Governor Sisolak Demands Answers from U.S. Dept. of Energy on Unapproved Waste Shipments to the Nevada National Security Site

LAS VEGAS, NV - July 10, 2019

On July 3rd, Governor Sisolak was contacted by Deputy Secretary Daniel Brouillette from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE or Department), who informed the Governor that the DOE has been shipping to and disposing of unapproved low-level radioactive waste (LLW) from DOE’s Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge, TN at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS or Site). The classified low-level waste from the Y-12 facility violated the NNSS Waste Acceptance Criteria (WAC), which establishes the protocols for what type of low-level waste is suitable for disposal at the Site.

Following the notification from DOE, on July 5th, the Governor joined with Nevada Senators Cortez Masto and Rosen to send the attached letter to DOE Secretary Rick Perry expressing Nevada’s concerns regarding these unauthorized waste shipments and demanding answers from the Department to ensure the safety of Nevada’s citizens and our environment; and insisting the Department take immediate action to correct the disposal of this waste at NNSS; and to establish new procedures at the NNSS and throughout the DOE Complex to ensure such egregious missteps do not occur again.

As an initial response to the Governor’s letter, senior officials briefed the Governor on Tuesday July 9th on the Department’s preliminary findings and proposed response. The briefing was led by the senior official at DOE’s Nevada Field Office, Mr. Steven Lawrence, Ms. Theresa Robbins, Deputy Manager, Y-12 Field Office, and by the head of DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration, Mrs. Lisa Gordon-Hagerty. During the briefing, which included both a classified discussion for the Governor and an unclassified briefing for the Governor and staff, the Governor strongly reiterated his serious concern with the Department jeopardizing Nevada’s health and safety and once again breaching the trust of Nevadans who have sacrificed greatly in support of our national security. The Governor will be joining with our federal delegation to hold DOE accountable for their actions and be vigilant in ensuring the Department take action to prevent such transgressions from happening again.

Following yesterday’s briefing, Governor Sisolak made the following statement:

“I was beyond disappointed to learn of problems related to shipments of low-level radioactive waste from the DOE’s Y-12 facility to Nevada. My office worked diligently with our state agencies and federal delegation to immediately compile questions and demand answers in a letter issued to Secretary Perry. Additionally, we were able to receive an in-person briefing at DOE’s Las Vegas office yesterday with updates on the situation by senior level officials from the DOE and NNSS to ensure any information communicated to Nevadans is as accurate as possible. While we appreciate the courtesy of the in-person briefing, we will continue to do everything in the state’s power to hold them accountable, ensure there is a plan to fix this problem and prevent it from occurring again, and above all else, protect the health and safety of Nevadans. There shouldn’t be a single person who attended yesterday’s briefing who didn’t receive that message loud and clear.”

During yesterday’s briefing, senior-level officials from the DOE clarified the following information, which has since changed since their initial verbal briefing on July 3rd and will require additional supporting documentation from the Department for verification, including that required by the Governor’s July 5th letter:

  • The unapproved Low-Level Waste from the Y-12 facility in Tennessee began in 2013 and included 32 total shipments. The last shipment of which arrived at NNSS in December 2018.
  • Despite initial reports from DOE on July 3, the Department has not yet determined whether the shipments included Mixed Low-Level Waste as opposed to Low-Level Waste. Mixed Low-Level Waste is regulated more stringently under State and Federal guidelines than Low-Level Waste and requires treatment prior to disposal and a more protective disposal method than LLW.
  • While DOE’s current Waste Acceptance Criteria (WAC) governing Low-Level Waste disposal at NNSS does include some forms of Mixed Low-Level Waste, information provided by the DOE indicates the unapproved waste shipments from Y12 violate both the current WAC, and potentially the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).
  • Contrary to initial reports from DOE on July 3, the Department has not yet confirmed whether the unapproved waste shipments include any reactive materials, which would trigger additional safety concerns and run afoul of existing state permits and federal statutes governing the waste disposal mission at NNSS. 

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Contact

Samantha Thompson
PIO, Nevada Dept. of Conservation & Natural Resources
(775) 684-2709