Las Vegas Sun

July 18, 2019

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Nuclear waste in Nevada

During the decades that Yucca Mountain has been the focus of political passion and controversy over the safety of transporting and storing high-level radioactive waste, the Energy Department’s Nevada National Security Site has quietly received 40.8 million cubic feet of low-level waste, some of it passing through Las Vegas on its way to the site 65 miles northwest of downtown. The waste is buried 15 miles farther north. There have been 15,500 shipments of low-level waste since 1999.

How does it get there?

The blue line below shows the northern route, used during warmer months when there is no snow creating hazardous road conditions. The pink line shows the southern route taken during colder months.

Drivers may not transport nuclear waste on Interstate 215 or through the Spaghetti Bowl. Former Gov. Kenny Guinn made this happen in 2000, as he didn't want nuclear waste traveling through the congested areas of Las Vegas. No tractor-trailers are allowed on Hoover Dam since the 9/11 attacks.

Additional route information
California limits nuclear waste travel on State Route 127 through Death Valley because of concerns that it will set a precedent for use should the Yucca Mountain project go forward. California and Nevada have agreed to a split schedule that allows waste transport along California State Route 127 and Nevada State Route 160.

Nevada State Route 160 (Blue Diamond Road) has many homes and businesses along it. This is a source of controversy because should an accident happen, a heavily populated area would be affected. Route 127 is through Death Valley where there's no danger of a metropolitan area being affected.

Where does it come from?

The Energy Department gets about $6.6 billion annually to manage the environment in and around its facilities, including for nuclear waste cleanup. Shown are the locations of department facilities that have shipped the most low-level nuclear waste to Nevada from 2000 through 2009.

SOURCES: U.S. Energy Department, Nevada Environmental Protection Division, GRAPHICS: Chris Morris, Rachel Perkins