SPARKS -- Transporting nuclear waste by rail to Yucca Mountain through Reno and Sparks could hurt tourism even without an accident occurring, the Sparks City Council was told Monday.
The state's top nuclear waste expert urged the council to pressure the Walker River Paiute Tribe to rescind its invitation for the U.S. government to study a rail line near Hawthorne that would be necessary for a Reno-Sparks route.
"The tribe owns the (rail) line from Wabuska to Hawthorne so they kind of control this route," said Bob Loux, executive director of Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects.
"This would, by and large, not be occurring if the tribe would tell them 'No,'" he said.
Sparks Mayor Geno Martini said the council would express it's opposition to the plans in a letter to the tribe.
A spokesman for the tribe said the only person authorized to comment was tribal chairwoman Gina Williams, who was unavailable.
The Energy Department's original plan for shipping most waste to Yucca Mountain 90 miles north of Las Vegas called for an east-west route on Union Pacific lines through Caliente in southeast Nevada, around the Nevada Test Site and south through Goldfield and Beatty, Loux said.
Later, the department decided the north-south "Mina" route through Hawthorne, Wabuska and Schurz would be cheaper and easier to engineer, he said.
"This particular route would impact more Nevada towns and counties than any other," Loux said.
Under the plan, as many as 1,000 casks of nuclear waste would travel through Reno and Sparks on 333 trains over 24 years -- an average of about two trains a week over that period, he said.
"We are very concerned about public perception of risk," Loux said. "It creates some sort of stigma for some of these shipments."
In Sparks the rail line is within hundreds of yards of a fuel tank farm and the Sparks Marina, a large outdoor retail center and shopping mall scheduled to open over the next two years.
"I don't have to tell you that any mention of these routes could seriously have an impact on tourism. Even without releasing any materials, you could see a dramatic drop-off in tourism in these areas," he said.
Loux said the tribe originally opposed use of its rail line but later was persuaded by the Energy Department that if the rail line were not used, the waste could be shipped on trucks on U.S. Highway 95 near their reservation. But Loux said the department has no basis for considering highway travel if rail options exist.
"They are required to stay off highways and interstates as long as they can until they reach the final destination," he said.
Energy Department spokesman Allen Benson has said that it is premature to discuss transportation routes and that the agency is concentrating on submitting a licensing application for Yucca Mountain to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next summer.
Martini said the department has agreed to hold a public hearing on the plans in Sparks.
Councilman John Mayer, whose family worked in the rail yards for generations, said that any train carrying nuclear waste probably would stop to make a crew change in the yard directly behind John Ascuaga's Nugget.
"This is what Sparks was established for -- a train crew to change. So they'll stop here," he said. He and others expressed concern about the lack of security at the yard.
"You can walk anywhere in that yard right now without one person asking you what you're doing. ... It is the most unsecured place I've ever seen."