Western States Kept in Dark on Moving Nuclear Waste, Governors Say

Utah and Nevada are at the end of the funnel for the tens of thousands of rail and truck shipments of nuclear waste heading for the proposed Yucca Mountain and Private Fuel Storage (PFS) disposal sites.

Oct. 14—Utah and Nevada are at the end of the funnel for the tens of thousands of rail and truck shipments of nuclear waste heading for the proposed Yucca Mountain and Private Fuel Storage (PFS) disposal sites.

Along with other Western states, they would like to know how the PFS and the U.S. Department of Energy plan to move and monitor the deadly material.

But Congress has balked at funding the Yucca Mountain project, leaving DOE's transportation plans in limbo. And PFS, a consortium of seven utilities whose nuclear power plants are running out of on-site storage for spent fuel rods, has yet to divulge how it plans to ship the material.

In a time of heightened fear of terror attacks, such uncertainty and secrecy is unacceptable, a Western governors' organization told federal officials Wednesday.

"We are reluctant stewards of nuclear waste in the West," said Tim Holeman, representing the Western Interstate Energy Board. "But we are united in our commitment to safe transportation."

Pointing to likely maps of train and truck routes, Holeman noted that the waste from nuclear power plants would traverse 45 states, 700 counties and 50 Indian reservations on its way to Yucca Mountain, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. More than 11 million people live within a half-mile of a potential highway route, he said.

Preliminary study shows the states most likely to see most of the waste pass through their population centers are Nevada, Utah and Arizona, followed by Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado.

"This is a Western issue, not just a Nevada issue," Holeman told members of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board during a meeting in Salt Lake City.

The DOE, by law, was to open a permanent nuclear waste repository by 1998. Now the deadline is 2010.

Meanwhile, DOE has not yet decided on how rail lines might be used to transport up to 3,000 metric tons of waste per year. There would have to be 300 miles of track laid between existing rails and the Yucca Mountain site, "one of the biggest rail projects envisioned in the last 100 years," Holeman said.

Not all of the nuclear reactor sites have access to rail, so the transportation plan will have to include barges and trucks.

Gary Lanthrum, director of DOE's transportation program, said Congress' unwillingness to include Yucca funding in its omnibus spending bill may ultimately force the restructuring of Yucca's whole work plan.

If Congress does not appropriate the money for the Nevada rail component next year, he said, the 2010 deadline would be missed.

Western governors are demanding that DOE develop with the states and tribes a comprehensive transportation plan that addresses the safety of the shipping casks and a review of terrorism and sabotage risks.

The governors also say that no private storage facility for nuclear waste shall be located in a state without the written consent of the governor. "PFS is a big concern to us," Holeman said.

Skull Valley Band of Goshutes chairman Leon Bear in 1997 signed a lease with PFS to allow the company to store up to 44,000 tons of spent nuclear fuel on Goshute land 45 miles west of Salt Lake City. The containers would sit on concrete pads spread across 100 acres before being sent to Yucca, proponents said.

The proposal must be approved by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

A PFS representative was scheduled to testify before the review board today.

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