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Sandoval assails planned waste shipments, citing ‘dirty bomb’ fears

Low-level radioactive waste

Steve Marcus

A sign warns of buried waste in the Area 5 Radioactive Waste Management Site of the Nevada National Security Site (N2S2), previously the Nevada Test Site, about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas on Feb. 1, 2011.

Updated Friday, June 21, 2013 | 10:13 a.m.

Low-level radioactive waste

A worker walks by containers of mixed waste in the Area 5 Radioactive Waste Management Site of the Nevada National Security Site (N2S2), previously the Nevada Test Site, about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas on Feb. 1, 2011. Launch slideshow »
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Gov. Brian Sandoval

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval issued an open letter Thursday opposing the Department of Energy’s plan to dispose of radioactive waste canisters in a Nevada National Security Site landfill.

In the letter addressed to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, Sandoval expressed concern the plan posed a danger to workers and provided a potential source for a “dirty bomb.” Sandoval said the plan failed to address the concerns of local governments and Native American tribes.

The DOE’s current plan is to ship 403 Consolidated Edison Uranium Solidification Project (CEUSP) canisters containing radioactive waste from Oak Ridge, Tenn., to Area 5 of the Nevada National Security Site. The waste then would be buried about 40 feet deep in the desert landfill underneath another layer of radioactive waste, according to the Knoxville News Sentinel.

The canisters carry old reactor fuel from the old site of the World War II Manhattan Project, which contains fissionable Uranium 233 and Uranium 235. The DOE has deemed the material low-level radioactive waste, which qualifies it for disposal.

Sandoval argues the material is not a low-level radioactive waste and is unsuitable for shallow land burial. He claims the only reason the waste does not meet the legal definition of high-level radioactive waste is because it does not fall under spent nuclear fuel, transuranic waste or uranium mill tailings.

“Using this logic, DOE is attempting to exploit a gap in current regulations,” Sandoval wrote. “Qualifying this material as low-level radioactive waste sets a dangerous precedent for the classification of potential future waste streams that exist across the nation.”

He said the canisters should be treated like high-level radioactive waste due to their long half-lives and high concentration of fissile material, and be shipped to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant for “permanent deep-geologic disposal.”

Nevada's congressional delegation also joined in with concern.

Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said state officials would continue to work with DOE officials to resolve the issue and ensure the safety of Nevadans.

“Nevada must receive assurances that the canisters are safe to ship, will not release dangerous levels of radiation into the environment, and waste acceptance standards for NNSS are not being modified solely to accommodate this waste,” Reid said in a statement.

Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., was more pronounced in her concern.

"Since I learned about the proposed transfer of nuclear waste from Oak Ridge, I've had concerns and voiced them adamantly with the White House and the DOE. Until I receive satisfactory answers to all of my questions, I will oppose any transfers of nuclear material. Nevada is not America's dumping ground," she said in a statement.

Sandoval ended his letter with a request to meet Moniz to discuss the issue and Nevada’s views in “a cooperative manner” as soon as possible.

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