(Sean Whaley/Nevada News Bureau) – Nevada is getting shortchanged from the federal government when it comes to addressing contamination from the underground nuclear weapons testing era, with the Nevada Test Site getting only a small amount of funding for cleanup efforts, a state lawmaker said today.
Assemblyman Ed Goedhart, R-Amargosa Valley, testified in support of his measure, Assembly Joint Resolution 5, which seeks discussions with the federal government over much-needed cleanup efforts from years of underground testing of nuclear weapons at the site northwest of Las Vegas that has resulted in massive groundwater contamination.
The resolution is supported by 19 other lawmakers.
Now called the Nevada National Security Site (NNSS), the facility was used from 1951 to 1992 to detonate hundreds of nuclear warheads, most of them underground, Goedhart told the members of the Assembly Natural Resources, Agriculture and Mining Committee.
“Each explosion deposited a toxic load of radioactivity into the ground and in some cases directly into the aquifer,” he said. “The underground contamination under the NNSS is the most significant contamination in the country.”
Even so, “the Department of Energy has ranked Nevada at the very bottom of its priority list for cleaning up major sites in the nuclear weapons complex,” Goedhart said. “The test site only receives about $65 million a year out of DOE’s nuclear cleanup budget. Contrast this paltry sum to the $1.8 billion spent annually cleaning up the Hanford plutonium production site in Washington state.”
Nevada’s contamination is 1,000 times worse than at Hanford, he said.
Nye County consulting hydrogeologist Tom Buqo has estimated the underground tests have polluted 1.6 trillion gallons of water, as much as the Southern Nevada Water District is allowed to draw from the Colorado River in 16 years, Goedhart said.
“The federal government needs to ‘man up’ and either clean up, or pay up,” he said.
Darrell Lacy, director of community development for Nye County, also testified in support of the resolution, saying the contaminated waters cannot be used for economic development. When Nye County sought uncontaminated water on and adjacent to the test site, the applications were opposed by the U.S. Dept of Energy. Most of the applications were denied by the Nevada State Engineer, and they are currently on appeal, he said.
The concern is that pumping groundwater might accelerate the movement of contaminated groundwater from the test site, Lacy said.
Goedhart said water is in short supply in Southern Nevada, so having a large amount of it contaminated is a serious economic problem for the region. He could not put a dollar value on the water, saying the intent of the resolution is to raise awareness of the federal government’s inequity to Nye County and Nevada.
Several other speakers, including Kyle Davis, political director for the Nevada Conservation League, and Nancy Scott, representing the League of Women Voters, testified in support of the resolution.
No one spoke in opposition.
The committee did not immediately act on the measure.