DOE Delays Release of Site Recommendation Consideration Report
After years of study, the Department of Energy (DOE) is nearing the point where it must determine whether Yucca Mountain is suitable for the construction and operation of a permanent nuclear waste repository. One of the final steps in DOE’s evaluation of the suitability of Yucca Mountain is the Site Recommendation Consideration Report (SRCR).
Its December, 2000, release date was postponed because of an Inspector General’s investigation of possible contractor bias in the preparation of the report.
The SRCR along with the final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) will provide the technical basis for the Secretary of Energy’s decision on whether or not to officially recommend the site to the president. According to DOE’s Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, the key issue to be addressed in the SRCR is whether a repository would present “any unreasonable long-term risk to the public after permanent closure.”
DOE is expected to hold “consideration hearings” near the Yucca Mountain site after the release of the SRCR, but dates and locations have not been set.?
County officials to tour Yucca Mountain
County commissioners, members of the Planning Commission, Public Lands Commission, and Crescent Valley Town Board will tour Yucca Mountain on April 30. The tour will involve an on-site visit to the tunnels at Yucca Mountain, and tests being conducted there. The county has invited a representative of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office to provide the state’s perspective on the tour.?
NRC May Hold Informal Hearings on Yucca Mountain Repository
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has proposed to Congress the option of holding informal rather than formal hearings on future licensing proceedings. If approved, the proposal could affect the hearings on the Yucca Mountain site, which may be under review for an NRC license as early as next year.
An informal hearing means that there is no admittance of evidence, due process, or other procedures normally used in regulatory hearings. In the past, the law required all NRC licensing hearings to be formal.
The proposal has drawn criticism from Nevada officials and those opposed to a repository at Yucca Mountain, the only site currently under study for permanent geologic disposal of the country’s nuclear waste. They are not convinced that an informal hearing process would provide an adequate and official forum to express doubts and concerns about a facility that could have a direct impact on so many lives.
It is unknown when NRC will decide whether to keep the formal hearing process for Yucca Mountain licensing ?
County Oversees Yucca Mountain Activities in 2001
The main focus of Eureka County’s nuclear waste oversight program this year is the preparation of an Impact Assessment Report to identify and quantify potential impacts to the county of the construction of a rail line from Beowawe south through Crescent Valley to transport nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain. The Report will be submitted to the Secretary of Energy and to the state of Nevada for its Impact Report to DOE.
The “Carlin” route is one of five rail routes being considered by DOE which has not decided on whether rail or truck will be the predominant mode of transportation, and has not selected routes.
The county also continues to participate in meetings of DOE and other agencies such as NRC and the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board. This website (www.yuccamountain.or)is attracting about 40,000 “hits” per month. If you have questions about Eureka County’s nuclear waste program, call the public works office at 775/237-5372.
Scientists Discover New Material that Safely Contains Radiation
An international team of scientists has discovered a new crystalline material that could contain nuclear waste for thousands of years without leaking deadly radiation. Researchers at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, Osaka University in Japan, and London's Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine say that this new special blend of ceramics can withstand pounding radiation and might provide a safer grave for high-level nuclear waste.
Spent nuclear fuel is currently stored in containers made of glass-like chemicals that may only last 100 years. Because of the relatively short life-span of these containers, scientists are considering permanent burial in a geologic repository, such as the one proposed for Yucca Mountain, as a means of containing the waste once the canisters fail. However, if this team of researchers can confirm its findings, radioactive materials could be contained above-ground for much longer — making the need for a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain much less urgent.
The new material, which has sapphire-like properties, results when fluorite is blended with other ceramic materials. According to scientists, the material’s crystal lattice grabs and traps radioactivity, resisting the damage that usually occurs from long-term exposure to high levels of radiation. The research results were published in the August 4, 2000 edition of the journal Science.?
Eureka County Board of Commissioners — meets 6th and 20th of every month (unless these dates fall on weekends)
Crescent Valley Town Advisory Board — meets on the 12th and 26th of every month (unless these dates fall on weekends)
April 30 - Eureka County public official tour of Yucca Mountain
May 22 and 23 (tentative) — Nuclear Regulatory Commission public meeting on licensing hearing process, locations TBA, Las Vegas and Nye Co. Information: 775/237-5372
September 11-12 — Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board Meeting, Las Vegas. Information: 703/235-4473. Web address: http://www.nwtrb.gov
New Nuclear News
Editor’s note: Since the Summer 2000 issue, the nuclear waste issue has continued to make news. Here is a summary of some of the developments that have happened.
Yucca Mountain Project . . . TRW has been replaced as the management and operations contractor for the Yucca Mountain project by Bechtel Corp. which has partnered with SAIC to manage the Yucca Mountain project for DOE, and has a five year $3.1 billion renewable contract. (LV Business Press 2/12/01)
Spencer Abraham, Secretary of Energy . . . President George W. Bush appointed former U.S. Senator Spencer Abraham (R-Mich) to be Secretary of Energy. At his confirmation hearing he said that Yucca Mountain “has to move forward.” (Las Vegas Sun 1/18/01) “My commitment is to make progress on the nuclear waste program while ensuring sound science governs decision on site recommendations.” (Las Vegas Review Journal 1/19/01)
EPA Radiation Rule . . . During the final days of the Clinton administration, EPA released its rule on radiation limits for Yucca Mountain. However, the rule is being rereviewed by the Bush administration and the Office of Management and Budget.
The EPA is proposing a 15 millirem annual release of radiation each year for 10,000 years. 4 millirems could be released into groundwater, consistent with the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA’s standard is more stringent than that proposed by the NRC, which would allow 25 millirems per year to escape from the repository with no separate standard for groundwater. (LV Sun 1/22/01) . . . Nevada’s senators, governor, and environmental and consumer groups urged President Bush to keep stricter limits on radiation releases at the proposed nuclear waste repository.
They want the President to require that ground water be measured for contamination at the repository, not 12 or 20 miles away. They also want Bush to maintain the stricter groundwater standard. (LV Sun 2/15/01). . . The National Academy of Sciences Board of Radioactive Waste Management stated that the EPA has made what appear to be “several arbitrary modifications” in applying safe drinking water regulations to the Yucca Mountain proposed repository. The board is concerned that a 10,000 year compliance period proposed by EPA would not adequately protect the public. (NCSL RW News 1/2001).
Transportation. . . Shipments of nuclear waste to the proposed repository could cause 400 people to die of cancer nationwide over 34 years because of exposure to radiation, according to the state of Nevada’s transportation expert Bob Halstead. DOE estimates 31 people would die of cancer during the 34 year shipping campaign. While DOE estimates cleanup costs from a nuclear waste accident involving trucks or trains would cost $10-20 billion, Halstead pegs a highway accident at $20-50 billion to clean up, with rail costing between $63 and $108 billion. (LV Sun 9/12/00)
Regional . . . Nevada’s Agency for Nuclear Projects wrote a letter to Elko County stating that, “Selection of the Beowawe alterative would have significant implications for Elko County and the cities of West Wendover, Wells, Carlin and Elko. Almost all of the waste destined for Yucca mountain would come into Nevada on the Union Pacific mainline and pass through Elko County en route to the proposed rail spur.” (Ely Times 11/2/00). . . Wells City Council heard from Joe Strolin and Bob Halstead from the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects regarding proposed spent fuel transportation through northeastern Nevada. The duo disagreed on when transportation might start. Strolin guessed between 2010 and 2020, while Halstead believes that nuclear waste could be moving to Yucca Mountain within 5 years.
(Elko Daily Free Press 1/10/01) Strolin and Halstead briefed the Elko County Commissioners on January 25 . . . The City of Las Vegas is now a nuclear-free zone, at least symbolically. The city council passed a resolution on September 7, 2000 (LV Sun 9/8/01). On February 8, the Las Vegas City Council unanimously authorized filing a lawsuit to stop the transport of high-level nuclear waste through Las Vegas. No schedule was disclosed for when the suit would be filed. (Las Vegas Sun 2/8/01)
Radiation Compensation . . . DOE has examined 60 years of records to find all facilities that used radioactive materials, as a first step to compensating workers at nuclear weapons facilities. At a January 2001 news conference, then Energy Secretary Richardson said, “The burden of proof is on the government, not the worker. We will be open and candid this time, not like in the past.” DOE has found 317 sites that employed 600,000 persons in 37 states. Most were private companies that did work for the government. The list can be found on the DOE website . . . . In Nevada, the list includes the Nevada Test Site, Project Faultless Nuclear Explosion Site, Central Nevada Test Site, Project Shoal Nuclear Explosion Site near Fallon, and the Yucca Mountain Site Characterization Project.
The inclusion on Yucca Mountain was a surprise, since there is no radioactive contamination at the mountain, according to local DOE officials. Workers can call DOE toll free: 877/447-9756. Access the Energy Employees Occupational Initiative at (Nevada Appeal 1/13/01) . . . . Under a bill approved by Congress, some DOE workers who developed cancer after radiation exposure, as well as those with lung disease from beryllium or silica, can receive government-paid medical care plus $150,000. New legislation proposed this year would give workers a choice between the lump sum payment and compensation for lost wages. ( NV Appeal 1/13/01)
Goshute Private Spent Fuel Storage. . . . NRC’s Safety Evaluation Report on the application of Private Fuel Storage, LLC to build an above-ground spent fuel storage facility on the Skull Valley Band of Goshutes reservation near Toole, Utah, determined the facility would be safe and meet regulatory requirements (Nuclear Waste News 10/12/00)
The NRC ruled in early October that the interim storage facility will meet all safety standards during normal, unusual and accident conditions. Storage casks used would be invulnerable to floods, fires, lightening, earthquakes and tornadoes, and will withstand explosions, aircraft crashes, and impacts from cruise missiles gone astray, according to NRC. (NCSL Radioactive Waste News 1/01)
The 200-page SER is available on the NRC web page at www.nrc.gov . . . . DOE officials have indicated that they are willing to discuss an agreement with Private Fuel Storage under which DOE would cover the cost of storing spent nuclear fuel at the temporary storage facility on the Skull Valley storage site. DOE would consider a settlement agreement with any company that incurred costs resulting from DOE’s failure to accept spent fuel for permanent disposal by January 1998 as required by the Nuclear Waste Policy Act regardless of whether storage is on or off site. (NCSL RW News 1/01)
The NRC was expected to issue the Final EIS on the PFS project in February, with a final agency decision expected in November 2001, despite opposition from Utah’s governor and U.S. Senators . . . Federal Surface Transportation Board has given preliminary approval for a 32 mile rail line that could transport 40,000 metric tons of spend nuclear fuel to the PFS facility in Skull Valley. The Great Salt Lake and Southern Railroad Co. estimates the rail line would cost $20-41 million, including a “run-around” track for locomotives to turn around. The railroad’s application states that the storage facility is “urgently” needed. (Utah Deseret News 2/21/01)
International . . . Russia’s lower house of parliament has approved a proposal to bring spent nuclear fuel to Russia. The estimated revenue of $20 billion over 10 years could be used to clean up radiation spills in Russia, proponents argued. The proposal must pass both houses and be signed by the President of Russia. Opponents argue that countries should handle their own wastes. The proposal if approved would allow Russia to import up to 21,000 tons of nuclear waste for reprocessing. (LV Sun and LV R-J 12/21/00)
Transmutation . . . Los Alamos National Lab in NM has begun a $34 million research project to develop transmutation which would take spent fuel and make it less radioactive. The process would yield a small quantity of high level nuclear waste and a large amount of low-level waste, which could be disposed of in landfills. The goal of the technology is to use up the plutonium, and leave waste with a 300-year half-life. (LV R-J 1/19/01)