Titus puts squeeze on DOE chief over nuclear waste

Rep. Dina Titus gave Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz an ultimatum Tuesday to clue her in on his department’s plans for hauling dangerous, uranium-tainted nuclear waste to the Nevada National Security Site or cite legal reasons why he insists on ignoring her requests.

“If you are unwilling to provide this briefing or information, I respectfully request that you provide the legal basis for continuing to withhold this information from Congress,” Titus, D-Nev., wrote to the Department of Energy’s top official.

A DOE spokeswoman said she couldn’t comment on the letter late Tuesday because she was unable to confirm the department received it.

Titus is concerned that the test site’s final environmental impact statement, currently awaiting a record of decision, will open the door for 25,000 to 85,000 shipments of low-level radioactive waste from cleanup of DOE’s nationwide Cold War nuclear weapons complex to roll through Las Vegas Valley.

Department of Energy officials plan to bury the orphaned Oak Ridge National Laboratory waste in a shallow landfill at the former Nevada Test Site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The once-liquid waste, converted to a solid form 27 years ago and baked inside 403 steel canisters, contains a cocktail of uranium isotopes including one that emits deadly gamma rays that could be used to make a “dirty bomb” should it fall into the wrong hands.

“For months, I have been asking your department to provide a briefing, in either a classified or unclassified setting, to detail the transportation plan for the proposed movement of Consolidated Edison Uranium Solidification Project materials for Oak Ridge Laboratories in Tennessee to the Nevada National Security Site,” Titus wrote to Moniz.

“Your department has yet to schedule or conduct this briefing, and has provided no explanation for the delay or any rationale for denying a Member of Congress the ability to effectively conduct oversight activities.”

Her letter comes 40 days after managers of the government-controlled landfill in Area 5 at the security site changed their rules to accept containers of nuclear waste that are five times more radioactive than now allowed.

While most of the 25,000 to 85,000 low-level radioactive shipments of Cold War legacy waste covered by the 10-year site wide impact statement aren’t as potent as the Oak Ridge uranium waste, Nevada officials have told DOE its risk analysis is deficient.

The final “transportation risk assessment fails to evaluate new and unique hazards that would require analysis of specific location along routes,” Nevada Nuclear Projects Agency Executive Director Robert Halstead wrote in a March 25 letter to DOE.

In addition, he said the final risk assessment “fails to adequately evaluate the impacts of acts of sabotage or terrorism.”

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