Nuclear waste accident exercise planned this weekend

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While the politicians argue whether shipping and storing nuclear waste in Nevada is safe, emergency response agencies are preparing in case the worst happens.

An exercise is scheduled today north of Lathrop Wells on the access road to the Nevada Test site near Las Vegas to see how well state, county and federal agencies can cope with an accident involving a shipment of nuclear waste.

Public Safety Director Dick Kirkland said the exercise deals with shipments of transuranic waste from the Nevada Test Site to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant at Carlsbad, New Mexico. He said the waste involved is considered low level waste and that the exercise is not specifically related to the kind of waste proposed for storage at Yucca Mountain.

But Kirkland said the exercise is valuable for learning better how to handle incidents involving higher levels of waste as well.

"It applies to everything, the concepts and principles," he said.

Kirkland said large amounts of low level wastes are being transported throughout the nation, including Nevada, and that his crews as well as local authorities, medical and fire personnel all have to be ready to deal with any kind of incident that might happen.

Kirkland said one problem for all authorities is that there are really no requirements to report and track those shipments so it's difficult to tell how many of them may be on the roads at any one time. He said he would like to discuss ways of improving that reporting with lawmakers.

The Carlsbad plant is a disposal facility for plutonium contaminated wastes from the U.S. Energy Department. It is already receiving waste from DOE facilities in Idaho, Colorado and Washington.

The exercise beginning at 9 a.m. will involve emergency response and public safety personnel from the state highway patrol health division and department of transportation, the division of emergency management, Nye County Sheriff's Department, county fire and rescue personnel, medical personnel and ambulance teams.


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