Panel: Shipping plan lagging for Yucca project
December 7, 2004
LAS VEGAS – An independent review panel is raising questions about whether the Energy Department will cut corners on safety in plans to ship thousands of tons of nuclear waste to the proposed national nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain.
The government has yet to develop “a safe, secure and efficient transportation system” for nuclear waste transport to Yucca Mountain, the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board said in a three-page letter to the Energy Department.
“We’re looking at the letter,” Energy Department and Yucca Mountain spokesman Allen Benson said Tuesday in Las Vegas.
Yucca managers say shipping will be done safely, but say transportation planning has been underfunded while they concentrate on repository design and a license application.
The independent panel, based in Washington, D.C., said it feared budget constraints or a rush to meet deadlines might compromise safety in plans to move 77,000 tons of the nation’s most radioactive material across 44 states to Nevada later this decade.
The department has yet to decide matters of cask design, truck and rail acquisition and waste handling “to ensure that the transportation system will operate successfully,” the board said.
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The panel also said the Energy Department should focus more on a backup plan to ship waste through Nevada by truck if a proposed cross-state railroad line cannot be built in time.
The department has proposed building a 319-mile rail route to ship waste from a railhead at Caliente, 150 miles northeast of Las Vegas, to the Yucca Mountain repository, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The Energy Department announced last month that it would miss a self-imposed Dec. 31 deadline to submit a Yucca Mountain license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
With license review expected to take up to four years, the department has not said whether postponing its license application will push back its plan to open the Yucca Mountain repository in 2010.
Bob Halstead, a transportation consultant hired by the state of Nevada, which opposes the Yucca plan, said officials in states across which waste would travel are trying to gauge the Energy Department’s shipping program.
States are particularly concerned whether DOE will have enough money to help them with emergency planning and how that money will be distributed, Halstead said.
Jack Edlow, president of Edlow International Company, a waste shipping firm, characterized the technical board letter as a road map for the Energy Department to follow.
Planning “is not behind yet, but they need to begin the process next year, and with a funding stream, I believe they will be able to do that,” said Edlow, who heads the U.S. Transport Council, a coalition of nuclear waste shipping concerns.
The Technical Review Board was created by Congress to evaluate the Yucca Mountain program.