Heller objects to suggestion that Nevada “signed off” on waste shipments

Dean Heller

Dean Heller

The battle over plans to ship what Nevada officials say is high-level waste to the state heated up again this week.

Sen. Dean Heller protested a suggestion by U.S. Energy Department Secretary Ernest Moniz that Nevada is willing to take the radioactive material.

“During your testimony last week, you seemed to indicate that DOE believed the state of Nevada had signed off on the proposed shipments to the (Nevada National Security Site),” the Nevada Republican wrote. “I would appreciate clarifications from you on how this conclusion was reached.”

Moniz referred in a Senate hearing to memos signed by state officials approving the waste shipments. But the governor’s office says they have no evidence to support that.

“We don’t have the memos,” said Press Secretary Mary Sarah Kinner. “ We have not located the responsive documents.”

State officials including not only Heller but Gov. Brian Sandoval and other Nevada officials have said repeatedly that they regard the canisters as highly radioactive waste not suitable for the Nevada storage site. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., also has asked for clarification about the shipments.

Sandoval met with Moniz in Las Vegas on July 18, and he described the conversation as “frank and blunt.”

Sandoval said at the time that Moniz agreed to form a working group with Nevada officials on the subject of nuclear waste, but there was no indication after that meeting that Sandoval thinks the DOE will back away from the planned shipment.

Kinner said the two will meet again in Las Vegas next week to discuss the situation.

Heller told Moniz in the letter that the subject of importing any type of nuclear waste to Nevada is sensitive.

“I have made it clear that I am concerned about DOE’s plan to bring hazardous nuclear waste from out of state to the Nevada National Security Site,” Heller wrote.

He asked Moniz to answer a series of questions and include more details about how such waste would be shipped to Nevada, what steps would be taken to improve the transparency of DOE’s actions with affected local governments and Indian tribes, and whether DOE still plans to create a working group with state officials, as he indicated when he met with Sandoval.

He also asked about the possibility of “down-blending” the waste in those canisters as originally planned, which would make them acceptable for the waste site.

The waste in question is in some 400 canisters currently stored at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. The waste is radioactive enough that it could be used in a dirty bomb. For that reason, Sandoval has called on the DOE to dispose of the waste at its Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico rather than in the landfill operation just 60 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

There was no word on whether DOE has responded to the letter, and Heller could not be reached for comment.


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