Nevadans criticize plan to ship waste


The Department of Energy's plan for hauling nuclear waste across the nation to a proposed repository at Yucca Mountain is a brush job at best, Nevada officials who are reviewing the document said this week.

"It's really a sad indictment of what little has been accomplished. There was more in the previous draft plan," said Robert Halstead, transportation adviser for the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.

Halstead and other experts met Wednesday with the agency's new chief to discuss how state officials intend to express their concerns about the plan for transporting 77,000 tons of potentially deadly, spent nuclear fuel and highly radioactive waste to entomb it in the volcanic rock ridge, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Bruce Breslow, who replaced Bob Loux this month as the agency's executive director, said the plan is "ripe for us to respond to because it lacks so much specificity."

"There's obviously many, many points that we're going to make comments on that are not detailed here," Breslow said Tuesday in a telephone interview from Carson City.

But a spokesman for DOE's Yucca Mountain Project said the department welcomes those comments and others from the public to help shape the final "National Transportation Plan" into a more detailed document.

"Those are exactly the type of comments we're asking for. The program looks forward to receive those comments, and we'll deal with it," Allen Benson, a DOE spokesman in Las Vegas, said Wednesday.

Halstead said he is concerned about the lack of discussion of the dangerous radioactive nature of spent nuclear fuel and the lack of a requirement that dedicated trains be required for all shipments. "And DOE persists in claiming that rail shipments by general freight are safe," he wrote in an e-mail after the plan was released last week.

The most recent map of "representative rail and truck routes" shows routes from the Pacific Northwest and from Kansas City that would maximize shipments through Las Vegas, Halstead said.

"With the outgoing administration, they wanted to check off things, and they left out some of the controversial things, like cost," he said.

He said the cost of shipping nuclear waste and spent fuel assemblies in what are called "transportation, aging and disposal" canisters probably will be between $10 billion and $20 billion, including some $3 billion to build a rail line from Caliente to Yucca Mountain.

Benson, asked why the plan does not include designated routes, said that shipping will not start until about 2020, and if nuclear regulators grant a license and if construction of the repository is completed, identifying any specific routes would be premature.

"Routing is something we would want to work with the public on," Benson said.

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