Dangerous cargo moves through the valley

LAS VEGAS - As the debate over Yucca Mountain heats up once again, so does the objection from most of Nevada's top political brass.

It's been a hot-button issue over the years with state leaders objecting strongly over safety concerns of transporting radioactive waste. For decades, political leaders have objected to the idea of nuclear power plants sending spent fuel into southern Nevada if the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository is ever completed.

Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman even said she would lay down in the road in front of any shipments at a 2015 press conference. But the state's roads, along with rail lines and even airports handle literally tons of hazardous materials.

Richard Brenner is Clark County's Hazmat Coordinator. Brenner says you probably don't think of what rolls in, out and through Las Vegas, mostly on trains and 18-wheelers. Brenner says, "we know the 9 different classes of hazardous materials, we know all of them are out there."

In 2015, sites across Nevada shipped over 15,000 tons of hazardous materials and received more than 71,000 tons, according to the US EPA. The bulk of that going to the US Ecology facility on US 95 near Beatty. All together, that's nearly 87,000 tons of materials. That doesn't account for the untold amount of materials that are just passing through the valley. Brenner says, "transportation-wise, LA is a huge producer, and as you mentioned, it comes right through Las Vegas."

Brenner says nearly all of that moves through without any problems. The last two major hazmat incidents, the 1991 chlorine leak that covered Henderson in a green cloud and sent two hundred people to the hospital and the 1988 pepcon explosion that killed 2 and injured more than 370 others, happened at facilities and not during transport.

However, Brenner says toxic chemicals like the ones processed at those facilities are of greatest concern while being transported. If something happens, they pose the greatest imminent risk. Brenner says, "gasses, when they escape, they get into the atmosphere, then they tend to go pretty much anywhere the wind is pushing them." And specifically related to radioactive material, nuclear weapons have been transported through Nevada without incident. Couriers carry drugs used in chemotherapy to and from hospitals every day.

The spent nuclear fuel that would be stored at Yucca Mountain is a solid material. It's stored in rods and then put into casks, similar to these models on display at the Pahrump Valley Museum. If one of those casks ever fell off a truck, Brenner says any spilled rods could be contained and then removed by specialists.

It could be a decade or more before anything like that passes through the valley, if work on Uucca Mountain restarts.


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