Department of Energy's Record of Decision and Floodplain Statement of Findings - Nevada Rail Alignment for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada ("ROD") e-filed today with the STB in FD 35106.

Supplemental Rail Corridor and Rail Alignment Environmental Impact Statements





Transportation Routes

The DOE has chosen the Caliente Route as the preferred route to ship high-level nuclear waste through Nevada. (Click on the map at the right for a larger view.)

High-resolution Caliente corridor [pdf - 6mb, be patient]

High-resolution Mina corridor[pdf - 11mb, be patient]

DOE Says it will Use Rail for Transportation to Yucca Mountain Repository; Selects Proposed Caliente Corridor as Nevada Route [pdf]

Supplement Analysis for Transportation [pdf]

Caliente Corridor Land Use and Ownership [Map] [pdf]

The U.S. Department of Energy will transport used nuclear fuel to the repository by rail and road, inside massive, sealed containers that have undergone safety and durability testing.

Federal Regulation

Shipping Containers: The NRC regulates container design and manufacturing to ensure that the containers maintain their integrity under routine transportation conditions and during severe accidents. The NRC must certify all container designs.

Containers must be able to withstand a sequence of crashes, fire and submersion in water without breaking open. The approved containers are massive, weighing 25 to 40 tons for truck shipments and 75 to 125 tons for rail shipments. Multiple layers of steel and other materials confine the radioactivity. Typically, for every ton of fuel, there are more than three tons of protective shielding.

Notice of Filing an Application for a “Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity” to construct and operate a new rail line in Lincoln, Nye and Esmeralda Counties [pdf]

Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada – Nevada Rail Transportation Corridor (DOE/EIS-0250F-S2D; the Nevada Rail Corridor SEIS), and Draft Environmental Impact Statement for a Rail Alignment for the Construction and Operation of a Railroad in Nevada to a Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada (DOE/EIS-0369D; the Rail Alignment EIS) [complete, 126 mb, pdf]

Amended Notice of Intent to Expand the Scope of the Environmental Impact Statement for the Alignment, Construction, and Operation of a Rail Line to a Geologic Repository at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada, October 13, 2006 [pdf]

Final Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada (DOE/EIS-0250F, February 2002)

Record of Decision on Mode of Transportation and Nevada Rail Corridor for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, NV, April 2004 [pdf]

Mina Rail Route Feasibility Study [pdf]

Mina Rail Route Feasibility Study, Appendix B (maps package) [pdf, 27mb, be patient]

Routing — Used nuclear fuel may be shipped only along specified highway routes. Shippers submit routes to the NRC for approval ahead of time and notify officials in the states through which the shipments travel. The NRC checks that a route conforms to Transportation Department regulations, requiring the most direct interstate route and avoiding large cities.

DOT has established a process for selecting highway routes. DOE will work with states through regional organizations, and with tribes on a government-to-government basis, to identify suites of routes, including alternatives to preferred shipping routes. All states and tribes can — and some states already have — designated “preferred” highway routes.

The process for identifying rail routes that DOE expects to use begins with the routes identified in the Final Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive Waste at Yucca Mountain. These routes are based on established railroad practices and reflect operational input from potential railroads. Although commercial rail lines are privately owned, DOE will work with rail carriers, states, and tribes to identify and evaluate rail routes through a collaborative process.

Railway Use — The U.S. Department of Energy plans to use rail for most of the shipments of used nuclear fuel to a Yucca Mountain repository. However, some shipments will require transport by road if rail is not accessible. For rail transport, DOE will use trains that will carry only used nuclear fuel. These dedicated trains offer increased security and shorter transit times.

How are transportation safety and security standards established?

DOT and NRC share primary responsibility for establishing standards for the safe transport of radioactive materials within the United States. These standards are based on international transport standards that are used to safely ship radioactive materials worldwide. DOT standards cover packaging, transporting, and handling of radioactive materials, including labeling, shipping papers, placards, loading, and unloading. DOT standards also specify training needed for personnel who perform handling and transport of hazardous materials. The DOT, in cooperation with the DHS, sets standards for emergency preparedness for carriers. NRC establishes design and performance standards for packages that carry materials with higher levels of radioactivity, like spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. All shipments of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain must use containers whose designs meet NRC certification requirements. When transporting radioactive materials, DOE meets or exceeds all applicable standards set by DOT and NRC.

What precautions does the government take in the transportation of spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste?

Inspections — Specially trained federal, state, or carrier inspectors perform equipment and radiological inspections before every shipment. Inspectors also ensure compliance with applicable safety standards. States may require inspections en route, and inspections are required at final destination points for truck shipments of spent nuclear fuel.

Security — To implement an effective security program for transportation, DOE is actively collaborating with DOT, NRC, DHS, and other agencies. DOE is also collaborating with international agencies and working groups; state, tribal, and local government representatives; industry associations; and technical advisory and oversight organizations. DOE’s security program includes physical security systems like alarms, sensors, armed escorts, and tracking devices; information and cyber security; materials control and accounting; personnel security, training, and management; and emergency response capabilities.

Tracking — DOE will coordinate in-transit operations, including tracking, security escorts, and communications. DOE will use a satellite tracking system similar to the
TRANSCOM system currently used in other DOE
transportation programs.

Route Selection:

The Department of Energy prefers the Caliente Corridor (see transportation route) because it is remote, has few land use conflicts, and can avoid Air Force land.

The DOE is pursuing its Nuclear Waste Policy Act of 1982 (ACT) mandate to construct and operate the nation’s first geologic repository for spent nuclear fuel and high-level waste.  DOE submitted their License Application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on June 3rd, 2008 for authorization to construct the repository, and plans to construct a rail line to support construction and operation of the repository are also proceeding.  Absent any intervention by responsible Nevada authorities, DOE is proceeding with a process that will result in a record of decision under the National Environmental Policy Act to construct rail in the Caliente Corridor.  That record of decision on the Final EIS for Nevada Rail is on schedule to be promulgated in late August or early September of this year.

The DOE has filed an application with the Surface Transporation Board (STB) requesting a CPCN to construct and operate approximately 300 miles of new rail line connecting the existing rail line near Caliente, Nevada to the proposed geologic repository at Yucca Mountain in Nye County, Nevada.  A denial of a CPCN would still allow DOE to build and operate a dedicated use rail line offering no benefits to Nevada.

Some believe that selection of the Caliente Corridor for the proposed rail line does little to mitigate the impact of the repository and related transportation activities, or to contribute to economic development opportunities for the State of Nevada, specifically:

  • Shared use of Nevada Rail by commercial freight operations is very important to all local communities and the State of Nevada as a whole.

  • The total transportation system to support the repository program should be optimized based on safety, logistical and economic perspectives, rather than political views. Transportation options that are operationally superior, or that offer mitigating economic benefit to the affected population, should not be rejected for politically expedient reasons.

  • Given that the preferred alternative includes shared use by commercial freight, there should be greater consideration of local needs and the integration between national rail transportation and operations via Nevada Rail.  Selection of a rail corridor, in particular the Caliente Corridor, that dead-ends at Yucca Mountain, is less than optimum on several levels:

  • A through-going rail system (e.g., Caliente to Yucca to Jean, or Mina to Yucca to Jean) would maximize national transportation options and the flexibility of the Class 1 railroads on the major northern and southern east to west rail routes.

  • Nye County’s Rail Transportation Economic Impact Evaluation and Planning Study for the Caliente and Mina Corridors, November 2007 (available on request) conservatively estimates the annual economic development value of the Mina Corridor, even as a dead-end spur, to be $401 million as compared to $21 million for the Caliente Corridor. Many potential benefits to Nevada were not evaluated in this study.

  • A through-going route would eliminate the necessity for rail shipments through the Las Vegas Valley where government leaders are concerned about the effects of nuclear waste shipments on the tourism industry.  A through-going route would also obviate the need for rail shipments through central California to connect with either the Mina or Caliente corridors from the north.  In other words, having both northern and southern approaches to the repository would add flexibility to the national shipping program by enabling north-south and east-west rail corridors to accommodate seasonal (weather), construction, and load/density considerations.

  • A through-going rail system would also enable more effective and efficient movement of waste shipments than would a single dead end spur line, reduce the number of rail shipments that would arrive at Yucca Mountain from any one direction, would facilitate shipment of construction materials for the repository, and would enhance the utility and economic benefit of the line for commercial shippers.

  • In the larger sense, a through-going railroad (via Mina and Jean) would provide a direct route between Las Vegas and Reno for freight or passenger rail. It would also add another rail link between the Port of Oakland / San Francisco Bay Area and both the Las Vegas and the Los Angeles metropolitan areas and thereby provide a major enhancement to the flow of commerce in Central Nevada and along the western seaboard.  It is incumbent on the federal government to put the investment of billions of dollars of public funds for rail transportation to greater and more beneficial purpose than merely the movement of radioactive waste.  A through-going shared-use rail line would maximize benefits to local communities, the state, and the region.

  • The cost of construction estimated by DOE is $1.7 billion for the Mina route versus $2.2 billion for the Caliente route.  For the cost of the preferred Caliente route, the Mina route could be made much more functional and beneficial for both nuclear waste shipment and shared commercial freight.  Making Mina a through-going route would provide superior advantages at a reasonable cost when compared to those of a single spur terminating at the repository.

Some do not believe that Congress is likely to fund construction of the proposed rail line until it has greater assurance that DOE will receive a license to construct the Yucca Mountain repository. If this funding prediction proves to be true, there is time to consider and select a transportation system, especially a Nevada Rail system that is optimized from logistical and economical perspectives.  Considering the costs and impacts of the Caliente Route, the DOE needs to further examine the entire Mina Route, including further mitigation with the Walker River Paiute Tribe, greater consideration of alternative routes around the Walker River Paiute Reservation, and adding the Jean corridor to complete a through-going rail line. 

After the DOE and STB make the decisions on routes and shared use, the detailed planning and construction will begin.

Highway 50 traverses Churchill County east to west.