Environmental, anti-nuclear groups urge Sandoval to turn away uranium waste

WASHINGTON — Anti-nuclear and environmental activists are urging Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval to turn away shipments of potent uranium waste planned for burial in a government-managed desert landfill.

“For Nevada to accept this waste and allow it to be disposed in a trench sets a terrible precedent and makes us vulnerable to future nuclear waste attacks,” the groups said in a letter Friday.

They asked Sandoval to “take all the necessary steps to stop the proposed plan.”

The letter was signed by leaders of Sierra Club chapters in Nevada and Tennessee, where the highly radioactive material now is stored at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory awaiting transport to the Nevada National Security Site.

Signers also included Judy Treichel, executive director of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, an organization that was active against the Department of Energy when it was developing a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. That project since has been terminated.

Earlier this week, the coordinator of the anti-nuclear Nevada Desert Experience tried to hand Sandoval a letter at a Las Vegas event expressing concerns about the radioactive material.

The letter, which urged the governor to “draw a line in the desert” against nuclear waste, was intercepted by Sandoval’s bodyguard but activist Jim Haber said the governor promised to read it.

Activists say they are stepping up a fight against the shipments of waste containing uranium isotopes that are highly radioactive and that can be used in the manufacture of a dirty bomb.

The material, which includes man-made uranium-233 produced from the irradiation of thorium in a research reactor 50 years ago, has defied easy classification.

It is not “high-level waste” that would have been placed at Yucca Mountain. The Department of Energy classifies it as “low-level waste” that would meet the standards for burial at the former Nevada Test Site. But critics said it is more dangerous and will remain so for thousands of years.

“After all this time fighting high-level waste to Yucca Mountain, here comes something they can scrape by -- by suddenly calling it low-level waste,” Treichel said in an interview.

“There is so much wrong with this - the fact that it is way more dangerous than any other country would ever put in a trench,” Treichel said.

The Department of Energy plans to ship a metric ton of the waste, in solid form contained in 403 two-foot long steel canisters, to the landfill in Area 5 of the test site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

There they will be buried in trenches deeper than 40 feet, and covered over by dirt and other forms of radiotoxic waste from environmental cleanups.

Sandoval has not commented on the waste, and his office had no immediate comment on the letters. Officials in his nuclear and natural resources agencies have attempted to sort out issues surrounding it, along with the attorney general’s office.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.