LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — A lot of people dump their unwanted trash in the Nevada desert, but an old couch or broken appliances aren't the worst of it. Nevada continues to be the dumping ground for radioactive waste coming from other states.
Lawmakers want to put a stop to it, and one local mother says the effort starts with you.
NOT BY THE RULES
"I had the impression it was snuck in. That it was not even by the rules," says Las Vegas mom Karen Pettit.
She says she can't believe what the government did. The Department of Energy recently admitted to shipping radioactive waste, created by nuclear weapons production, from Idaho to the Nevada National Security Site.
As a member of the Nevada Desert Experience, a nonprofit group protesting the development of nuclear weapons, Pettit has participated in numerous peace walks. She wants the government to know she doesn't approve.
"Absolutely not. I will not stand for that happening here. I have a say, and I'm going to object," Pettit said.
"You can't trust the DOE," said Rep. Dina Titus (D), who represents Nevada's First Congressional District.
She says state lawmakers are concerned about any nuclear waste coming to Nevada.
"Our political leaders on both sides of the aisle, both parties have been opposed," Titus said.
Years of fighting with the federal government have put restrictions on waste storage at Yucca Mountain, about 90 miles outside Las Vegas.
"But they're kind of getting around the rules by bringing some of it to the Nevada Test Site... and we didn't find out about that until it was already here," Titus said.
The DOE calls the Idaho National Laboratory waste "low level." But Titus, an expert on atomic testing, says there's enough of it to fill several Olympic-sized swimming pools.
NOT TELLING US
"The problem that disturbs me is that they're not telling us. They're slipping stuff in here, and today it may be low level and tomorrow it may be something else," Titus said.
How dangerous is the waste to a large metropolitan area like Las Vegas?
"Well, the thing is, it's got to be shipped from other states. It goes through about two-thirds of the congressional districts to get here," Titus said. "Also, where they're going to store it is above the water table, so if it were to leak, it would get into the water."
Titus says an accident could be dangerous, not only to our public health but to our economy.
"You have one accident that makes people afraid to come here, we'd be devastated," Titus said.
She says the cost of cleaning up and containing any contaminated areas could also be enormous. That's why she is taking steps to learn how this happened and how to avoid it in the future.
"We've got a meeting scheduled with the Department of Energy in the next couple of weeks, and we're going to ask them all these same questions and hopefully we'll get some answers," Titus said.
In the meantime, Pettit is encouraging action, whether it's participating in a demonstration or writing a letter to your local lawmaker. She believes everyone can make a difference.
"We can do it if we get together. I've been teaching that to my kids," Pettit said. "Everybody has a part to play, and if we all chip in and work together we can make great things happen."
13 Action News obtained two letters detailing why these shipments are in compliance:
- Click here to view the letter from the D.O.E.
- Click here to view the letter from the Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Nevada-based DOE spokesman, Jesse Sleezer says "For decades, DOE’s state-of-the-art disposal facilities at the NNSS have supported federal environmental cleanup projects and ongoing national security missions. All wastes are transported, handled, and disposed safely and securely and must meet rigorous federal, state, and site requirements. DOE conducts its waste management work at the NNSS with safety and transparency as top priorities, and provides regular updates to the State of Nevada, local governments, and community stakeholders on its activities.”