Nuclear waste truck being checked for leaks at Nevada border

LAS VEGAS (AP) - A shipment of low-level nuclear waste headed for southern Nevada was being inspected Tuesday in West Wendover after foam was found around a container on the transport truck bed.

Authorities said the truck, which had been on the way from upstate New York to the Nevada Test Site, was parked at a truck stop off Interstate 80.

The federal Energy Department and a radiological health manager with the Nevada State Health Division said there didn't appear to be an immediate danger to the public. They said there was no sign radioactivity had been released.

''We tested for radiological leaks and didn't find anything,'' federal Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said Tuesday.

Davis said technicians were taking precautionary steps to secure the shipment.

''They're rewrapping it, repacking it and trying to figure out where this foam came from,'' he said.

In a statement, the Energy Department said: ''There is, apparently, no breach of the container containing the low-level waste and there have been no indications of any radiological release associated with the material and its container.''

The International Waste Removal truck departed West Valley, N.Y., near Buffalo, on Friday with a contaminated cargo of pipes, valves and packing material from a dismantled nuclear-waste reprocessing project, according to the Energy Department.

Seven waste containers were destined for disposal at the Nevada Test Site, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas. Some 20 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste from Energy Department facilities is buried at the Test Site in 22-foot-deep pits.

Energy Department spokeswoman Ellen Doherty told the Las Vegas Review-Journal the foam could have come from a mixture of diesel fuel and water or from a reaction with a packing material called Waterworks. It keeps radioactive waste dry by absorbing condensation and foams in contact with water.

Davis said the driver accidentally overfilled the truck's tank while refueling at West Wendover, on the Nevada-Utah border.

He tried to wash spilled diesel fuel off the side of the truck and notified authorities early Monday after finding foam on the bed of the front trailer.

Davis said the container around which the foam was found will be sent back to West Valley. The other six metal containers will go back to the Test Site.

Nevada lawmakers were seeking more information about the episode.

Nathan Naylor, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said the incident underscores a need for Congress to take a closer look at the transportation of radioactive materials. The Senate last week approved a Reid amendment to study the matter.

In 1997, low-level nuclear waste shipments to the test site from a dismantled plant in Fernald, Ohio, were suspended for 18 months after a truck stopped in Kingman, Ariz., was found to have a leaking container.

''It's unfortunate that it takes a near catastrophe to make the point that we in Nevada have been trying to make for years - that the transportation of nuclear waste poses an unacceptable risk to every single community through which this material would be transported,'' Gov. Kenny Guinn said.


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