Great Seal of the State of Nevada

State Policy Letter


Potential Greater-Than-Class-C (GTCC) Radioactive Waste Interim Storage Project at the Nevada Test Site (NTS)



READER'S NOTE:

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

Leah Dever
Environmental Restoration and
Waste Management Division
DOE Field Office, Nevada
P.O. Box 98518
Las Vegas, Nevada 89193-8518



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 under NEPA2

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.

Sincerely,
Robert R. Loux
Executive Director


This Letter was copied to the following individuals and organizations



NOTES

  1. Activated metals in fuel canisters located at Yankee Row in an on-site storage pool.

  2. As required by CFR Part 1508.18(b)(3), 1502.20, and DOE 10 CFR 1021.330(a).

  3. Low-Level Radioactive Waste Policy Amendments Act P.L. 99-240 and the Atomic Energy Act, 42,U.S.C.2011, P.L. No. 83-703

  4. As defined in the Notice, the term Special Case Waste "denotes DOE waste having characteristics similar to those of GTCC waste that generally lack firm disposal plans". The State understands that the volume of SCW alone could exceed 2.6 million cubic feet. U.S.Department of Energy, August 1995. See: Draft Waste Management PEIS, (DOE/EIS-0200- D), pages 1-16.

  5. State Comment Letter, NWPO, April 28, 1995. RE: Notice of Inquiry, Strategy for Management and Disposal of Greater-Than-Class-C Low-Level Radioactive Waste (Federal Register Notice Vol. 60. No. 48/Monday, March 13, 1995). The State's letter was sent to Mr. Terry Plumer, DOE Office of Environmental Management.

  6. DOE's final the Final NTS EIS clearly states that DOE will provide disposal capability to approved off-site waste generators for waste streams determined "inappropriate for shallow land burial. See Final EIS, Volume 1, Section 3.1.3.2, page 3-12.

  7. See Federal Register Notice published on Monday, March 13, 1995, page 13425 (Relationship to the Department's Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement)

  8. As per 42 USC 4231 et seq; 40 CFR 1500-1508; and CFR 10210.

  9. U.S. Department of Energy, May 30, 1995. Record of Decision Department of Energy Programmatic Spent Nuclear Fuel Management and Idaho National Engineering Laboratory Environmental Restoration and Waste Management Programs (section 3.2.2.5 Greater-Than- Class C Low-Level Waste), page 18.

  10. See U.S. Department of Energy, Idaho Engineering Laboratory, Waste Management Program Strategic Plan, Section 6.

  11. Return to the
    Nuclear Waste Project Office
    Home Page
    State of Nevada
    Nuclear Waste Project Office
    Capitol Complex
    Carson City, NV 89710
    (702) 687-3744
    For more information

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