOE/EIS 0243), Volume 1, Table 4-1 and 4-27, pages 4-6 and 4-126.