DOE proposes sparing Nevada test site from more low-level nuclear waste

WASHINGTON — A state official on Friday welcomed a new federal report that did not pick the Nevada National Security Site the “preferred alternative” for the disposal of low-level radioactive waste.

Instead, the U.S. Department of Energy gave that designation to the Waste Isolation Pilot Project near Carlsbad, N.M., and possibly generic commercial facilities.

“This outcome is what we wanted,” said Leo Drozdoff, director of the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and a member of a working group made up of state and DOE staff.

Drozdoff cited an agreement that allowed “us to have detailed conversations with DOE about this topic.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval and U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz appointed the working group in 2013 to hash out issues surrounding the Nevada National Security Site.

Located about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas and formerly known as the Nevada Test Site, it already serves as a disposal for waste generated by Department of Energy facilities and as an interim storage site for waste waiting to be transferred to the WIPP facility.

Current activity at the Nevada site is expected to continue as is.

DOE’s report deals with the potential environmental impacts linked to the proposed development and long-term operation of a facility to handle the disposal of the “Greater-Than-Class C (GTCC) Low-Level Radioactive Waste (LLRW) and GTCC-like waste.”

It does not represent the agency’s final decision.

Additional reviews will be conducted by the federal agency, which also must submit a report to Congress and wait for congressional action before issuing its “Record of Decision.”

According to the Energy Department, the waste consists of a small volume generated throughout the country by Nuclear Regulatory Commission and other licensed activities such as the production of electricity from nuclear power plants, production and use of radioisotopes for diagnostics and treatment of cancer and other illnesses, oil and gas exploration and other industrial uses.

The existing approach is to store the radioactive waste at sites where it is generated.

National security concerns, such as the potential for the waste to be used in “dirty bombs,” were among the issues the federal agency considered in coming up with its Final Environmental Impact Statement.

A draft version was released in 2011 and, in addition to NNSS and WIPP sites, listed others analyzed as Hanford Site in Washington, Idaho National Laboratory, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.

The new report also explained the Yucca Mountain site formerly proposed as a repository for high-level waste and spent nuclear fuel was first identified as a co-disposal option in its notice of intent but was cut from evaluation after the Energy secretary determined it would not be developed.

— Contact Jim Myers at or 202-783-1760. Find him on Twitter: @myers_dc

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