|This page contains
the State of Nevada's comments on a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) proposed
pilot project for storing up to 56 cubic feet of GTCC waste generated from
decommissioning of the commercial Yankee Rowe nuclear reactor located in
the State of Massachusetts. DOE is proposing to use the Nevada Test Site
for the storage of this material.
The NTS is operated by the U.S. Department of Energy, Nevada Operations Office. Subsequent to the moratorium on nuclear testing, just over 900 nuclear tests were conducted at the site (i.e., one hundred above ground [atmospheric] and 804 underground); testing was first initated at the site 1951. The Nevada Test Site is located in southern Nevada about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
December 5, 1996
Re: Potential GTCC (Greater-Than-Class-C) Radioactive
Waste Interim Storage Project at the Nevada Test Site
Dear Ms Dever:
At the Nevada Test Site (NTS) Community Advisory Board meeting held
on October 5th in Las Vegas, Nevada, officials from the Department
of Energy (DOE) distributed a one page draft program proposal titled "Potential
GTCC Pilot Interim Storage Project."
According to the draft proposal, a three-phased program is being considered
by DOE/Nevada to evaluate factors affecting disposal of GTCC materials
at the Nevada Test. The pilot program proposes to evaluate factors affecting
disposal of GTCC waste such as "requirements for licensing, transportation,
and siting." To accomplish the project, DOE intends to take possession
of an estimated 56 cubic feet of GTCC waste(1)
generated from decommissioning of the commercial Yankee Rowe nuclear reactor
located in the State of Massachusetts.
While the goal of the pilot project is not readily apparent, what is clear is that DOE\Nevada intends to develop and construct an interim storage facility for the Yankee Rowe waste at NTS without due consideration for the long-term programmatic consequences that such an action might have at the NTS or on the development of a national GTCC waste management strategy.
The State of Nevada has long advocated that the treatment, storage,
and disposal of commercially generated GTCC waste, along with other DOE
waste types (e.g., Special Case Waste -- SCW) that have similar hazard
characteristics, must be the subject of a programmatic analysis under the
National Environmental Policy Act.(2) This
is important because these waste types are generally defined as high specific
activity low-level wastes and are by hazard definition inappropriate
for shallow land burial. Because these similar waste types are the legal
responsibility of the DOE(3), their management,
in terms of treatment, storage, and disposal are clearly connected in terms
of agency decision making and thus must be subject to a programmatic analysis
These facts follow from the analysis of alternatives and subsequent
recommendations contained in DOE's Draft Waste Management Programmatic
Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), as further defined in a DOE Federal
Register Notice published on Monday, March 13, 1995. The Notice outlined
strategies for the management and disposal of GTCC waste along with other
DOE wastes described as Special Case Waste.(4)
While the Notice suggested up to five specific strategy options for GTCC
LLW management and disposal, none of these options were reflected, or otherwise
related to the referenced pilot study that would result in storage of Yankee
Row reactor GTCC waste at the Nevada Test Site.
In reference to these issues, the State of Nevada has formally requested
that a programmatic analysis of these waste types, based on relative waste
hazards, be conducted by the DOE.(5) Also,
you should be aware that other actions contemplated by DOE\Nevada, such
as the development of greater confinement disposal units for the disposal
of high specific activity low-level waste at NTS(6),
will only serve to further exacerbate these issues.
If the referenced waste storage and disposal actions are undertaken
by DOE\Nevada, the result would be a violation of the requirements of NEPA,
a clear disregard of previous waste management strategies identified by
the department,(7) along with a violation
of the agency's own internal orders.(8)
In a related matter, DOE has decided to use certain facilities at the
Idaho National Engineering Laboratory (INEL) for the receipt and (interim)
storage of commercial GTCC radioactive sealed-sources(9),
as well as certain DOE controlled Special Case Waste.(10)
Major strategic assumptions for managing these wastes at INEL include waste
acceptance along with an evaluation of storage requirements and coordinated
management of these waste types.10 According to INEL documents,
this will "ensure selection of the best storage configuration to meet
the requirements of each waste stream or potential waste stream."
In other words, it appears that INEL officials are actively developing
a plan to address a DOE complex-wide management program for both DOE SCW
wastes and commercial GTCC wastes. Implementation of such a plan calls
for acceptance of GTCC wastes under the authority of the Low-Level Radioactive
Waste Policy Act to provide waste storage until an NRC licensed facility
is available. Accordingly, and since DOE/Idaho is contemplating a coordinated
approach to address the management of these waste types, the State of Nevada
questions why DOE/Nevada is being asked to develop a pilot project for
the management of GTCC waste from the Yankee Row nuclear reactor?
State officials do acknowledge that commercial GTCC wastes and SCW wastes
are dissimilar in form, yet they pose a similar hazard to the human environment
and thus must be managed by the DOE in a consistent coordinated manner.
Thus, we strongly contend that federal actions which propose to evaluate
factors affecting disposal of GTCC wastes, such as requirements for licensing,
transportation, and siting, must also include other similar waste types
that would be affected by such actions. And these waste types fall into
the categories of commercial GTCC reactor waste, commercial sealed sources,
and a variety of other wastes classified by DOE as SCW wastes.
State officials in Nevada strongly suggest that DOE develop a national
waste management strategy to address these waste types. Such a strategy
is needed to integrate the management of these wastes as opposed to the
apparent piecemeal approach that is currently being used by the Department.
Such a strategy, moreover, should be assessed through a programmatic and
site-specific NEPA process that addresses major federal actions that could
significantly affect the quality of the human environment. This is particulary
important when considering the disposal of long-lived radioactive wastes,
which are not suitable for shallow land burial.
Finally, if DOE\Nevada pursues the GTCC Pilot project, such action will
only complicate DOE's perceived authority to accept waste from off-site
generators for disposal at the NTS. In a recent letter to Assistant Secretary
Alvin Alm from Governor Bob Miller, the Governor said that a "federal
decision to expand the use of NTS for waste disposal must be authorized
by the Secretary of Interior since the lands encompassing NTS are, in fact,
public lands that were withdrawn by the Department of Interior for atomic
testing activities only." The Governor went on to say that resolution
of waste disposal from off-site generators at the NTS is the subject of
continuing litigation between the State of Nevada and DOE. Accordingly,
if DOE pursues the GTCC waste pilot project at the NTS, we will recommend
that the referenced litigation be modified to address DOE's authority to
ship this waste to Nevada.
If you have any questions or concerns about these comments, please feel
free to contact me.