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Heller asks DOE chief to clear up discrepancies over nuclear waste

U.S. Sen. Dean Heller wants Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to clear up discrepancies in his Senate hearing testimony when the energy chief said he thought he had a deal with Nevada to allow shipments of highly radioactive uranium waste from Tennessee to the Nevada National Security Site.

“You seemed to indicate that DOE believed the State of Nevada had signed off on the proposed shipments to the NNSS (Nevada National Security Site). If this is your Department’s belief, I would appreciate clarification from you on how this conclusion was reached,” Heller, R-Nev., wrote in a letter Tuesday to Moniz.

Heller asked Moniz to respond to six points to clarify his July 30 testimony before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and to elaborate on “additional information that has come to light.”

“Nevadans have a right to be safe in their communities and on the roads, and I am not convinced DOE has a plan to import waste to Nevada that meets this basic threshold,” Heller wrote.

“In the past, Nevada Governors and DOE have worked together to avoid shipping radioactive waste through Las Vegas to the NNSS. Will you commit to continue this practice?”

DOE spokeswoman Lindsey Geisler said the agency received Heller’s letter and is reviewing it.

“The Energy Department will continue to work with Congress and the state of Nevada to resolve these concerns,” she wrote in an email Thursday.

At the Senate hearing, Moniz said, “There were long discussions held, many memos signed on specifically this particular low-level waste movement. That exchange of memos to us was saying this works, with our special precautions.”

Gov. Brian Sandoval has objected to DOE’s plans to haul bomb-usable, uranium-laced waste from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee for disposal in a shallow landfill at the security site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Disposing of the ton of waste containing atom-splitting uranium material and one isotope that decays into a form that emits deadly gamma radiation “sets a dangerous precedent,” Sandoval wrote in a June 20 letter to Moniz.

Instead of disposing the long-lived radioactive waste that could be used in a dirty bomb in a trench at the former Nevada Test Site, the waste, though considered by DOE to be low-level, should be disposed in the department’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico, Sandoval said in his letter.

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

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