California says Yucca poses threat to people, resources

WASHINGTON — California is urging federal regulators to turn down the Energy Department’s bid to build a nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, charging analysts did not fully study how the plan would affect Death Valley groundwater and the state’s transportation networks.

“Proceeding with the project in the manner described by DOE poses a threat to the people, natural resources and environment of California,” attorneys said at the outset of a 400-page document filed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The commission “may not approve DOE’s license application unless DOE provides an adequate environmental analysis that analyzes threats to California and how to mitigate them,” said the lawyers from the state’s Energy Commission and its Department of Justice.

California’s objections were made available on Monday, several days after Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto announced Nevada was submitting 229 repository challenges to the NRC on a variety of technical grounds.

There is significance to California raising similar issues before the NRC, according to Joe Strolin, planning division administrator for the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.

“Anytime you have California in the mix it lends a gravitas to an issue,” Strolin said Tuesday.

“They are always considered a 600-pound gorilla in the room,” Strolin said. “Having them weigh in makes a statement that this is an important issue and not just a Nevada issue. That there are other states, and big states, that have concerns as well.”

DOE spokesman Allen Benson said the department was reviewing the contentions and would respond to them within 50 days, as set in NRC regulations.

California attorneys identified 24 issues it wants the NRC to consider as it weighs the safety of the repository plan and decides whether to issue DOE a construction license.

Many of California’s contentions charge the government failed to adequately analyze the transportation impacts from hundreds of radioactive waste shipments that would originate at reactors in the state as well as shipments through California from other states.

“DOE has not conducted sufficient analysis or provided sufficient evidence that such shipments will be conducted in the safest manner,” according to the state’s complaint.

Attorneys said DOE took care to fully analyze transportation risks in Nevada “yet it illogically did not do this analysis for the likely transportation routes in the rest of the country, and specifically not in California.”

The state’s complaint further said DOE has failed to analyze how waste at California reactors could be packaged safely for shipping.

California has four operating reactors, two at Diablo Canyon, near San Luis Obispo, and two at San Onofre, about halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego. Three other reactors — at San Onofre, the Humboldt Bay station in Eureka and the Rancho Seco plant south of Sacramento are no longer operating but spent fuel is stored there and is awaiting removal.

Collectively, the reactors have generated 2,510 tons of spent nuclear fuel, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute.

Other California contentions charge that more analysis is needed to determine how a buildup of contaminants expected to leak from the Yucca site over time would affect aquifers that feed springs in Death Valley.

“Recent scientific work done by the County of Inyo indicates that contaminants entering the carbonate aquifer from the repository could migrate to the springs in Death Valley relatively quickly,” attorneys said.

“These springs are the only source of water for the park workers and the approximately 1.25 million annual visitors to Death Valley National Park,” attorneys said.

Contact Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.

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