Hearing focuses on former Nevada Test Site's future

Most of the 11 speakers at Tuesday night's public hearing on the future of the Nevada National Security Site expressed anti-nuclear sentiments, saying they want to see more solar energy projects and more respect for Western Shoshone interests in the land where U.S. nuclear weapons were tested.

They also requested more time to review and comment on the 1,576-page draft Site-Wide Environmental Impact Statement Nevada, which covers operations at the former Nevada Test Site run by the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. The agency plans to accept comments through Oct. 27.

Western Shoshone representative Ian Zabarte said the cumulative effect of the government's nuclear activities until 1992 "can best be characterized as negligence."

"The Western Shoshone people have a long history of experience to adverse consequence as a result of the United States' above-ground and underground nuclear testing and other nuclear and non-nuclear activities," Zabarte told the hearing officer at public hearing at the Cashman Center.

"It is the unfortunate experience of the Western Shoshone people that the very measures put in place to safeguard America subsequently mistreat Western Shoshone land and people," Zabarte added.

He noted that under the 1863 Ruby Valley Treaty, the tribe never gave up its rights to the land, which has become heavily contaminated from hundreds of nuclear detonations.

The first speaker, Nye County Commission Chairman Gary Hollis, who worked at the test site during the Cold War years, said it is time for the Department of Energy to recognize effects on resources, and "not allowing access to water at the test site is a big deal."

He said Nye County needs to conduct its own study of the water, but "no compensation has been made for lack of access to that water."

Tritium from nuclear weapons tests in Pahute Mesa was first detected beyond the test site's boundary in 2009. More tritium, well within the Environmental Protection Agency's safe drinking guideline, was also detected in an off-site monitoring well last year.

Anti-nuclear activist Peter Ediger, 85, said the draft environmental document "fails to address the erosion of public trust. Without public trust, democracy fails," he said.

Several speakers advocated expanding test site operations with more solar power projects, but only in areas where the land has already been disturbed by the construction of buildings, parking areas and other facilities.

Don Felske supported the alternative that calls for expanding operations because doing so would add 625 jobs to the 1,700 that currently exist.

"This should be a starting point to rebuild the economic engine of Nevada," he said during public comment.

In all, more than 30 people attended the open house where security site employees were on hand to explain alternatives and discuss the test site's missions including stockpile stewardship, nuclear emergency response, nonproliferation and counterterrorism activities.

Public hearings will be held in Pahrump, Tonopah, Carson City and St. George, Utah.

For information about dates and locations or to ask questions about the draft document, call 877-781-6105.

Contact reporter Keith Rogers at krogers@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0308.