Yucca Mountain Information Office
November 30, 1998
U.S. Department of Energy
RE: Pre-approved Draft Environmental Assessment Intermodal Transportation of Low-level Radioactive Waste to the Nevada Test Site
Dear Mr. Skougard:
The purpose of this letter is to provide the Department of Energy with the comments of Eureka County, Nevada concerning the above-referenced document. Eureka County is one of the ten "affected units of local government" under Section 116 of the Nuclear Waste Policy Act as amended. As such, we are concerned with issues related to all nuclear waste transportation, emergency response, and activities which could establish intermodal transportation facilities in Nevada.
We appreciate the opportunity to comments on the Draft Environmental Assessment (EA), and have the following comments:
The Environmental Assessment encourages shippers to consider two alternatives for transporting low level radioactive waste to the Nevada Test Site. One is the use of intermodal transportation (rail to truck) at three separate sites - Caliente, Nevada and Barstow and Yermo, California. The second alternative is to use trucks only, but avoid the Las Vegas Valley and Hoover Dam.
Need for EIS
The Environmental Assessment is trying to do two things at once: to address the safety issues related to urban transportation of low level radioactive waste, and to encourage the establishment of an intermodal facility at Caliente.
The proposal to establish an intermodal facility at Caliente is a major federal action, which we believe requires a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). The potential connections between establishment of such a facility for low level waste, and the proposals to do so for high- level waste and spent fuel cannot be dismissed as speculation, and should be considered as actions in the reasonably foreseeable future. If Caliente is to become an intermodal facility for radioactive waste, a full EIS must be done now.
Need for Explicit Preferred Alternative
The Environmental Assessment does not offer a preferred alternative. Instead, it presents a number of options that shippers could use. The utility and effectiveness of the EA effort would be enhanced if a preferred alternative were proposed - giving shippers clear direction.
If DOE anticipates that this document will be useful to shippers, the EA should address the question of liability related to route selection. If a shipper changes from the existing route through the Las Vegas Valley to one of the proposed alternatives, and an accident occurs, what are the liability consequences? If a shipper does not change from Las Vegas Valley routing after this document is final, what are the liability considerations?
Need for Impact Analysis on Rural Communities
A glaring inadequacy in the document is the lack of analysis of the impacts of these proposed routing changes - both truck and intermodal - on rural towns and residents who are on the routes. Towns are listed merely as route segments, rather than as communities. The document should thoroughly analyze the impacts on rural communities and residents, including the impacts of accidents involving the release of radioactive material. For example, while an accident involving a release of radioactive material in Las Vegas might affect a very small percentage of the residents of Clark County, it could affect 100% of the residents of a rural Nevada town. The document should identify the schools, hospitals, and other community facilities that could be impacted by transportation accidents. The document assumes that people who live in urban areas need to be protected from health hazards and people who live in rural areas, because of population, are insignificant. It is unacceptable to solve an urban public health problem at the expense of rural residents.
Emergency Response Analysis is Inadequate
Finally, the document is inadequate in its analysis of the availability of emergency response equipment and capability, including medical response. Section 3.8 addresses "Radiation, Safety, and Occupational Health," and touts the off-site radiation monitoring program without any information about medical facilities or personnel associated with potentially adverse findings from the program.
If the substances being transported are so dangerous that it is a threat to public health and safety to have them transported through the Las Vegas "Spaghetti Bowl" and over Hoover Dam, then they must be the kinds of substances that would require sophisticated emergency response capability, such as the kind currently found in urban Clark County. Most rural communities have volunteer emergency responders with limited training and equipment. The document should analyze whether the benefit of moving the shipments out of the Las Vegas Valley is worth the risk of accidents in rural areas with minimal or limited capacity to respond adequately and promptly to an accident involving the release of radioactivity.
If DOE goes forward with issuing a Finding of No Significant Impact, it must be accompanied by a mitigation action plan to address these emergency management inadequacies in affected rural communities.
The proposal to establish an intermodal facility requires a full Environmental Impact Statement.
The proposal to route low level radioactive waste on rural highways will create significant impacts on rural communities. If DOE chooses a "Finding of No Significant Impact" it must be accompanied by a mitigation action plan to address the emergency management inadequacies and other impacts in affected rural communities.
We appreciate the opportunity to comment on this draft document.
Leonard Fiorenzi, Eureka County