The regulatory changes contained in the Federal Register Notice of February 26, 1999 essentially exempts operators of nuclear power plants from having to address impacts of spent nuclear fuel transportation to a repository as part the application process for license renewals to extend the operating lifetimes of these nuclear plants.  The Notice does this by incorporating revisions to the Transportation section (Addendum 1) of the NRC's "Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants." The revisions to Addendum 1 attempt to address impacts associated with higher enriched fuel and higher burn up that would result from longer power plant operations.  It seeks to assess these impacts "in the vicinity of the candidate high-level waste repository site at Yucca Mountain and uses the Las Vegas, Nevada area as the reference location for impact assessment.  By publishing the Notice, NRC is signaling its intent to permit nuclear plant licensees to incorporate, by reference, Addendum 1 findings into their applications for license renewal instead of conducting separate analyses of potential spent fuel transportation impacts associated with changed fuel characteristics resulting from extended reactor operations.  NRC's proposed action has significant implications for how spent fuel transportation risks are ultimately addressed as well as how higher enriched and extended burn-up spent fuel impacts at-reactor waste management and storage, repository design, repository operations, and repository performance.


General Comments on the February 26, 1999 Federal Register Notice

Publication of the Notice was Inaccurate and Misleading

Even thought it deals exclusively with the transportation of spent nuclear fuel, the title of the Federal Register Notice refers only to proposed "Changes to Requirements for Environmental Review of Nuclear Power Plant Operating Licenses." Such a title has the effect - intentionally or otherwise - to limit access to the proposed changes to the people most affected by them, namely citizens located along transportation routes and, in particular, people in the Las Vegas area and the State of Nevada.  It was only by sheer luck that the State of Nevada happened upon the Federal Register Notice.  Local governments in southern Nevada were entirely unaware of it before it was brought to their attention by State officials.  It is highly unlikely that other states and communities located along potential transportation routes to a Yucca Mountain repository are aware of the Notice or the opportunity to comment on this crucial matter.  

The State of Nevada believes that NRC must reissue the Notice with a title that is clearly reflective of the actual content and intent of the proposed action.  In addition, the State contends that (1) the public comment period must be extended to afford people who have been excluded from reviewing and commenting on the Notice by the misleading title adequate opportunity to participate in the public review process; (2) public hearings (at least in Las Vegas and perhaps in other key transportation communities) should be held to actively promote public comments and involvement; and (3) meetings with southern Nevada local governments affected by the transportation scenario postulated in the Notice must be held to seek their input.


Comments on the Generic Environmental Impact Statement for License Renewal of Nuclear Plants, Main Report: Section 6.3 -- Transportation, Table 9.1 Summary of findings on NEPA issues for license renewal of nuclear power plants, NUREG--1437, Vol.  1, Addendum 1

The Federal Register Notice incorporates the findings of a revised spent fuel transportation analysis contained in the above-referenced report.  The State of Nevada has reviewed the revised Transportation Addendum and makes the following comments:

Comment #1 - Inaccurate and Misleading Title

The title of the draft Addendum is inaccurate.  Inclusion of the word "Transportation" in the subtitle does not accurately convey the subject of the draft report.  The draft report consists of 44 pages of text.  More than 38 pages (at least 19 pages of text, and 19 pages of computer output) specifically address the risks and impacts of transporting spent nuclear fuel from commercial power reactor sites to the Yucca Mountain proposed repository site.

The title of the draft report is also misleading.  The title does not mention the City of Las Vegas or Clark County, Nevada, although all shipments of spent nuclear fuel to the Yucca Mountain proposed repository are assumed to travel through the City of Las Vegas and/or Clark County, Nevada.  Indeed, the draft report specifically mentions Las Vegas or Clark County at least 68 times on 24 different pages.  And yet neither Las Vegas nor Clark County are mentioned in the draft report abstract.  This omission is misleading because it denies potentially affected stakeholders information about a major federal agency action, thus denying them an opportunity to study and comment upon the agency action.

Comment #2 - Failure to Consult with Nevada State Agencies

NRC staff and contractors did not consult with State of Nevada agencies during the preparation of the draft report.  Several Nevada agencies have considerable experience with nuclear waste transportation issues generally, and extensive knowledge of Nevada-specific conditions and concerns necessary for route selection and risk reduction.  At a minimum, NRC staff and contractors should have notified four agencies of their intent prior to preparation of the draft report: the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects (NANP), the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP), the Nevada Department of Transportation (NDOT), and the Radiological Health Section of the Nevada Divison of Health (RHS).  By failing to consult with state agencies, NRC denied itself the benefit of agency expertise which would have prevented numerous errors in the draft report.  NRC also squandered an opportunity to establish respectful working relationships with the very state agencies NRC will have to deal with on transportation issues during the licensing process for Yucca Mountain.

Comment #3 - Failure to Consult with Nevada Local Governments

Except for limited contacts with the Clark County Department of Public Works, NRC staff and contractors did not consult with Nevada local governments during the preparation of the draft report.  A number of Nevada cities and counties have considerable experience with nuclear waste transportation issues as a result of their oversight of DOE’s Yucca Mountain project.  County and city personnel also have special knowledge of unique local conditions and concerns necessary for route selection and risk reduction.  At a minimum, NRC staff and contractors should have notified the local government jurisdictions which would be directly affected by spent nuclear fuel transportation through the Las Vegas area: the Clark County Departments of Planning and Public Safety; the City of Las Vegas; and the City of North Las Vegas.  As a direct result of NRC failure to consult with affected jurisdictions, basic statistics and other information (such as the current population figures for Las Vegas) are erroneous, calling into question the assessments used to estimate radiological and non-radiological risk and other analyses contained in the report.

Comment #4 - Failure to Consult with Nevada Indian Tribes

NRC staff and contractors did not consult with Nevada Indian Tribes during the preparation of the draft report.  At a minimum, NRC should have consulted with the two reservations which would be directly affected by spent nuclear fuel shipments to Yucca Mountain.  The Moapa Indian Reservation, located about 30 miles northeast of Las Vegas, would be traversed by all truck shipments on I-15 and all rail shipments using the Union Pacific Salt Lake-Los Angeles mainline.  The Las Vegas Indian Reservation, located about 5 miles north of Las Vegas, would be traversed by all truck shipments on US 95, and could potentially be affected by all rail shipments on a new rail access spur.  Additionally, several potential rail access corridors identified by DOE cross lands claimed by the Western Shoshone National Council under the Ruby Valley Treaty of 1863.  

The affected Indian Tribes may view the radiological risks of spent nuclear fuel transportation quite differently than NRC staff and contractors.  NRC must evaluate any increased radiological exposures from routine operations or accidents, and any resulting health effects, within an appropriate cultural context.  NRC must also consider the unique cultural impacts of any release of radioactive materials on Indian reservation lands, the adverse cultural impacts of cleanup efforts, and the potential adverse impacts of any contamination episode on reservation residents’ and other tribal members’ future attitudes toward their lands, even if all radioactive materials are completely removed and the original environment restored.  Moreover, NRC must consider potential Indian tribe claims of authority to regulate shipments across reservation lands.

 Comment #5 - Failure to Consult Relevant Yucca Mountain Transportation Risk and Impact Studies

According to the reference citations in the draft report, NRC staff and contractors failed to consult virtually all of the major Yucca Mountain transportation risk and impact studies prepared by DOE since 1986.  NRC apparently consulted none of the more than three dozen major transportation studies prepared by Nevada state agencies, Nevada local governments, and the Nevada University System.  [This comment will be expanded to list specific examples of key reports which should have been consulted]

Comment #6 - Failure to Consider Cumulative Impacts of All Spent Fuel, HLW, and LLW Shipments

The draft report fails to address the cumulative impacts of all expected spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste shipments to the Yucca Mountain proposed repository site.  In addition to the 50,185 truck shipments of commercial SNF (75,278t shipments with license renewal) , the report must consider the additional impacts of shipments of DOE-owned spent fuel (including naval reactor fuel), shipments of vitrified civilian and defense high-level wastes, and shipments of miscellaneous wastes requiring geologic disposal.  If no repository volume limits are assumed, and all wastes are shipped to the repository by truck, the additional shipments could include more than 25,000 truck casks of commercial and defense high-level wastes, more than 5,000 truck casks of DOE-owned spent nuclear fuels, and an undetermined number of truck shipments of miscellaneous wastes.  Moreover, the draft reports fails to consider the cumulative impacts on the Las Vegas area of past, current, and future DOE truck shipments of low-level radioactive wastes to the Nevada Test Site.

Comment #7 - Failure to Conduct a Legally Sufficient Risk Assessment

The draft report does not constitute a legally sufficient assessment of the risks of transporting spent nuclear fuel to Yucca Mountain through the Las Vegas area.  NRC staff and contractors prepared a risk assessment using the RADTRAN 4 computer code to model incident-free radiological exposures and consequences of radiological releases resulting from accidents.  Use of an accepted probabilistic risk assessment model, such as RADTRAN 4, is not in and of itself sufficient to meet the requirements of NEPA.  NRC must specifically consider in its risk assessment (1) unique local conditions which could result in low probability/high consequence accidents with frequencies and consequences greater than those assumed in RADTRAN 4; (2) unique circumstances of the planned transportation operations for which there is little or no historical experience and/or empirical data; (3) the potential for sabotage or terrorism, including attacks involving military weapons or commercial high-energy explosive devices, which may result in the release of radioactive materials; and (4) potential for human errors in cask design, cask manufacture, and cask loading, which could cause or exacerbate the release of radioactive materials.

The draft report fails to consider unique local conditions which could result in accident risks greater than those assumed in RADTRAN 4.  NANP staff and consultants, in consultation with the Clark County Department of Planning, have developed a number of Las Vegas area accident scenarios which could in loss of radiation shielding and/or release of radioactive materials to the environment.  These scenarios include a high-speed rail or truck collision followed by a long-duration fire fueled by rupture of a collocated petroleum or natural gas pipeline; a high-speed truck cask collision involving another truck loaded with commercial or military explosives; a truck or rail cask involved in a massive infrastructure failure, such as a bridge or overpass collapse; a truck or rail cask involved in a natural disaster, such as a severe earthquake or massive flooding; and a rail or truck cask involved in an accident with a military aircraft. NANP and Clark County are particularly concerned about accidents involving trucks and aircraft carrying military explosives, because of routine activities at Nellis Air Force Base and other military facilities in Central and Southern Nevada.

The draft report fails to consider unique circumstances of the transportation system being evaluated.  For example, NRC assumes that all shipments will be made in the new General Atomics GA4/9 truck casks, but fails to explicitly address uncertainties about the design and performance of those casks.  In order to achieve a four-fold increase in cask capacity, the GA4/9 casks utilize a number of new design features and materials.  Further, the weight of the loaded GA4/9 cask requires that it be used in conjunction with a specially designed trailer, a lower weight cab-over-engine tractor, and a single fuel tank, in order to comply with legal weight limits.  To the best of our knowledge, there is no operating experience with spent fuel shipments in actual GA 4/9 casks, although DOE contractors have conducted operational tests using mock-ups.  Indeed, it is possible that no GA 4/9 casks have yet been manufactured under the recently issued NRC certificate.  The validity of the NRC risk assessment therefore rests entirely upon speculative assumptions about the performance of casks which have never been used.

Nevada believes NRC must therefore demonstrate that the GA4/9 cask, trailer, and tractor system is appropriately designed for use in a decades-long, nationwide shipping campaign to Yucca Mountain.  For example, NRC’s risk assessment must evaluate issues such as: the power and handling characteristics of the tractor relative to long hauls in mountainous terrain under winter driving conditions; noise and vibration levels within the cab, and the potential impacts on driver fatigue and increased probability of human error; and the constrained fuel capacity of the tractor, requiring refueling every 300 to 400 miles, which could may additional safety and safeguards risks.  The GA4/9 cask's vulnerability to terrorist attack with armor piercing weapons and commercial shaped charges must specifically be evaluated.

Comment #8 - Failure to Consider Alternative Risk Assessment Approaches and Assumptions Which Could Result in Significantly Greater Exposures and Health Effects from Routine Operations [This comment is still being written]

The draft report conclusions regarding radiological exposures and health effects rely entirely upon the RADTRAN 4 analysis. Further, the draft report unjustifiably uses an average radiation dose rate lower than the regulatory limit.[p. 5] Alternative approaches to dose calculation and use of the appropriate dose rate result in significantly higher exposures and potential adverse health effects for both members of general public and transportation workers from routine (non-accident) operations.

Use of the appropriate dose rate, 10 mrem/hour at 2 meters from the package surface, would increase crew and public doses from routine operations by about 30% overall.

The draft report fails to consider traffic gridlock incidents with could result in individual exposures of 30 - 40 mrem person per incident. [By comparison, the draft report calculates a lifetime 31 mrem dose from transportation for the maximally exposed individual]

The draft report fails to consider potentially significant to truck inspectors and vehicle escorts. For example, inspections of truck casks entering Nevada will likely require 45 - 75 minutes, based on actual experience in other western states with the more rigorous inspection protocols developed by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance(CVSA), and may also involve swipe sampling inside the personnel barrier to determine cask surface contamination levels. Rigorous mechanical and radiological safety inspections at Nevada ports of entry could very well result in an average dose of 10 mrem per person per truck cask arrival. An inspector who conducted two truck inspections per week could receive a cumulative annual dose ranging from 200 to 1,000 mrem. At one inspection per day, 5 days a week, an inspector could receive an annual dose of up to 2,500 mrem.

Comment #9 - Failure to Consider Alternative Mode and Route Scenarios

The draft report asserts that an all-truck shipping scenario using GA 4/9 casks "represents an upper bound" on cumulative transportation impacts in the vicinity of Las Vegas, and further asserts that "rail transport would have smaller risks than truck transport." [p. 4] The only documentation cited in support of this assertion is a report on transportation of mixed waste from the Oak Ridge K-25 Site. This claim can not be substantiated without conducting a comparative risk assessment, for example by running the RADTRAN 4 code for an all truck scenario, an all rail scenario, and a rail plus heavy haul truck(HHT) scenario. Nevada believes that such a comparative assessment of the "full spectrum" of transportation alternatives is required by NEPA.

Nevada has generally supported the view that, all things being equal, rail transportation of SNF is preferable to truck transportation of SNF, and that DOE should maximize use of rail for SNF shipments to a repository. However, the range of rail transportation options currently being evaluated by DOE, unique local conditions in the Las Vegas area, and DOE’s refusal to require that all repository shipments be made by dedicated train, require a detailed assessment of rail transportation risks. First, all rail shipments to the repository could be routed through downtown Las Vegas, where the Union Pacific mainline is close to the Las Vegas Strip. Second, all rail shipments to the repository could be made in individual casks shipped in general freight service. Third, the already high resident and non-resident population densities in downtown Las Vegas may continue to increase, particularly in areas immediately adjacent to the rail route. Fourth, many difficult-to-evacuate facilities are located near the rail route.

Comment #10 - Insufficient Consideration of Residential and Nonresident Populations

The draft report has seriously underestimated current and projected, resident and non-resident populations along transportation routes through Clark County. [Comment to be added will address use of 1990 census data, population projections, assumptions about population distribution, and failure to consider nonresident populations and difficult to evacuate locations.]

Comment #11 - Failure to Consider Socioeconomic Impacts

The draft report fails to address the potential adverse impacts of large numbers of nuclear waste shipments on tourism-based economies located near transportation corridors to Yucca Mountain. State-of-the-art risk studies sponsored by the State of Nevada and by USDOE have documented the public perception of risks associated with nuclear waste transportation. These studies have also documented potential adverse impacts on tourist visits to areas affected by nuclear waste shipments. The draft report must consider potential adverse impacts on year-round tourism (for example, in downtown Las Vegas), seasonal tourism, and special-event tourism .The report must also consider the effects of risk perception on property values along shipping routes, and risk-related impacts on business location and expansion decisions.

Moreover, the projected number of non-radiological accidents presented in Table A.2 [p. 21] requires that NRC address socioeconomic impacts. Table A.2 predicts between 12 and 19 non-radiological accidents during the 40 to 60 year period of repository operations. Nevada believes the higher accident rates on Clark County routes would result in many more accidents than NRC predicts using USDOT national accident rates. Nonetheless, the number of accidents predicted by NRC could have a major adverse impact of the Southern Nevada tourism economy even if there are no releases of radioactive materials.

Comment #12 - Insufficient Consideration of Extended Fuel Burnup Issues

The draft report does not constitute a legally sufficient assessment of the risks of transporting higher burnup spent nuclear fuel, either generally, or specifically to Yucca Mountain. First, it is not clear from the discussion in Chapter 3, whether NRC staff and contractors actually prepared a separate risk assessment for higher enrichment(5 percent), higher burnup(62,000 Mwd/MTHM) fuel using the RADTRAN 4 computer code to model incident-free radiological exposures and consequences of radiological releases resulting from accidents. No evidence such as modeling results is offered to support the assertions that NRC "staff has extensively studied the environmental impacts,"[p. 12] and that these "findings are robust"[p. 12] as they would apply to cumulative radiation exposures and resulting health effects. If NRC believes that use of higher burnup fuel will "slightly reduce the number of shipments" [p. 12]and thus to some extent reduce risks, some analysis must be offered as evidence. If such analyses were performed as part of the references cited (NUREG/CR-5009, NUREG/CR-2325, AIF/NESP-032, and WASH-1238) the results should be reproduced in Chapter 3.

Second, the draft report does not provide any detailed information on the radiological characteristics of higher enrichment(5 percent), higher burnup(62,000 Mwd/MTHM) fuel compared to the radiological characteristics of base case (4 percent or less, 33,000 Mwd/MTHM) fuel. All other factors (such as cooling time) being equal, each assembly of higher burnup fuel would be expected to have a substantially greater total activity(in curies) and a substantially higher surface dose rate (in Rem/hour) compared to base case fuel, due principally to a greater inventory of fission products. The information provided in Chapter 3 is not sufficient to allow reviewers to evaluate the conclusions offered in Section 3.3. This constitutes a major NEPA compliance issue. At a minimum, the draft report should have provided side-by-side comparisons of the radiological characteristics(total activity, radionuclide inventory, and activity for each of the most significant radionuclides) of reference PWR and BWR fuel, by assembly and by MTHM, with base case enrichment and burnup, and higher enrichment and burnup.

Third, the draft report does not address the implications of higher enrichment, higher burnup fuel for the consequences of low probability events such as severe accidents or successful terrorist attacks which could result in a breach of the shipping cask and a release of radioactive materials. Nor does the draft report address the implications of higher enrichment, higher burnup fuel for human errors in cask design, cask manufacture, and/or cask loading, which could increase the probability and/or the consequences of incidents resulting in the release of radioactive materials. A review of recent court decisions regarding nuclear waste transportation risk assessments concluded that NEPA requires specific consideration of high consequence accidents, human error, and sabotage, in addition to any probabilistic risk assessment (which would normally be prepared using RADTRAN). [Bentz, et. al., Legal Precedents Regarding Use and Defensibility of Risk Assessment in Federal Transportation of SNF and HLW, 1997]

Moreover, the failure to specifically address the implications of higher enrichment, higher burnup fuel for consequences of radiological sabotage involving high-energy explosive devices is a significant departure from past NRC practice. When NRC evaluated this issue in 1984, NRC staff evaluated a smaller increase in burnup (from 33,000 Mwd/MTHM to 40,000 Mwd/MTHM), and concluded that "the calculated consequences of successful sabotage are about 45 percent higher than the consequences of successful sabotage of reference fuel." [FR, Vol. 49, No. 112, p. 23369] The significantly greater increase in fuel burnup proposed in the GEIS could result in a much greater increase in sabotage consequences, and must be specifically evaluated in this impact assessment. Further, the higher total source term and greater fission product inventory of a large-capacity shipping cask loaded with higher burnup fuel, underscore the importance of evaluating the radiological consequence of the loss of cask shielding, and the radiological consequence of the total amount of radioactive material released, and not just the tiny fraction of the inventory released as a respirable aerosol.

Finally, unique local conditions along transportation routes to Yucca Mountain require NRC to evaluate the consequences of very severe accidents which are credible in Nevada even though their probability in other environments is so low that NEPA might not otherwise require them. For example, the proximity of Yucca Mountain transportation routes to U.S. Air Force bombing activities in Southern Nevada caused DOE to conclude that military overflights were a potential threat to SNF and HLW shipments. [cite 1986 EA] A legally sufficient risk assessment must compare the consequences of such an accident involving a cask loaded with reference fuel and the consequences of an accident involving a cask loaded with higher burnup fuel.

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