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Centralized Storage

With the scientifically unsound proposed Yucca Mountain radioactive waste dump now canceled, the danger of "interim" storage threatens. This means that radioactive waste could be "temporarily" parked in open air lots, vulnerable to accident and attack, while a new repository site is sought.

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Wednesday
Feb082017

NRC environmental scoping mtg. for public comment on WCS, TX CIS: Thurs., Feb. 23, 1-4pm Eastern; please attend in person, by Webinar, or phone, and make comments!

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has, at long last, published the announcement for its quickly approaching HQ meeting, at its Rockville, MD HQ, re: WCS, TX's environmental scoping public comment opportunity, to be held on Thursday, February 23, 2017. Please attend in person if you can, or by Webcast/Teleconference Call-In. Please pre-register in advance to make oral public comments for the official record, raising various concerns in opposition to WCS's application.

NRC's announcement is posted at: https://www.nrc.gov/pmns/mtg?do=search.results&pageno=1&StartDate=2/23/2017&EndDate=2/23/2017

Here are those details and additional links:

Date/Time: 02/23/17, 1:00PM - 4:00PM

Purpose:

To conduct a public scoping meeting for the NRC’s Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Waste Control Specialist LLC (WCS) license application to construct and operate a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) for spent nuclear fuel at the WCS site in Andrews County, Texas. At the meeting, the NRC will receive comments from the public on the appropriate scope of issues to be considered in, and the content of the EIS. [more...]

Participation: Category 3

Teleconference/Webcast

[Here is the Webinar info.:

Webinar

Webinar Link:https://video.nrc.gov/
Webinar Meeting Number:None
Webinar Password:None

Here is the teleconference/call-in info.:

Teleconference

Bridge Number: 8006199084
Passcode: 3009542]

[Yes, comments can be submitted orally via the Webcast/Call-in options. Please sign up in advance -- see below -- and do make comments!]

Location [yes, in person attendance is an option, and oral comments can be made there]:


NRC One White Flint North
11545 Rockville Pike
Commission Hearing Room
Rockville MD

NRC Contacts:

James Park
301-415-6954

Debbie Miller
301-415-7359

From NRC's Public Meeting Schedule: Meeting Details link: https://www.nrc.gov/pmns/mtg?do=details&Code=20170198

Members of the public who will attend the meeting in person, and those wishing to present oral comments [via Webcast and/or teleconference/call-in] may register in advance by contacting Mrs. Debra Miller at (301) 415-7359, or by email to Debra.Miller@nrc.gov, ASAP [same day registration should also be provided, as it was for in person sign up last week at meetings in TX and NM]. Those comments may be limited by the time available, depending on the number of persons who wish to speak. Please provide name and company or organization for each attendee. Arrive 30 minutes early to allow time for security registration.

[Please see entries below, for more background details and links to additional information. Please attend by watching the webcast and/or calling in. Please sign up to make comments at the meeting. Additional written comments can be made until March 13th. Legal intervention deadline is March 31st (or forever hold your peace). See entries below for links to more info., sample comments you can use to prepare your own, etc.:

http://www.beyondnuclear.org/centralized-storage/2017/2/9/public-comments-opposing-de-facto-permanent-parking-lot-dump.html

Tuesday
Feb072017

Risks of Loss of Institutional Control if De Facto Permanent Parking Lot Dumps are Abandoned, Containers Fail, and Release Catastrophic Amounts of Hazardous Radioactivity into the Environment

Sample comments you can use to prepare your own for submission to NRC (pasted in below; also posted online here as .pdf and .docx documents):

Risks of Loss of Institutional Control if De Facto Permanent Parking Lot Dumps are Abandoned, Containers Fail, and Release Catastrophic Amounts of Hazardous Radioactivity into the Environment

DOE warned in its Feb. 2002 Final EIS on the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada national burial dump, that loss of institutional control would eventually prove catastrophic. Entropy means that things falls apart, over long enough periods of time. DOE was focused on this happening at nuclear power plant sites, if irradiated nuclear fuel was abandoned there forever. But the same is true here. If institutional control is eventually lost at WCS’s high-level radioactive waste parking lot dump, the containers will eventually fail, and catastrophically release their hazardous, high-level radioactive waste contents into the living environment. Hazardous and even deadly fallout would then flow with the winds and the waters, downwind and downstream, over greater and greater distances over time. Remember, high-level radioactive waste remains hazardous, even deadly, for millions of years into the future.

Such impacts could extend to the immediately adjacent and perhaps even underlying, Ogallala Aquifer. The Ogallala can also be considered downwind and downstream. Aquifers directly under or adjacent to WCS could be in direct communication with the Ogallala. Also, downwind or downstream surface level fallout from WCS could eventually find its way into the Ogallala, through natural flow paths (blowing with the winds, flowing with the rains, deposition onto and into soil, downward flow to aquifers). The Ogallala, North America’s largest, provides essential drinking and irrigation water for millions in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, and South Dakota. As the water protectors at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation say on the Missouri River in North Dakota, Mni Wiconi, Water Is Life. This was made very clear by recent drinking water contamination disasters in Flint, Michigan; Charleston, West Virginia; the Animas River in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah; and Toledo, Ohio. A radioactive release into or contamination of the Ogallala would be catastrophic.

Making these risks all the worse, NRC has allowed a quality assurance (QA) failure crisis to persist in the U.S. nuclear power industry for years and decades. These QA failures extend not only to on-site storage casks, but also to the shipping cask and away-from-reactor storage cask realm.

Industry and even NRC whistle-blowers called attention to these QA failure risks 17 long years ago, yet little to nothing has been done to correct them. Industry whistle-blower Oscar Shirani questioned the structural integrity of NRC-approved and industry-utilized storage casks sitting still, let alone traveling 60 miles per hour or faster on the railways. Shirani was backed up in his allegations by NRC Midwest Region dry cask storage inspector, Dr. Ross Landsman, who warned “The NRC should stop the production of the casks, but they do not have the chutzpah to do it. This is the kind of thinking that causes space shuttles to hit the ground.”

Such QA failures, shoddy design, and shoddy fabrication, of the storage casks, means that their eventual failure, and release of their deadly hazardous high-level radioactive waste contents, will only happen all the sooner.

Although Shirani and Landsman’s revelations were about Holtec casks (targeted for use at the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance proposed centralized interim storage site in New Mexico, not far from WCS, TX), NRC’s incompetence at best, or even collusion with industry, when it comes to cask QA violations, extends to other cask models and designs, including NAC and Areva casks to be used at WCS, TX.

Nuclear Assurance Corporation (NAC) container – to be used at WCS -- QA failures are of specific concern. Last autumn, shoddy welding by NAC led to the bottom literally falling out of an irradiated nuclear fuel assembly transfer caddy, allowing the assembly to strike the bottom of the storage pool at Chalk River Nuclear Labs in Ontario, Canada. Such bad welding calls into question the welds on NAC storage and transport containers as well.

At Davis-Besse atomic reactor on the Great Lakes shoreline near Toledo, Ohio, an Areva design Transnuclear NUHOMS storage cask was loaded with irradiated nuclear fuel, despite local environmental interventions to stop it, after it was revealed the walls of inner canister holding the high-level radioactive waste were ground too thin. But violations of technical specifications for the design and manufacture of casks in the U.S. are as rampant as QA violations.

All this boils down to the risk that de facto permanent abandoned of high-level radioactive waste at the surface, at WCS, could lead sooner rather than later to cask failure, and catastrophic radioactivity release.

NRC, in its Nuclear Waste Confidence Draft Environmental Impact Statement, asserted that whether on-site or away-from-reactor (as at WCS), failing dry casks could simply transfer their contents into a brand new replacement cask. But not a single such transfer has ever taken place in the U.S., dating back to the advent of dry cask storage (at the Surry atomic reactor in Virginia) in the mid-1980s. This, despite the fact that numerous dry casks, as at Palisades in MI, are acknowledged by industry and/or NRC to be defective.

NRC asserted in its DEIS that non-existent “Dry Transfer Systems” could be built at some unspecified future date, with no known source of funding, to accomplish this cask-to-cask transfer, when needed. Despite many thousands of public comments expressing concern about such an overly optimistic, science fiction plan, NRC stood by its Dry Transfer System fantasy in its Final EIS (“Nuclear Waste Confidence” had to be changed by NRC to “Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel,” as critics had effectively changed the phrase to “Nuke Waste Con Game”!)

Frighteningly, DTSs may be a fantasy plan on which NRC and WCS cannot deliver. In that case, abandonment and eventual failure of high-level radioactive waste storage containers at WCS could well lead to the catastrophic releases of hazardous radioactivity that DOE warned about in its Yucca Mountain Final EIS in Feb. 2002!

Tuesday
Feb072017

Risk of De Facto Permanent Parking Lot Dumps

Sample comments you can use to prepare your own for submission to NRC (pasted in below; also posted online here as .pdf and .docx documents):

Risk of De Facto Permanent Parking Lot Dumps

What if so-called interim storage (for “only” 20-40 years, which is already a long time, in most people’s books!) becomes much longer term, or even de facto permanent?

What if future replacements for today’s U.S. Representatives from these adjacent congressional districts in NM and TX, decide enough is enough, and the high-level radioactive wastes need to move? Those one or two future U.S. Representatives from here, would then face the daunting challenge of overcoming the inertia, or even active opposition, of the other 433-434 Members of the U.S. House of Representatives, who might be just fine with the high-level radioactive wastes staying at WCS forevermore (it’s not in their congressional district, after all!) – which is how long they remain hazardous by the way.

In 2008, under court order, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged that commercial irradiated nuclear fuel remains hazardous for a million years into the future. This is actually an underestimate. Take Iodine-129, as but one example. Its half-life is 15.7 million years. It will remain hazardous for at least ten half-lives, or 157 million years. I-129 is in high-level radioactive waste, too.

A 2013 U.S. Senate bill – forerunner to current versions of the legislation in Congress – added to the risks of "interim" storage sites becoming de facto permanent parking lot dumps, by stating a preference for co-location of pilot interim storage alongside large-scale, non-priority interim storage, and even the permanent repository (that is, burial dump).

Also, the waiver of any connection or "linkage" between development of centralized interim storage and progress toward opening a repository only increases the risk that stored wastes will simply be allowed to remain in centralized, so-called “interim,” surface facilities indefinitely into the future. In other words, they could become de facto permanent parking lot dumps.

U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, warned against this de-linkage in 2012. In fact, the requirement for a permanent disposal repository being opened and operating was, and still is, essential and foundational in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as Amended, the benchmark law on commercial irradiated nuclear fuel management. This was, and still is, a safeguard against interim storage sites becoming de facto permanent surface “disposal,” or parking lot dumps.

Note that linkage requires an operating repository, not just a licensed one, nor just a proposed one by someone, for someday, somewhere, some way. Remarkably, current DOE projections for the opening of a permanent burial dump are by 2048, 31 years from now, although they don’t know who, where, or how!

2048 is 106 years after Enrico Fermi generated the first cupful of high-level radioactive waste of the Atomic Age, in his Chicago Pile-1 at the University of Chicago squash court under the football stadium, on Dec. 2, 1942 as part of the Manhattan Project race for the atomic bomb; 2048 is 99 years after the first civilian, or commercial, irradiated nuclear fuel was generated, at the Shippingport atomic reactor near Pittsburgh, PA. Such remarkable delays in high-level radioactive waste management and disposal are another red flag, warning about WCS’s facility becoming a long-term, or even de facto permanent parking lot dump.

Tuesday
Feb072017

Why Are These Risks Being Taken?

Sample comments you can use to prepare your own for submission to NRC (pasted in below; also posted online here as .pdf and .docx documents):

Why Are These Risks Being Taken?

For no good reason. Certainly not to increase public health, safety, security, or environmental protection, despite WCS and nuclear power industry claims and PR spin to the contrary. Truth be told, it’s to transfer liability, costs, and risks, for the highly radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel, from the companies that generated it, and profited from its generation, onto the backs of federal taxpayers. That’s a pretty big favor to the companies – in fact, it’s unique in all of industry!

Dr. Mark Cooper of Vermont Law School calculated, in December 2013, in his expert witness comments to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s (NRC) Nuclear Waste Confidence/Continued Storage of Spent Nuclear Fuel EIS proceeding, calculated that the first 200 years of commercial irradiated nuclear fuel storage will cost $210 to 350 billion (yes, with a B). (See his expert comments at < https://web.archive.org/web/20160909042541/http://www.nirs.org/radwaste/exhibitd2013-12-16markcooperfinaldeclaration.pdf>, as well as the related press release at < http://www.cleanenergy.org/2013/12/19/waste-disposal-nrc/>.) His estimate assumed two centralized interim storage sites, one repository, and ongoing on-site storage at nuclear power plants, as needed. It effectively doubled the costs of nuclear-generated electricity, because that cost had never been accounted for. Thus, centralized interim storage, as at WCS, would be yet another significant public subsidy, for the nuclear power industry, on top of more than a half-century of significant public subsidies of various sorts. (See the Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2011 report < http://www.ucsusa.org/nuclear-power/cost-nuclear-power/nuclear-power-subsidies-report#.WK3Iz4WkUZU>, for a comprehensive overview of the many assorted, unmatched by any other industry, public subsidies the nuclear power industry has enjoyed over the past several decades.)

At NRC public comment meetings in NM and TX in mid-Feb. 2017, WCS CEO Rod Baltzer pushed back against this criticism. He said that the taxpayer is already obligated to pay for irradiated nuclear fuel storage, because DOE signed contracts with utilities in the 1980s, pledging to begin taking out the garbage in 1998. He pointed out that the utilities have sued DOE for breach of contract, and won damages from the U.S. Judgment Fund, which draws taxpayer funding from the U.S. Treasury, not ratepayer funding from the Nuclear Waste Fund.

Baltzer is right on this one point: U.S. taxpayers are hemorrhaging $500 million per year in these damage awards, as Beyond Nuclear reported way back in 2010 < http://ieer.org/wp/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/NewWasteDisposalContractsBackgrounderFINAL3.pdf>.

But our criticism actually still holds. Under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as Amended, the nuclear utilities are responsible for interim storage of irradiated nuclear fuel. Taxpayers are responsible for final disposal.

This simple fact formed the basis for an environmental coalition letter to NRC in Oct. 2016, pointing out that the WCS license application is illegal, and that the agency should cease and desist from processing it. (See

http://www.beyondnuclear.org/centralized-storage/2016/10/26/despite-setbacks-beyond-nuclear-and-allies-continue-to-chall.html for additional information.)

Current law requires a final disposal repository to be operating (not just licensed), before a centralized interim storage site can be opened. Even then, the centralized interim storage site could only be a federal facility, not a private one (even if that private facility – in this case, WCS – has only one customer, the federal DOE).

WCS is seeking an end run around this legal constraint. This is very risky for the U.S. federal taxpayer. The linkage between an operating final disposal repository, and a centralized interim storage site, in the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, as Amended, is to guard against centralized interim storage from becoming a de facto permanent, surface storage parking lot dump, the costs, liabilities and risks of which, the U.S. federal taxpayer may get stuck with indefinitely.

This end run around the precautionary linkage between an operating repository, and centralized interim storage, that WCS seeks, would be a huge boon to the nuclear power industry. It would expedite the transfer of all costs, risks, and liabilities for irradiated nuclear fuel, from the utilities that profited from its generation, onto the backs of U.S. federal taxpayers, sooner rather than later -- even before a repository is operating. Long before, actually: the DOE’s most recent estimate, as to when a repository can be opened, is 2048!

Such an accelerated transfer of the costs, risks, and liabilities for irradiated nuclear fuel means the nuclear utilities can walk away from the mess they’ve made all the sooner, removing that headache from their own ledgers.

WCS is clear about those costs, risks, and liabilities. WCS has been careful, making it a licensing condition, that all those costs, risks, and liabilities for the irradiated nuclear fuel would be solely on DOE – that is, on U.S. federal taxpayers. WCS will accept none of those costs, risks, or liabilities. This of course sets up a moral hazard with a highly radioactive twist. WCS, a private, for-profit company, will have every incentive to cut corners, and take short cuts on safety, in order to save money, and boost its own profits. After all, DOE – U.S. federal taxpayers – will be shouldering all costs, risks, and liabilities. If anything goes wrong, it won’t be WCS’s problem – it’ll be the taxpayers’ problem!

WCS’s laser-like focus on cutting costs and boosting profits is reflected in its own top corporate leadership. Tellingly, its CEO and President, Rod Baltzer; its Senior Vice President and General Manager, Elicia Sanchez; and its Executive Vice President and CFO, Amy Samford – all are certified public accountants (as opposed to having expertise in such fields as environmental health, safety, or public health protection, for example). See http://www.wcstexas.com/about-wcs/leadership/ for more information.

Tuesday
Feb072017

Risks of “Routine” or “Incident-Free” Shipments Nonetheless Being Like “Mobile X-ray Machines That Can’t Be Turned Off,” and Risks of Externally Contaminated Shipments

Sample comments you can use to prepare your own for submission to NRC (pasted in below; also posted online here as .pdf and .docx documents):

Risks of  “Routine” or “Incident-Free” Shipments Nonetheless Being Like “Mobile X-ray Machines That Can’t Be Turned Off,” and Risks of Externally Contaminated Shipments

Even “routine” or “incident-free” shipments of irradiated nuclear fuel carry health risks to workers and innocent passers by. This is because it would take so much radiation shielding to completely hold in the gamma radiation, being emitted by the highly radioactive waste, that the shipments would be too heavy to move economically. So NRC has compromised, and “allows” for or “permits” a certain amount of hazardous gamma radiation to stream out of the shipping container.

NRC’s regulations allow for up to 10 millirem per hour (mR/hr) of gamma radiation to be emitted, about six feet (two meters) away from a shipping cask’s exterior surface. That’s about one to two chest X-rays worth of gamma radiation, per hour of exposure.

Since the radiation dissipates with the square root of the distance, this means that  NRC’s regulations “allow” for up to 200 mR/hr, at the surface of the cask’s exterior. That’s 20 to 40 chest X-rays worth of gamma radiation, per hour, which NRC “allows” to stream out, right at the cask’s surface.

NRC has done a cost-benefit analysis – the cost, to human health; the benefit, to the nuclear power industry’s bottom line – and deemed these exposure levels “acceptable” or “permissible.” (“Permissible” or “acceptable” should never be confused with “safe” or “harmless” – exposures to 200 mR/hr, or even 10 mR/hr, still carry health risks. After all, any level of radiation, no matter how small, has long been confirmed to cause cancer. For more information, see: https://web.archive.org/web/20160325141005/http://www.nirs.org/press/06-30-2005/1)

The humans actually harmed by these exposures to hazardous radioactivity – related to the industry’s NRC-approved, unnecessary shipments, for example – might beg to differ! But of course, any negative health impacts associated with irradiated nuclear fuel shipments will not be closely tracked (or tracked at all) by NRC, or any other government agency for that matter. NRC and industry almost always downplay the health risks, and would almost certainly deny any connection between such exposures and negative health outcomes.

Six feet away could affect a person standing beside a train track, as the train goes by. Some real world examples of this situation include the Takoma Metro Station near Takoma Park, Maryland – the Red Line Metro Station platform is right beside the CSX railway, which is targeted for trains to haul irradiated nuclear fuel from the Calvert Cliffs, MD and North Anna, VA nuclear power plants, such as bound for WCS, TX.

Although further than six feet away, residences located immediately adjacent to these same CSX rail lines in Tacoma, D.C. mean that those living there could well be exposed to gamma radiation, although at a lower dose rate (again, the dose rate decreases inversely with the square root of the distance). However, residents can be expected to be present in their homes a lot more often than commuters standing on a Metro platform – including during sleep hours, when trains carrying irradiated nuclear fuel could still go by. And of course, residents along these tracks, would also be commuters standing on the platform, leading to multiple exposures in their daily (and nightly) lives, for years on end during a WCS shipping campaign.

Trains pausing next to commuter platforms or residences will prolong these potentially hazardous exposures. Paused trains – even ones carrying ones carrying hazardous cargos – are commonplace in the U.S. Pauses can sometimes last a long time. Lead cars stuck by paused trains at railroad crossings could mean the occupants of those cars are exposed to gamma radiation. Even a rolling train car would emit a certain dose as it passed by, to lead car occupants stopped nearest the tracks.

Similar situations will arise across the U.S. Innocent passers by, whose daily lives bring them in close proximity to railways or waterways that would be used to ship irradiated nuclear fuel, mean that ordinary people would be exposed to hazardous gamma radiation in some amount greater than zero – perhaps repeatedly, over the course of years during a WCS, TX shipping campaign.

The 200 mR/hr “acceptable” dose rate at the surface of shipping casks would most likely impact workers – locomotive engineers, railway workers, inspectors, security guards, etc.

However, when, in 2003, the Big Rock Point reactor pressure vessel (albeit so-called “low” level radioactive waste, it still serves as a cautionary tale) was shipped by heavy haul truck into Gaylord, Michigan to be loaded onto a train, for its shipment by rail to Barnwell, South Carolina, to be buried in a ditch, neither the nuclear utility, Consumers Power, nor the NRC (nor any other federal or state agency), nor local law enforcement, created a security or safety or health perimeter around the shipping container. As if it were a parade, onlookers were allowed to simply approach the shipping container, walk right up to it, and even touch it. In fact, a parade would probably have had better health, safety, and security precautions in place! (See 2003 written entries, as well as a photo, about this and other incidents that occurred during this single shipment, posted online at: https://web.archive.org/web/20151211005008/http://www.nirs.org/radwaste/hlwtransport/mobilechernobyl.htm). WCS would involve 4,000 irradiated nuclear fuel shipments into the Andrews, TX parking lot dump; and an equal number out, if the waste ever were to leave.

Likewise, Bob Halstead, several years ago, was able to guide a camera crew deep into the heart of a rail yard, just off downtown Chicago, that would be used to temporarily store (albeit, “temporarily” could last for days) train cars holding irradiated nuclear fuel. Security was nowhere to be seen. (Halstead, then serving as transport consultant to the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, now serves as the agency’s director.)

Similary, Rick Hind of Greenpeace U.S.A. guided a Wall Street Journal reporter deep into the heart of underground train tunnels under Washington, D.C. The graffiti and art on the walls showed clearly that the tunnels are frequented by human beings. (Hind was showing the reporter how insecure such tunnels, even the nation’s capital, are to potential security risks, even as hazardous train cargos – including chlorine shipments – pass by.)

In these ways, that 200 mR/hr “permissible” dose rate could impact not only workers, but even members of the public.

In this sense, even “routine” or “incident-free” shipments of irradiated nuclear fuel can be considered as similar to mobile X-ray machines that can’t be turned off, a phrase describing the concept first expressed by Lauren Olson, a supporter of NIRS.

To make matters worse, there have been large numbers of shipments, externally contaminated with radioactivity, making their actual dose rates much higher – and thus more hazardous – in serious violation of the already compromised “permissible” or “acceptable” levels.

Areva – a key partner in the WCS proposal – at its home base in France, experienced just such a plague or epidemic of externally contaminated shipments. A full 25% to 33% of Areva’s irradiated nuclear fuel shipments, into its La Hague reprocessing facility, were externally contaminated, for years on end, above “permissible” levels. This amounted to many hundreds of individual shipments, contaminated above “permissible” levels, over the course of several years. On average, the shipments were giving off radiation dose rates 500 times the “permissible” level; in one instance, a shipment was emitting radiation 3,300 times the “acceptable” level.

Environmental watchdogs and journalists revealed this contaminated shipment scandal. See the WISE-Paris write up, Transport Special - Plutonium Investigation n°6/7, posted at http://www.wise-paris.org/ under Bulletins.

But such externally contaminated shipments have happened in the U.S., as well. Halstead documented this in a report prepared for the Nevada State Agency for Nuclear Projects in 1996. It is entitled “Reported Incidents Involving Spent Nuclear Fuel Shipments, 1949 to Present.” 49 “surface contamination” incidents are documented. This report is posted online at: http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/trans/nucinc01.htm.