Governor Sisolak says his administration wants more answers from the Department of Energy over nuclear waste sent to the Nevada National Security Site.

Last week, the governor says the Department of Energy notified him low-level radioactive waste may have been mischaracterized as potentially more harmful mixed low-level waste which could contain hazardous materials.

The waste was shipped from the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

Governor Sisolak met with officials with the Department of Energy Tuesday in person.

At the meeting DOE officials said they believe the waste was in fact low-level and not mixed low-level and the waste had been shipped to Nevada for six years not 12 as they originally thought.

However, the Sisolak Administration and both Nevada senators have asked the DOE for documentation to verify that.

Sisolak's office says the last shipment arrived at the NNSS in December 2018. A total of 32 shipments were made. 

The Department of Energy says it's reassessing its waste shipment policies and procedures across the board and retraining DOE workers to make sure they are shipping waste safely.

Following the briefing on Tuesday, Governor Sisolak released the following statement:

“I was beyond disappointed to learn of problems related to shipments of low-level radioactive waste from the DOE’s Y-12 facility to Nevada. My office worked diligently with our state agencies and federal delegation to immediately compile questions and demand answers in a letter issued to Secretary Perry. Additionally, we were able to receive an in-person briefing at DOE’s Las Vegas office yesterday with updates on the situation by senior level officials from the DOE and NNSS to ensure any information communicated to Nevadans is as accurate as possible. While we appreciate the courtesy of the in-person briefing, we will continue to do everything in the state’s power to hold them accountable, ensure there is a plan to fix this problem and prevent it from occurring again, and above all else, protect the health and safety of Nevadans. There shouldn’t be a single person who attended yesterday’s briefing who didn’t receive that message loud and clear.”

The Department of Energy released this statement: 

“On July 3rd, Department of Energy (DOE) leadership was notified that certain shipments of waste managed by a contractor at the Y-12 facility in Tennessee and disposed of at the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS) in Nevada were not in compliance with NNSS waste acceptance criteria, and potentially mischaracterized as low-level waste rather than mixed low-level waste.  The components that were shipped have been disposed of in a safe and secure manner at the NNSS, and as a precaution, planned future shipments of components from Y-12 have been temporarily suspended.  Regulators and officials in the States of Nevada and Tennessee were immediately notified on July 3rd pursuant to applicable permits and regulations.  The components that were shipped pose no risk to the safety and health of the general public or workers at the facility at NNSS. The Department’s National Nuclear Security Administration has launched an internal investigation to determine how this went undetected for a six year period.  

Secretary Perry remains committed now more than ever to his promise to identify and address challenges within the DOE enterprise, and reaffirm the Department of Energy’s credibility and trust in delivering on all aspects of its mission.  It is for that reason he is taking two immediate steps related to the shipment of all levels of waste to deliver on this commitment.  First, Secretary Perry has directed Deputy Secretary Brouillette to initiate an enterprise assessment of waste shipment policies and procedures.  This will be a holistic review and include recommendations to ensure compliance and accountability in our processes.  Secretary Perry is also directing an operational pause to reinforce safety training for all DOE personnel who have a role in the Department’s mission related to waste shipment certification. Combined, these two actions are intended to promote regulatory compliance, reinforce safety procedures and upon completion of the assessment, institute any necessary changes needed to improve the Department’s performance and execution of our mission.

Yesterday, Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and NNSA Administrator Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty traveled to Nevada on behalf of the DOE enterprise to brief Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak in person on this matter. The Administrator appreciated the opportunity to meet with the Governor and is confident the productive dialogue will continue as we all work together to strengthen our Nation’s security. During the meeting, she briefed the Governor and his staff in both a classified and unclassified setting on what occurred and the steps DOE is taking to investigate and address it. The Department is committed to working closely with Nevada State Officials in an open and transparent manner to ensure concerns are appropriately and promptly addressed.”

Nevada Representative Dina Titus released this statement:

“The level of incompetence at the Department of Energy is only matched by its dishonesty,” said Congresswoman Titus (NV-1). “For decades, the DOE has been an untrustworthy partner and this latest round of illegal shipments is truly a new low. I’m grateful that Governor Sisolak continues to stand up for Nevada and refuses to let this violation of the law go unchallenged.”