Nevada says DOE undersells difficulty of nuclear dump shipments

LAS VEGAS (AP) -- The Energy Department is underestimating the difficulty of getting routes and shipping radioactive materials to the proposed Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada, group of state experts told a government panel.

"We ask that when you hear glib assurances from the department or any other party that they know exactly how the transportation system to Yucca Mountain will work, that you take that with a grain of salt," said Robert Halstead, Nevada's principal transportation adviser.

Five paid consultants and Nevada's nuclear waste chief raised their concerns Tuesday during a four-hour presentation to the Advisory Committee on Nuclear Waste in Washington, D.C. The committee monitors the Yucca program for members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

They said the federal government faces challenges developing a railroad line to the repository site, devising a combination of rail and truck shipments, and testing containers that will be used in moving the waste from sites in 39 states.

A Yucca Mountain Project official dismissed the concerns as a rehash of issues raised previously by the state, which opposes the federal plan to open the repository 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

"There's nothing new here," project spokesman Allen Benson said. He said Nevada's estimates were based on assumptions that the repository will hold more waste than the 77,000 tons currently planned.

The Nevadans said it probably will take more than the 175 shipments the Energy Department estimates will be needed per year to fill the repository after it opens in 2010.

The DOE figures "grossly underestimate the nature, magnitude and scope required to support the repository program," said Bob Loux, head of Nevada's Agency for Nuclear Projects.

Halstead predicted that the Energy Department will have trouble developing a rail line across the state to Yucca Mountain because the Air Force will declare the vast Nellis bombing range unsuitable and other routes will be snarled by private development.

Rough terrain and environmental issues will hamper suggested routes from Carlin and Caliente, he said.

As the Nevada officials discussed the risks associated with nuclear waste transportation, advisory board member B. John Garrick noted that hazardous materials already travel through Las Vegas and other cities largely unnoticed.

Garrick said nuclear waste should be put in that context. He warned against putting too much emphasis on analyzing consequences of potential accidents.

Among other topics, a divide emerged between Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff and Nevada experts over analysis of a July 21, 2001, train derailment and fire in the Howard Street rail tunnel in Baltimore.

A Nevada analysis concluded that radioactivity would have been released if the trapped cars had been carrying canisters of nuclear waste.

Two studies released by the NRC in March concluded that a nuclear waste container would have withstood the tunnel fire that was calculated to have reached 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit.


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