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Radioactive Secrets, Part 2: Shipment questions

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Updated: 7/09/2013 7:28 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV & MyNews3) -- Nevada sometimes ends up storing radioactive material whether we want it or not. That is especially the case for a group of elected leaders out in Pahrump. They are fighting a fight they know they’ll lose.

The Department of Energy plans to store a large shipment of uranium at the Nevada national security site. News 3’s Mackenzie Warren is getting to the bottom of it in part two of her series: “Radiocative Secrets.”

Our elected leaders, from the governor, to those in Washington want more answers from the DOE.

Washington says this uranium will be so-called low level waste. Gov. Brian Sandoval says his experts tell him it’s more dangerous than that. He wants a meeting and like him News 3 went out, in search of answers.

The Nevada test site—some 65-miles outside of Las Vegas —is full of radioactive secrets.

One delivery the department of energy would rather not talk about involved 403 canisters of uranium—so hot and poisonous they’ll be lifted by a crane and buried underground by robots.

The controversial uranium could be delivered to Area 5 — at the Nevada test site — but the DOE won’t say when it will get here.

“The DOE or somebody is fooling with those rules and regulations and putting stuff in the ground,” said Butch Borasky, the chair of the Nye County Commission

Borasky believes 40-foot graves is not deep enough nor secure enough to store this radioactive uranium forever.

“This is a safety issue we need to deal with it,” Borasky said.

Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhoefen says their concerns have been silenced by the DOE and Pahrump officials have to worry about far more than just the safe-keeping of this uranium.

“I think we could have jumped up and down all we wanted,” said Nye County Commissioner Dan Schinhoefen.

Forget how it’s stored—the people who live here want to make sure it passes through their town safely—this is the heart of Pahrump and the nuclear waste will cross the intersection from the 372 to 160.

“It’s nerve-wracking to think that these large shipments are going to be coming through our town,” said Gary Michalsky who has lived in Pahrump for 20 years. “It’s easy to run something through Pahrump we have very small clout here.”

Michalsky has a point. Las Vegans should consider themselves lucky The DOE has shown a willingness to craft a route that avoids Las Vegas entirely.

One likely scenario has the uranium coming from Oak Ridge, Tenn., near Knoxville. The waste will start on I-40 and pass through Nashville then to little rock and Oklahoma City, working its way west. Eventually crossing Albuquerque and Flagstaff—but when it nears Las Vegas, the uranium will continue into Barstow then Baker through Pahrump and finally to Area 5 at the Nevada test site.

We hear about radiation, it’s all around us every day but when you look at something like this: it makes people uneasy,” said Darell Lacey who heads the Nye County Nuclear Waste repository office. “It’s scary because you can’t see it—you can’t feel it—you can’t taste it.”

Darell Lacey says the uranium will be shipped in secure metal-walled canisters.

“They’ve hit these canisters with a railroad going 80 mph and it didn’t even leak,” Lacey said.

The uranium will be loaded up on a truck but the material’s classified, so the DOE doesn’t have to say when.

“Most of time these things are coming through town, no one knows it,” Lacey said.

“They don’t want to tell us when it’s going to be shipped—they don’t want to make that public knowledge because this stuff is dangerous. This is the kind of stuff a terrorist would love to get their hands on,” Schinhoefen said.

So if and when this uranium makes it to Area 5—getting to it would be like finding a needle in a haystack –you’d have to make your way through 8 feet of dirt—all these containers and then go underground.

This is if the bad guys know where to look It’s a maze of nuclear waste at the site. The Nevada test site is roughly the size of Rhode Island and heavily guarded. The issue of the uranium is radioactive but it’s also politically charged.

“They’re trying to circumvent the law—get rid of some hot material…and now everybody’s caught on to it—the gov—and now they’re going to have to rethink what they’re trying to do,” Borasky said.

Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval wrote a letter to Dr. Ernest Moiz”—secretary of the DOE, to speak out against the shipment. Gov. Sandoval calls the uranium dangerous and says he’s disappointed local governments have been excluded.”

“That’s why Sandoval and I agree it shouldn’t be done because at this stage it is not proven to be safe,” said U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is also against the shipment.

“We see it as a way of slipping things in the back door,” said Congresswoman Dina Titus

Titus was the first Nevada politician to blow the whistle on the DOE.

“Some people weren’t saying anything about this until we started beating the drum and we called the doe to give us more of a briefing which they have resisted. We have even gone to the White House about this—and said we need information we need to protect southern Nevada.”

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