Timbisha Shoshone Tribal Council Requests Designation as an Affected Tribe In Order to Participate in Yucca Mountain Project Planning Process

U.S. Geological Survey Report Finds Floodwaters Could Drain from Yucca Mountain to Nearby Communities

* The Timbisha Shoshone Tribal Council recently requested that Interior Secretary Gale Norton designate the sovereign nation as an affected tribe for the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository, located in Nevada. Such a determination would allow the Death Valley, California tribe to participate fully in the Yucca Mountain Project planning process. Yucca Mountain, located 50 miles east of Death Valley and 95 miles northwest of Las Vegas, is the Department of Energy's proposed site for the disposal of 77,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants and defense activities.

In a statement issued by Council Chairwoman Pauline Esteves and Administrator Barbara Durham, the leaders said that the tribe's "primary interest is in ensuring that a culturally appropriate understanding of site characterization is obtained to address issues of tribal health and safety." Furthermore, "[u]nderstanding the tribal community life-ways is crucial to identifying past experiences, present concerns and possible future threats. Through participation of the tribe, studies would promote reasonable assurance ... that the tribe and environments will be adequately protected from the hazards posed by high-level nuclear waste."

No tribes have obtained the affected status from the Interior Department.

Oversight funding may be available to the tribe from Congress. The President's proposed budget requests nearly $6 million in oversight funding for ten affected local governments, including Clark and Nye Counties, and an additional $2.5 million for oversight by the State of Nevada.

* A U.S. Geological Survey study shows that floodwater runoff from the Yucca Mountain site moves into communities nearby, and could carry radiation from the proposed high-level waste repository, should it open.

The report reveals that flash flooding in a 300-square-mile area, that includes Yucca Mountain and the Nevada Test Site, could close highways and disrupt nuclear waste shipments. The flooding could also interfere with the above-ground repository operations.

The Department of Energy (or DOE) downplayed the findings. The Yucca Mountain Project spokeswoman said, ''It's not news that the area floods, that's why it's called Forty-Mile Wash.''

The report found that contaminated water could travel as far as Death Valley, the home of the Timbisha Shoshone Tribe.

The report concludes that the Amargosa River ''has the potential to transport dissolved and particulate matter well beyond the boundary of the (Nevada Test Site) and the Yucca Mountain area during periods of moderate to severe streamflow."

DOE has prepared a draft Yucca Mountain environmental impact statement, but it does not consider runoff into the Forty-Mile Wash or Topopah Wash, the subjects of the U.S. Geological Survey report. DOE released a supplement to the draft environmental statement that considers a cooler repository design for the high-level waste that will concentrate large amount of heat in the facility. After 20 years of study, scientists are still making substantial repository design changes. The final environmental impact statement is expected to be released at the end of the year.

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