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Amargosa Conservancy voices concerns over nuclear waste shipments

The proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository has been put on hold indefinitely, but some fear that radioactive nuclear waste shipments that would cross California on its way to Nevada could be catastrophic.

Recently, the Amargosa Conservancy called to abandon the idea and consider possible risks of the transport of 77,000 tons of used nuclear fuel and high-level waste to Yucca Mountain, located about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Highly radioactive waste fuel from California nuclear power plants would pass through the state on I-15 or the Union Pacific Railroad that crosses Mojave National Preserve. Each shipment would contain several times more radioactive material than the Hiroshima bomb blast released, according to the press release provided by the Amargosa Conservancy.

“The scale of any potential disaster could be enormous – a Fukushima or Chernobyl type of disaster,” said Patrick Donnelly, the executive director of the Amargosa Conservancy. “Many of the routes of proposed travel across the California desert go through remote country and remote communities – places far away from responders who have received full nuclear waste training and who have access to the expensive protective and hazard containment equipment necessary to protect communities and the first responders themselves.”

The press release also cited the Department of Energy studies that concluded that accidents in transporting waste to Yucca Mountain would be a “certainty,” due to a large number of required shipments.

The DOE’s 2008 environmental impact statement concluded that the minimum number of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste shipments to Yucca Mountain coming through California would be 857 truckloads and 264 trains carrying 755 large rail casks. If Yucca Mountain were to be the only U.S. repository, the minimum numbers would go up to 1,676 trucks and 628 trains carrying 1,876 casks coming through California.

Robert Halstead, executive director of the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, said that the number of shipments through California however could be much larger.

“If Nevada’s consultants are correct, then it is possible that the number of trains through California could be almost 5,000, carrying about 15,700 casks,” Halstead said in an email.

President Obama defunded the proposed repository in 2010, however a 2013 ruling of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said that the regulatory commission should proceed with license hearings.

A recent report by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff concluded nuclear waste would yield “only a negligible increase” in health risks from radioactive particles that might leak into groundwater.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada also released a statement as the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, along with groups in 70 cities across the country, highlighted the dangers of transporting spent nuclear fuel and high-level nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain.

“When Nevadans think about Yucca Mountain, one of the things they have in mind is the potential for 10,000 shipments of one of the most dangerous substances known to man traveling through Nevada, right by the Las Vegas strip. Nuclear waste shipments would pass within one-half mile of tens of thousands of residents and dozens of hotels. Every one of these shipments would be over the objection of Nevadans, their governor and their U.S. senators,” Reid said.

Some Nye County officials however have a different opinion on the topic.

“Nuclear material has been moved around this country for more than half a century and waste has been moved on (Nevada State Route) 373 since the early 90s’ with no spill of any radioactive material,” Commissioner Dan Schinhofen said.

“Their concerns could be answered if the state and federal Senate would follow the law and allow the hearings on Yucca Mountain to be held,” he added.

To open the door for nuclear waste shipments, U.S. Congress would have to enact a law overriding Nevada’s land water rights.

Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at dsokolova@pvtimes.com. Find her on Twitter: @dariasokolova77.

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