The 6.4 magnitude earthquake that jolted San Bernardino County on the Fourth of July serves to remind all Nevadans of the ground rattling vulnerability of at the Nevada National Security Site facility where nuclear materials are stored — including a recent shipment of weapons-grade plutonium.
In March 2018 The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board outlined its concerns to Energy Secretary Rick Perry and issued a report that pointed out the safety risks to workers and the “offsite public” due to seismic hazards to structures at the Device Assembly Facility at the Nevada security site, located about 75 miles north of Las Vegas.
“This facility continues to operate without accounting for the increase in seismic hazard and without evaluating whether the credited structures, systems and components can perform their safety function during and after a seismic event,” Bruce Hamilton, chairman of the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, wrote.
Hamilton summarized his concerns in a letter to Energy Secretary Rick Perry accompanying the report and dated March 21.
Quake prone area
Bob Halstead, executive director for Gov. Steve Sisolak’s Agency for Nuclear Projects, said the state of Nevada was aware of the report and its findings.
“On the face of it, it appears to be very significant and we are taking a hard look at it,” Halstead said.
Officials are well aware of the seismic activity in the region. The most recent U.S. Geological Survey, in 2008, lists the area that includes the Nevada security site and nearby Yucca Mountain, a proposed nuclear waste repository, as one of moderate to high seismic hazard.
Two faults, the Northern Death Valley and the Black Mountains, are located near the Nevada security site and the proposed nuclear waste storage facility.
On May 1st U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) testified before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW) during a hearing on the discussion draft of the Nuclear Waste Policy Amendments Act of 2019. In her testimony, she stated her strong opposition to any nuclear waste storage at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain facility and emphasized that Yucca Mountain is seismically and geologically unfit to store dangerous nuclear waste. Below is her testimony as prepared for delivery.
According to the USGS, a 5.6 magnitude (one 0f the strongest recent earthquakes in the state) occurred on June 29, 1992 at Little Skull Mountain, Nevada, in the southwest portion of the Nevada security site and about 12 miles west of Yucca Mountain.
‘Explosives co-located with nuclear material’
The Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent organization that reviews public health and safety issues at the Energy Department’s nuclear defense facilities, said concerns about seismic hazards at the Device Assembly Facility in Nevada were first raised in 2007.
And the report noted that facility has “high explosives co-located with special nuclear material.”
Without improvements to structures and components, the facility may no longer be able to withstand the increased seismic hazards identified in 2007, the report noted.
An Energy Department safety analysis cited in the report notes that the department finds the structure, blast doors, blast valves and its fire suppression system would significantly reduce release of material.
The Device Assembly Facility is a collection of 30 steel-reinforced concrete buildings. It includes a laboratory and bays to conduct several missions, including support of the maintenance of the nation’s nuclear stockpile.
Plutonium shipped to Nevada
The U.S. Department of Energy shipped one-half metric ton of weapons-grade plutonium from South Carolina to the Nevada National Security Site prior to a Nevada request for an injunction to block the move.
In March Representative Dina Titus of Nevada’s First Congressional District introduced the Nuclear Waste Informed Consent Act in the U.S. House of Representatives with the support of Representative Steven Horsford of Nevada’s Fourth Congressional District and Representative Susie Lee of Nevada’s Third Congressional District. U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) introduced the same legislation in the U.S. Senate with the support of Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV).
At a March 12, House Budget Committee Hearing on President Trump’s proposed FY 2020 Budget, Congressman Steven Horsford (NV-04) demanded answers about the President’s proposal to spend $116 million restarting licensing for the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Repository.
Congressman Horsford questioned Acting Office of Management Director Russell Vought about the request given the President’s claim in October that he was “inclined to be against” the Yucca Mountain project.
Congressman Horsford also called on President Trump to accept Governor Sisolak’s request for a meeting regarding Yucca Mountain and the Department of Energy’s secret shipment of plutonium to Nevada.
Nevada’s lawsuit was dismissed by the court, and an appeal filed asking the court to order the Energy Department to remove the plutonium and issue an injunction to block future shipments.
The state cited the risk of potential contamination and exposure to radiation from the plutonium in its appeal.
Federal officials said the plutonium is being stored in Nevada until it can be transferred and stored at an Energy Department laboratory in Los Alamos, New Mexico.Nefense Nuclear Safety Report, November 27, 2018