Several Nevada lawmakers not concerned about nuclear waste burial plan

CARSON CITY — Several legislators voiced no concern Wednesday about the U.S. Department of Energy’s plans to bury 403 canisters of nuclear bomb-usable waste at the Nevada National Security Site.

State Sen. Pete Goicoechea, whose district includes the site and parts of Nye and Clark counties, said state government should require compensation from the federal government before accepting wastes from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. But he and others had no major transportation safety concerns.

“The site is already contaminated,” added Goicoechea, R-Eureka, about the burial spot about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. “The site is secured. Where else are they going to put it? But we are missing the boat. We should be compensated.”

Sen. David Parks, chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on High-Level Radioactive Waste, said a variety of nuclear materials are brought to the security site on a routine basis. Such wastes are contained in Area 5.

“I would not be terribly concerned about it,” said Parks, D-Las Vegas, about the pending shipments. “As long as they follow the guidelines … there is a permitting process they have to follow.”

One federal official who asked not to be identified called the waste “nasty stuff,” saying, “It’s safeguarded material that you watch over with lots of guns and make sure it is in a place you could safely say would be safe and people won’t be able to get to.

The uranium is as much as 1,500 times more radioactive than the low-level waste usually buried on the test site. It requires heavy shielding and is handled only with remote-control cranes.

The Sandoval administration said Tuesday that it has not taken a position on the shipments, which could start this spring, but that it had not yet signed off on the shipments. That position did not change Wednesday.

But Frank Marciowski, the deputy assistant Energy Department secretary for waste management, told the Review-Journal’s Washington Bureau that Nevada officials reviewed the proposed shipments and agreed they meet the site’s requirements.

Assemblyman James Oscarson, R-Pahrump, declared that he and Nye County residents support putting high-level waste at Yucca Mountain and using the facility for other economic opportunities.

“The citizens of Nye County support that endeavor, that site there, as do some of the other surrounding counties. It could mean significant economic impact for us. We’re continually working with the governor’s office to let them know of our desire for that and other opportunities that may exist there.”

The federal government is cleaning up historic nuclear weapons facilities such as Oak Ridge, where parts of the nation’s first atomic bombs were created in World War II. Last month the Energy Department announced plans to ship old wastes from its Hanford, Wash., facility to an underground isolation facility near Carlsbad, N.M.

The building at Oak Ridge where the Nevada-bound materials are stored has been operating since work was done on the Manhattan Project in World War II, according to Robert Halstead, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.

Halstead said some the “higher quality” materials already were taken to the Nevada security facility from Oak Ridge for disassembly.

These materials were transported by the federal agency that carries nuclear material and bombs through the country. Its safety record is excellent, he said.

Nevada does not have “regulatory authority” of these types of shipments but can offer oversight, Halstead said.

About 2,300 pounds of uranium materials will be shipped to Nevada, according to Halstead, but it will take 30 to 60 shipments over a year and a half.

He noted some of the spent fuel rods that the government wants to put in Yucca Mountain are more than 1,000 times as radioactive as the bomb-usable materials. The Yucca Mountain repository project 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas has been quashed by the Obama administration, and Congress has started looking for alternative sites for storage of the nation’s high-level nuclear waste.

“I don’t want to underestimate or overestimate the dangers of these shipments,” he said. “It should be taken seriously and respectfully.”

State Sen. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said he did not read the Energy Department report, but opposes any shipments to Nevada.

“They have in the past sent some material, but in general we don’t want to be a dumping ground for anybody. The stronger the stuff, the worse it would be, obviously.”

Contact Capital Bureau Chief Ed Vogel at or 775-687-3901. Contact Capital Bureau reporter Sean Whaley at or 775-687-3900.

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