Western lawmakers warn of moving radiation detection lab

AP News
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Posted: Jul 09, 2015 4:50 PM

LAS VEGAS (AP) — Federal officials want to move a mobile radiation detection laboratory from Las Vegas to Alabama, but nuclear safety advocates and lawmakers warn it could leave the Western U.S. vulnerable to an accident or terror attack.

The Environmental Protection Agency plans to dismantle the lab, which is two trailers that can be quickly sent to a suspected radiation release, as early as Friday to be shipped out next week, the Las Vegas Sun reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/1HQnccR ). The lab is now stationed at the EPA offices at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

The agency announced in March that it would combine the Vegas lab with a similar unit already housed in Montgomery, Alabama, in a push to cut costs. It says the labs have not been sent to a radiological event in 15 years and are not used for emergency response.

But nuclear safety advocates and lawmakers from Nevada and California have raised concerns.

The move could mean the response to suspected radiation leaks would take days instead of hours, which would leave the Western states "naked," said Dan Hirsch, president of the Committee to Bridge the Gap, a nuclear policy advocacy organization.

The California Governor's Office of Emergency Services sent a letter to the EPA in May saying an increase in response times would jeopardize its ability to protect the public. In Nevada, Gov. Brian Sandoval, U.S. Sen. Harry Reid and U.S. Rep. Dina Titus also have questioned the EPA.

"We have asked that the agency provide assurances that Nevada and the West have the ability and equipment to respond to a radiological incident and ensure the health and safety of Nevadans is protected," Reid spokeswoman Kristen Orthman told the newspaper.

Judy Treichel, executive director of Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force, said the West's need for radiation detection is greater than the Southeast's.

The EPA said both labs have been used in training exercises and to monitor Superfund cleanup sites in Texas and Louisiana, but not in emergencies.

"The (mobile laboratory) is not designed to analyze samples that are very radioactive ... hence, the mobile laboratory does not provide information that is valuable for making protective action decisions in the first few days of a response," Alan Perrin, the EPA's deputy director for radiation protection, wrote last week in a letter to California officials.

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Information from: Las Vegas Sun, http://www.lasvegassun.com