TO: Ms. Robin Sweeney, EIS Document Manager, Office of National Transportation,
Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, U.S. Department of Energy, 1551 Hillshire Drive, M/S 011, Las Vegas, NV 89134
FROM: Kevin Kamps, Nuclear Waste Specialist, Nuclear Information and Resource Service/World Information Service on Energy (NIRS/WISE), 6930 Carroll Avenue, #340, Takoma Park, MD 20912
DATE: June 1, 2004
RE: Nuclear Information and Resource Service Comments on the U.S. Department of Energy’s
“Notice of Intent to Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)for the Alignment, Construction, and Operation of a Rail Line to a Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada”
[Federal Register,Vol. 69, No. 68, Thursday, April 8, 2004, pages 18565 to 18569]
NIRS/WISE is the information and networking center for citizens and environmental organizations concerned about nuclear power, radioactive waste, radiation, and sustainable energy issues. On behalf of our members in Nevada as well as the 45 states and District of Columbia who live along road, rail, and waterway routes targeted by DOE in its Yucca Final EIS for transport of irradiated nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste by truck, train, and/or barge, I submit the following comments. The scope of the proposed Draft EIS should cover all of the following subjects.
DOE’s bad process
DOE’s decision to use “mostly rail” shipments to haul 77,000 tons or more of highly radioactive wastes to its proposed national dumpsite at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, and to build a rail line from Caliente, NV to provide direct rail access for waste shipments to Yucca Mountain, has vast implications for where, and how much, high-level radioactive waste would travel across the U.S. These decisions inevitably impact the entire national high-level radioactive waste transportation system, meaning larger numbers of shipments on certain railways in certain states and cities and less in others. DOE has not adequately assessed or analyzed these national impacts of its decisions. Thus, DOE’s scoping process must encompass these vast implications and impacted localities. DOE has only allowed a 52 day comment period, insensitively including the Memorial Day holiday weekend. How are concerned citizens across the U.S. supposed to be able to figure out the impacts of DOE’s announcements on their communities and submit comments in just 52 days, when DOE has not performed adequate national assessments in the past two decades? DOE should allow for at least 180 days of public comment on its “Notice of Intent to Prepare an EISfor the Alignment, Construction, and Operation of a Rail Line to a Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada”.
In addition, DOE should hold public scoping hearings for gathering public comments in the states and cities across the country that would be impacted by its decisions. All comments received should be transcribed and posted immediately to the DOE’s website to enhance public participation and interaction. Hearings should be conducted so that speakers go one at a time, so that all present can hear what is being said. If this means that longer hearings or multiple days of hearings must be held in the same city to accommodate meaningful public involvement, then so be it. What is DOE’s rush? DOE is putting the cart before the horse on high-level radioactive waste transportation route decisions within Nevada. How can DOE select a specific rail spur route within Nevada when it has never completed an adequate nationwide transport analysis? Not only is this illogical, it also violates the legal requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act.
DOE’s manipulation of the facts for political purposes
Leading up to the 2002 votes in Congress on whether to override the Governor of Nevada’s veto of the Bush Administration’s “thumbs up” to a dump at Yucca Mountain, Energy Secretary Abraham said that as few as 175 train casks annually would be needed to haul waste from reactors across the U.S. to the proposed dump. But in DOE’s “mostly rail” scenario in its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for Yucca Mountain (Feb. 2002), DOE projects that it would require from 10,725 train shipments over 24 years to 22,057 train shipments over 38 years. That’s 447 to 580 shipments per year under the “mostly rail scenario,” not 175 as Secretary Abraham told Congress. Did DOE use “fuzzy math” with Congress, to try to downplay public concerns? What about the 2,500 barge (on the Great Lakes, rivers, and seacoasts) and/or heavy-haul truck shipments that would be required to get waste from certain reactor sites lacking rail access to the nearest railway?
DOE making it up as it goes along (at public expense and peril)?
In its March 2004 “Supplemental Analysis,” DOE proposed shipping smaller “legal weight truck casks” (40 tons loaded) upon rail cars (and then off-loading them in Nevada onto semi trucks for the final leg of the journey) for the first six years of Yucca Mountain operations, until the Caliente-to-Yucca Mountian rail spur is constructed that could accommodate larger rail-sized casks (100 to 150 tons loaded). But DOE itself had rejected such a proposal in its Yucca FEIS as “impractical,” increasing shipment activities by “more than a factor of 5,” as well as leading to the “highest estimates of occupational health and public health and safety impacts” (Chapter 6, Environmental Impacts of Transportation, page 6-33; Appendix J, Transportation, J.2 Evaluation of Rail and Intermodal Transportation, pages J-74 and 75). Such “intermodal” transport would involve multiple handling steps loading, unloading, transfering, and activities between transport lines which DOE in its own FEIS admitted lead to worse impacts and dangers to the environment, worker and general public health and safety. Risks from “routine” radiation exposures would increase, as would risks of accidents. Each handling step also stresses the irradiated fuel or high-level waste, threatening fuel failure that could lead to worse consequences in accidents, or much quicker leakage into the environment of radioactivity post-burial at a dump.
In addition, not only 30 sites across the country lacking rail service or ability to load rail-sized casks would need intermodal capabilities, but all 77 current high-level radioactive waste storage sites discussed in the FEIS would need intermodal capability. Also, truck casks could heat up much more quickly than the larger rail casks in a high temperature railway fire, exposing the irradiated fuel in their center to dangerous and damaging temperatures. How many hours would a truck-sized cask have endured the temperatures of the July 2001 Baltimore Train Tunnel fire? A few? Even though truck-sized containers hold less fuel than rail-sized containers (up to 40 Hiroshima bomb’s worth of radioactive cesium isotopes, as opposed to over 200), a breach of a truck sized container could still release catastrophic amounts of radioactivity. For all these reasons, DOE must perform a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement on its new “legal weight truck cask piggybacking rail cars” proposal.
Dangers and destructive impacts along the targeted corridor of land between Caliente and Yucca Mountain, Nevada
It is truly frightening that this proposed rail line hugs the border of the Nellis Air Force bombing range for hundreds of miles. An accidental or intentional aircraft crash or bombing of a high-level radioactive waste train could release catastrophic amounts of radioactivity impacting large areas downwind and downstream.
It is similarly frightening that this railway would pass so closely by mining operations, raising the specter of accidental or intentional explosions of high-explosives used in mining.
It is very troubling that much of the land has never been evaluated or inventoried for threatened and endangered species of wildlife. A comprehensive assessment of animals and plants in the targeted rail corridor must be done during DOE’s environmental impact statement process, including wild horses and burros. DOE should pay for such work to be done by an independent organization that can be trusted to not allow political or economic pressures to bias its wildlife survey. Impacts on wildlife access to habitat, ranges, and water must be addressed. Impacts on fragile desert soil and wetland ecosystems must be addressed. Potential harm to underground aquifers must be addressed. Negative impacts on wilderness study areas must be addressed.
It is unacceptable that DOE would trample Native American rights by constructing this railway. The entire Caliente-to-Yucca Mountain railway would lie on lands belonging to the Western Shoshone Indian Nation under the Treaty of Ruby Valley, which the U.S. government signed and ratified in 1863. Such treaties with sovereign Native American tribes are the highest law of the land, equal in stature to the U.S. Constitution itself, and DOE should not violate the Treaty of Ruby Valley by building this proposed railway, or by building the Yucca Mountain dump. DOE’s proposed rail line and dump immorally and illegally threaten cultural resources, archaeological sties, artifacts, sacred sites and holy lands of the Western Shoshone and other Native American tribes.
It is dangerous to public and worker health that DOE’s proposed rail line is likely blanketed with radioactivity from nuclear weapons testing fallout from the Nevada Test Site. Given that large scale railway construction would disturb massive amounts of contaminated soil and release radioactive dust into the air, DOE must do a complete inventory of the radioactive contamination of the proposed land corridor. After all, it was the Atomic Energy Commission and DOE itself that conducted those nuclear weapons tests and caused that radioactive contamination in the first place.
Impacts from severe transport accidents/terrorist attacks, as well as “routine” shipments
The full range of human health, economic, and ecological impacts from the release of radioactivity from transport containers involved in severe accidents or terrorist attacks must be addressed by the proposed DEIS. Likewise, the full range of human health, economic, and ecological impacts from “routine” radiation emissions from “routine” shipments (the “mobile X-ray machine that cannot be turned off” effect) not involved in accidents or terrorist attacks must also be addressed. Significant changes to the characteristics of irradiated nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste since the publication of DOE’s Feb. 2002 Yucca Mountain FEIS need to be incorporated, such as 20 year license extensions for commercial reactors, higher burn-up fuel (that is, much more radioactive and potentially degraded fuel rod assemblies), and industry efforts to not ship oldest (most cooled) fuel first. For instance, DOE’s current proposals could lead to the shipping of only 5 year cooled, high burn up irradiated fuel in a transport only container without a welded internal canister, escalating risks for public health and safety and the environment if such fuel were involved in a severe accident or terrorist attack. Not only latent cancer fatalities, but all human health impacts must be addressed.
DOE is still proposing mixing highly radioactive nuclear waste on trains with other cargoes, or even using the newly proposed Caliente rail line for other shipments in addition to high-level radioactive waste trains. The potential severe accidents or even intentional sabotage involving such materials as military munitions, civilian high explosives such as those used in mining, and other flammable and explosive materials, must be addressed.
Cumulative Impacts/Environmental Justice Impacts
The people and environment of the Caliente to Yucca Mountain corridor have already been negatively impacted by Nevada Test Site activities, such as nuclear weapons testing, “low” level radioactive waste dumping, mixed “low” level radioactive waste and hazardous waste dumping, transuranic waste dumping, and other activities at or near the Nevada Test Site. Now DOE is proposing hauling and dumping high-level radioactive wastes on these very same communities. Those cumulative impacts must be addressed, as well as related environmental justice impacts.