State Says DOE Negligent For Nuke Transport Plan

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Nevada is accusing the federal government of neglecting to inform ranchers, miners and rural Nevada residents about plans to withdraw 319 miles of federal land from public use while studying a rail corridor to a national nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain.

The Bureau of Land Management has a "proactive responsibility" to ensure the Energy Department tells affected parties about its plans, the Nuclear Projects Agency Nevada said in written comments submitted last week on the proposed Caliente corridor.

"In this regard, both the BLM and the DOE have been derelict in their duties and responsibilities," the document said.

Allen Benson, a spokesman for the Energy Department's Office of Repository Development in Las Vegas, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal for a Monday report that the department had not seen the state's comments and could not comment.

Benson said no decision has been made on the proposed Caliente corridor rail line, or whether to ship most waste to the Yucca Mountain repository by rail.

But the department was following the law for developing a rail spur to Yucca Mountain, Benson said.

The state agency, headed by Bob Loux, submitted 16 pages of comment before a comment period closed March 29 on the Energy Department and Bureau of Land Management proposal to withdraw the land from public use for 20 years.

"For most, if not all, of the ranchers impacted by this action, the first indication they had that such an action was contemplated was the December 29th Federal Register notice," the state said.

One rancher, Joe B. Fallini Jr., submitted written comments echoing the state concerns.

"Why was the Twin Springs Ranch, clearly an affected party, never notified or invited to these public hearings?" Fallini asked in a six-page letter to the BLM.

Dennis Samuelson, Bureau of Land Management realty specialist, said his office received and will forward to the Energy Department about 50 written comments on land-withdrawal requests.

Loux said Nevada was laying the groundwork for legal challenges of what the state contends is the Energy Department's reluctance to follow the National Environmental Policy Act.

He told the Review-Journal the state's biggest concern is the plan to withdraw the corridor land for 20 years. Nevada also calls a 1-mile-wide corridor "wildly excessive."

Benson said the actual right-of-way for a rail line would be "a couple hundred feet."

The state also raised concerns about the possibility of environmental damage from thousands of rail shipments during a 40-year nuclear waste transportation campaign.

According to the BLM, the rail corridor would cut across two wilderness study areas, Weepah Spring and South Reveille, and would come within about a mile of two other wilderness study areas.

Loux said the Energy Department lacks a plan to ship 77,000 tons of radioactive waste from commercial power reactors in 39 states to Nevada to be entombed in the yet-to-be-built repository, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

Energy Department officials said last week they were not sure a rail spur across Nevada can be built in time for the Yucca Mountain project to open in 2010.

The agency plans by the end of the year to submit to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission an application for licenses to build and operate the repository and take possession of the waste.