U.S. Water News Online
LAS VEGAS -- A hydrologist who has studied water issues at
the Nevada Test Site and Yucca Mountain for more than two decades
says the federal government owes the state more of what some consider
the most valuable commodity in the West: water.
Tom Buqo, a Nye County water consultant, estimates that at least
4.8 million acre feet of groundwater beneath the former nuclear
weapons proving ground has been contaminated by testing since the
``The groundwater is contaminated beyond any remediation,'' he
said of the Department of Energy-managed site some 65 miles northwest
of Las Vegas. ``And the DOE plans to monitor in perpetuity, not clean
Earlier this month, President Bush selected Yucca Mountain,
located at the edge of the test site about 90 miles northwest of Las
Vegas, as the storage site for the nation's nuclear waste. Buqo said
Nevada officials, who have vowed to fight Bush's decision, should use
water as a bargaining chip.
``Water is the one thing Nevada needs to be demanding,'' he said,
adding he believes storing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain will
contaminate even more groundwater. DOE studies say that's not the
Bob Bangerter, DOE project manager for the test site's underground
testing areas, said federal officials are still studying the extent
of the pollution.
``I can't say whether that's an accurate number because right now
we don't know how much water is contaminated,'' he said of Buqo's
figure of 4.8 million acre feet.
Meanwhile, an independent review of the DOE's solution to
groundwater poll ution has found it scientifically defensible,
although it could be improved, Bangerter said.
``Technologically and economically we can't clean up the
groundwater,'' he added. ``Our proposal is that we will find what the
maximum extent is that the contamination will move and will establish
a long-term monitoring network to ensure the public is safe.''
If the contamination ever threatens public safety, the DOE will
consider alternatives including replacement water, Bangerter said.
``We have had a groundwater monitoring program both on and off the
test site for the past 50 years and so far we have never detected any
contamination off the test site,'' he said.
The indirect impact of the groundwater contamination includes loss
of productivity and tax revenues, Buqo said during a panel discussion
at the Nevada Water Resources Association conference in Las Vegas.
He said the federal government should replace the lost water,
adding that would cost less than the DOE's current groundwater
studies, and clean up the contamination before Yucca Mountain is
allowed to accept any nuclear waste.
Buqo, who conducts independent tests on water running south of the
test site for Nye County, has been studying water issues there for
more than two decades.
He estimates that five times the amount of radioactivity present
in the test site's soil and groundwater could eventually be entombed
in Yucca Mountain.
``The big difference is that it's not on the ground or in the
groundwater, it will be stored in containers,'' Buqo said about the
long-term storage of the nation's estimated 77,000 tons of highly
toxic nuclear waste.
A DOE spokeswoman for the Yucca Mountain nuclear storage project
declined to comment on Buqo's estimates.
The DOE has spent roughly $8 billion to study Yucca Mountain since
1987 as the nation's sole repository for nuclear waste.
Under federal plans, the site wouldn't begin accepting nuclear
waste for at least another eight years.
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