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Waste criteria for test site changed, draws ire

WASHINGTON — Rep. Dina Titus peppered the Department of Energy with more questions Wednesday about nuclear waste plans for its Nevada landfill.

Titus, D-Nev., said she was troubled by the department quietly revising its regulations in May to accept a broader range of contaminated materials at the Area 5 landfill of the Nevada National Security Site, 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

The change, coupled with DOE plans to ship higher level uranium waste from its laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tenn., for disposal in Nevada, “signal a potentially dangerous shift in the low-level waste storage policy at the test site,” she said in a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

The Titus letter, coupled with a House speech she was scheduled to deliver later Wednesday, reflects the state’s heightened concern over what role the Nevada National Security Site might play as the government seeks to dispose of more radioactive and exotic forms of waste from cleanup of nuclear weapons sites.

Gov. Brian Sandoval told Moniz last month he would not allow potent uranium waste from Oak Ridge to enter Nevada for disposal. State officials say Sandoval is awaiting a response.

Titus earlier this week demanded information from Moniz about shipping plans for the Oak Ridge waste, as well as broader transportation issues the department is considering as part of an update to the test site’s environmental impact statement.

DOE spokeswoman Lindsey Geisler said Moniz is reviewing the letters he received from Titus and Nevada leaders.

In her latest letter Wednesday, Titus asked Moniz to explain why the “waste acceptance criteria” for the test site landfill was revised, and if it was in order to clear the way for the Oak Ridge shipments, which state official charge do not fit easily into previous test site disposal standards.

Security site managers changed their rules on May 29 to accept containers of nuclear waste that are five times more radioactive than now allowed. They also changed guidelines to allow a 40-fold increase in the amount of uranium isotopes that could be hauled to the site in 55-gallon drums.

“It is critical that DOE be forthright about how and why the waste acceptance criteria was changed,” Titus says in remarks prepared for her speech.

Titus further has said she is annoyed that DOE in her view has not been responsive to questions from Nevada about its plans for the site.

“My office only became aware of the (waste acceptance) revision more than a week after it was approved and only by an Internet search,” Titus said in her letter Wednesday.

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