Brian McKay

The "Your Turn" article by nuclear industry representative Hal Rogers ("Nevada officials lie about dangers of nuclear waste" - 10/1/96) is an affront to the citizens of this state who overwhelmingly oppose the commercial nuclear industry's plan to turn Nevada into the country's nuclear waste dumping ground.

Rogers' attack could be dismissed as just another example of the nuclear industry lashing out at state officials in response to the defeat of its pet legislation in Congress, legislation defeated by the effective work of the state's congressional delegation. However, the information about spent fuel transportation and the state's oversight program contained in Rogers article is simply wrong and misleading.

The fact is there have been accidents involving spent fuel shipments - at least three of them since 1970 when accurate record keeping was initiated. Between 1957 and 1964, there were 11 transportation accidents and incidents involving spent fuel shipments by the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission and its contractors, including several which resulted in contamination. Transport of waste to any Nevada facility will result in more spent fuel being shipped during the first year than during the past 40 years combined. If shipments to a repository or interim facility experience the same accident and incident rates as past shipments, we can expect to see between 50 and 310 accidents and 250 to 1,000 regulatory incidents over the duration of the shipping campaign.

Contrary to Rogers' assertion, casks are not tested full-scale and no shipping cask has ever been "subjected to the effects of large anti-tank missiles." In 1981, DOE-sponsored researchers at Sandia National Laboratories attacked an obsolete truck cask containing a single spent fuel assembly with a shaped charge designed for attacking reinforced concrete fortifications. The explosion carved a 6 inch (15.25cm) diameter hole in the outer cask (made of inch-thick stainless steel), completely penetrating that surrogate fuel assembly inside the cask and releasing more than five pounds (2.49 kg) of simulated fuel, even though the blast did not penetrate the opposite cask wall. Currently available anti-tank missiles are designed to penetrate 15 to 36 inches of modern tank armor.

In 1986, DOE published an Environmental Assessment for Yucca Mountain in which DOE analysts concluded that transporting high-level radioactive waste by truck to a Nevada facility could result in 11 radiological fatalities even assuming no accidents during routine operations.

The relentless efforts of industry apologists to discredit the State's effective nuclear waste oversight program is just one more indication of the industry's growing desperation at the national level. Nevada's Nuclear Waste Project Office has steadfastly kept the spotlight on the important issues of health, safety, and risk with respect to the federal program and has refused to be silenced or to let key safety, site suitability, and transportation concerns be swept under the rug. Because of this, the Agency and its staff have been subjected to unrelenting attacks - some of them vindictive and personal in nature - and politically-inspired "audits"ordered by industry congressional supporters. Even DOE has refused to accept the "findings" of the GAO audit Rogers refers to.

It is time for the nuclear industry and its representatives to face the fact that political solutions, slick public relations and lobbying campaigns, and misleading attacks on state officials will not result in a workable solution to the industry's problems.


Brian McKay is a former two-term Nevada Attorney General and past Chairman of the Nevada Republican Party. He was appointed by Governor Miller in 1995 to chair the Nevada Commission on Nuclear Projects. This article was published as a guest editorial in the Reno Gazette-Journal of October 10, 1996 in response to an opinion piece by Hal Rogers, co-chair of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Study Committee, the nuclear industry's front organization in Nevada.

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