Pahrump Town Manager Bill Kohbarger said he had two different impressions before and after a special presentation on the transportation of radioactive nuclear waste through the heart of Pahrump.
On Tuesday evening, Nye County Nuclear Waste Repository Office consultant Dr. Michael Voegele provided an in-depth look at the logistics involved in transporting waste to the Nevada National Security Site NNSS .
Much to Kohbarger’s surprise, he said the presentation gave him a renewed reason to believe that such transports are relatively safe.
“That is what Dr. Voegele stated and that is what I have learned from my own research. They wanted to bring the railroad through the community when I was city manager up in Carlin. Even though I have read a lot about the radioactive cargo shipments, you can’t really say anything is 100 percent safe but it is 95 to 97 percent safe and I feel comfortable saying that,” he said.
Voegele’s presentation noted that shipping nuclear waste along area highways has proven to be a sound means of transportation.
His main concern was how the Department of Energy DOE and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission NRC classifies the material, which he says may pose issues.
Voegele said the highly radioactive isotope Uranium 238 should be designated as “High Level” nuclear waste rather than what the agencies classify as “Low Level.”
“The list of elements that are in that NRC regulation do not include uranium. The reason they don’t include uranium is because at the time the NRC passed that rule nobody thought that they would be burying uranium as wastes and that is the problem,” he said.
Radioactive materials classified as high level according to Voegele has a specific site where it can be legally stored now that a Yucca Mountain repository is uncertain.
“I can’t tell you there is a place to put it. If it is classified as high-level nuclear waste, it has to go into a repository and right now, we don’t have one of those. Yucca Mountain would be the proper place to put this material. I won’t make the argument that it is closed. Legally, Yucca Mountain is a designated repository but Harry Reid because of his position in congress has been able to stop that process from going forward. I don’t call it closed because we have lawsuits that we think we will win that will restart the process,” he said.
At present, he suggested that high-level nuclear waste will end up being stored at the Nevada Test Site, which happens to be designated for low level waste.
Dolan also said that Voegele’s presentation provided additional comfort in regards to transporting the waste.
He did however say that it could also create discomfort to locals and tourists alike whenever a truck arrives in town carrying the lethal cargo.
“The problem is that if you are someone who is coming to Pahrump to see the sights, enjoy a golf game, or have a glass of wine and you pull up to a red light and you see a truck with a nuclear waste canister with a radioactive symbol on it, I don’t think that it is good for tourism,” he said.
Voegele, meanwhile, provided some sobering facts about exactly how Uranium decomposes once it is eventually stored away.
“The most common naturally occurring Uranium element is Uranium 238 and it has a half-life of 4.5 billion years. Uranium 233 has a half-life of 159,000 years. By and large it is an extraordinarily long time,” he said.
Voegele echoed Kohbarger’s position that that the safe transportation of the waste has a potential economic benefit for the town.
“How many of those trucks can stop for fuel in Pahrump? That is the question that could be asked. A bypass around town could detract from commerce in Pahrump,” he said.