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Don’t Gamble on Nuclear Waste!
(Protect Yucca Mountain & Stop NNSS Dumping)

In 2013 we covered this topic. It seemed dormant until April 2015. Dumping nuclear waste at the NNSS has been ongoing for decades, and is allegedly a different kind of waste than the proposed dumping at a future time at Yucca Mountain.

The Dept. of Energy (DoE) is apparently beginning to truck extremely dangerous nuclear waste to disposal Area 5 at the NNSS all the way from Oak Ridge, Tennessee starting in the next few months. The waste was made in a New York reactor in the 1960s and has been turned into a solid, which makes it less volatile. But the building it has been in was condemned, and rather than try to store it more safely there, the plan is to bury it with other, less radioactive waste in Nevada. Rather than dealing with the waste as appropriately as current technology and standards could be, the DoE reclassified this particular nuclear waste so that it can be trucked and stored inappropriately at the NNSS. With a stroke of the pen, we all can pretend the dangerous stuff is less-dangerous? The old slogan from the 1990s is back: "DoE, don't murder me!"

Our Summer 2015 Desert Voices touched on the topic again by reprinting the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force article by Judy Treichel. Here's the full version below.

Here's a summary of the news in 2015:

More Nuclear Waste? by R-J's STEVE TETREAULT
Vegas Mayor Responds

BACK in 2013... KNPR State of Nevada: Too Hot To Handle: Weapons Grade Nuclear Waste in a Nevada Landfill?


Judy Treichel's article for the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force
Uranium 233 and 235 shipments

In 2013 plans were announced for a Department of Energy (DOE) program to ship U 233 and 235 from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) in Tennessee to the National National Security Site (NNSS), northwest of Las Vegas, NV. The plan was met with outrage by the public and officials in Nevada for many reasons. Due to the loud outcry from Nevada, the Secretary of Energy and Governor Sandoval met and negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding that was signed in December of 2014.

The trip for the trucks coming from ORNL to NNSS is a little over 2,000 miles. When concerns were raised about the security of the trucks carrying highly radioactive, bomb grade materials, the DOE decided to use “secure transport” for the shipping campaign. The advantage of secure transport is that there is heightened security with the shipments. The huge disadvantage is that the shipments are not announced and states and localities are not alerted to the routes or schedules. If cities or towns want to make any preparations, or if the public wants to avoid the routes when trucks would be coming, they will not be able to. The trucks will almost certainly travel most of the distance across the country on I-40 through Memphis, near Oklahoma City, through Albuquerque, and then up Hwy 93 into Nevada and finally onto Hwy 95 which skirts downtown Las Vegas, but we don’t know for sure and will not know.

There are significant and bad differences between this program and the Yucca Mountain repository project. Both ORLN and NNSS are self-regulated by DOE. There is no Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing required at these sites or any of the weapons production facilities. There is not even certification by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as there is at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico or EPA standards that apply to repositories. Ironically, the EPA is about to move their mobile radiation detection lab from UNLV in Las Vegas to Mobile, AL. The casks that would be used for transport and the containers to be put in the landfill are not licensed by the NRC either. All facets of this program are developed and overseen by the DOE exclusively.

A high-level waste repository would accept only specific and known waste forms. During the time that DOE was deciding to ship the U 233 and 235 wastes to NNSS, they revised the waste acceptance criteria so that this highly radioactive material, some of it weapons grade, could be considered low-level waste. So in this case, the classification fits the waste, not the other way around as Nevadans have assumed.

Any future repository is planned to be a deep geologic disposal facility. The low-level waste disposal at Area 5 at NNSS is shallow land burial in trenches. The U 233 and 235 wastes remain radioactively dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, far longer than any metal container or trench liner would last.

The Memorandum of Agreement mentions that it would be beneficial to have an independent review of the U.S. system of waste classification. That has been said repeatedly over the years. There is no doubt that it is necessary to revise classification if waste such as this can be considered low-level and disposed of in a trench.

Officials in Nevada are saying that they are not allowed to refuse this waste into our state. When Yucca Mountain was determined to be suitable by the President in 2002, Nevada’s Governor Guinn vetoed that decision but it was overridden by the Congress. That was supposed to be the end of the story but Nevada’s opposition continued and eventually the DOE declared the Yucca Mountain Project to be unworkable.

While Nevadans continue to accept and dispose of less dangerous, actual low-level weapons waste at NNSS, we will not accept opening the door for far more radioactive materials to be thrown into our ground. We need to tell DOE that changing the rules to fit the waste is not a workable solution.

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