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Radioactive Disturbance is a Concern at Nevada Security Site

September 19, 2011

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Nevadans face three options when it comes to testing activities at the Department of Energy (DOE) Nevada National Security Site, located 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Some say all three raise concerns about the possibility of disturbing radioactive residue.

Jane Feldman, conservation chair of the Toiyabe Chapter of the Sierra Club, has been studying the more than 1,500-page Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS). She says despite its great length, it is still missing important details, such as where radioactive residue from nuclear testing now rests on the site and how close new tests will be to the old contamination.

"We need to characterize the contamination that's already there. When you disturb the surface soil, what kind of radioactivity are we going to be disturbing and putting back into the air and back in the water?"

The DEIS proposes either expanding testing activities at the site, keeping them about the same or reducing them. Feldman says the Sierra Club will be asking that the written comment period be extended, in order to give local residents more time to digest the complicated draft.

Although it is hard to get a handle on all the different kinds of testing, Feldman says it includes work for the Department of Defense, Homeland Security and Justice Department.

"They do testing of explosives, testing and training for chemical and biological stimulants - all of these activities are surface-disturbing activities."

Feldman says the site is ideal for research and development of solar energy, but installing solar can create disturbances, too. She says surface contamination needs to be located before solar is installed.

Feldman is concerned not only about the potential for stirring up radioactive remnants. She says all this testing also affects the land, plants and wildlife.

"It disturbs land, it disturbs habitat - environments where species that are sensitive live."

The nation's nuclear stockpile is also managed at the site. The Sierra Club is urging that nuclear stockpiling activities be reduced, as part of the environmental impact process.

Nevadans get their first chance to comment on the DEIS this week, beginning Tuesday. The public comment period currently runs through Oct. 27.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NV