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US Department of Energy has possibly been shipping unapproved radioactive waste into Nevada for years

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By Chris Boyette

The Department of Energy may have shipped dangerous radioactive waste into a landfill in Nevada for several years, Nevada Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Wednesday.

A statement from Sisolak said Energy Department officials told him on July 3 that the Nevada National Security Site may have received a total of nine shipments and 32 containers of "mixed low-level radioactive waste" from a facility in Tennessee from 2013 to 2018 that were supposed to be "low-level radioactive waste."

"It's not just an issue of regulation, it's an issue of health and safety," said Nevada Division of Environmental Protection Administrator Greg Lovato.

CNN has reached out to the Department of Energy for comment.

According to the Nevada National Security Site website, low-level waste generally includes materials such as rags, papers, filters, equipment, discarded protective clothing and construction debris.

The website adds that mixed low-level radioactive waste can contain both hazardous waste and low-level radioactive waste.

"As a result of the presence of the hazardous component, mixed low-level radioactive waste is regulated and managed separately from low-level radioactive waste," the site says.

Mixed low-level waste requires treatment prior to disposal and a more protective disposal method than low-level waste, according to the governor's statement.

While some forms of mixed low-level waste are permitted at Nevada National Security Site, Sisolak says information provided by the Energy Department indicates the unapproved waste shipments from Tennessee violate both site's criteria and potentially federal regulations.

Sisolak said that Energy Department Deputy Secretary Dan Brouilette told him the shipments could also contain "reactive" material

"When we hear the word reactive waste we immediately want to know exactly what's going on," Lovato said.

When waste is reactive it means it is unstable, according to Lovato. It may explode, create toxic fumes, catch fire or otherwise react violently when exposed to water, under normal temperatures or under normal conditions.

"The reactive quality must be removed before going in a landfill," said Lovato. "We need to know what it is, how much of it there is, how it gets activated."

Lovato said the Energy Department has indicated they are not as concerned as they initially were about reactive waste at the site, but they have yet to send records and test results that show it isn't an issue, so until they do Nevada officials are waiting.

"The Governor will be joining with our federal delegation to hold DOE accountable for their actions and be vigilant in ensuring the Department take action to prevent such transgressions from happening again," Sisolak's statement said.