Lawmaker wants feds to clean up nuke test site

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It's hard enough to get water in the deserts of Nevada. It gets even more complicated when you're located next to a massive parcel of land the federal government used to test Cold War-era nuclear weapons.

Officials from Nye County, along with Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, are pushing for a resolution that would urge the federal government to invest more in cleaning the Nevada National Security Site, a move they say may free up water for residents and prevent the spread of radioactive matter.

"The federal government needs to man up and either clean up or pay up," Goedhart said Tuesday at a meeting of the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining.

Since 1951, the federal government has conducted 100 atmospheric and 828 underground nuclear tests at the 1,360-square-mile site. After a moratorium on nuclear testing took effect in 1992, the site has been used for the Stock-pile Stewardship Program, which studies and maintains the nation's nuclear weapons.

Making sure the toxic repercussions of the test site do not harm people is an expensive task. Last year, the federal government spent $65 million to clean up parts of the site and to monitor the movement of radioactive particles underground.

But Goedhart said that's not enough, and the environmental issues are getting in the way of Nye County's long-term water supply plan.

Nye County's attempts to gain water rights south of the test site have been blocked by the U.S. Department of Energy, which says pumping water in the area might disrupt the ground and speed up the spread of radioactive material.

With blocks from the DOE, Nevada's plans to launch an alternative energy center near Amargosa could stall, at a potential cost of $30 billion, officials said.

"Water is the limiting factor," said Darrell Lacy, Nye County's community development director.

Nye County is feeling like the underdog in federal clean-up funds. Nearly $2 billion last year went to Washington State's Hanford Site, formerly used to manufacture weapons-grade plutonium, including the material used in the atom bomb detonated over Nagasaki, Japan at the end of World War II.

The Hanford Site is located on the Columbia River, and federal funds are focused on keeping the waste out of that water.

Assembly Joint Resolution 5 points to a Nye County study that found 1.6 trillion gallons of water in Nevada - much of it underground - are contaminated from the nuclear waste, although no radioactive material has yet been detected outside the test site.

Goedhart said he hopes the resolution, which is co-sponsored by 19 other state legislators, will raise awareness of Nye County's plight and put pressure on federal lawmakers to invest in clean-up.

"To have what precious little water we have contaminated," Goedhart said, "is quite a problem."


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