Nevada Executive Branch Agencies
Radiological Health Section 1969-
(formerly, Radiological Health Program c.1958-1969)
Description of Records
In the late 1950s there was growing concern about the hazards of radioactive fallout. This was fueled in Nevada by a fallout scare in Las Vegas after a test on May 28, 1957 at Yucca Flats, Nye County. To provide an "authoritative source" for information on radiation hazards, the Division of Public Engineering of the Department of Health initiated a Radiological Health Program around 1958.
By 1960, one Division employee had received training in Tennessee. However, the Atomic Energy Commission asked Nevada to take over regulation of radiation sources within the state and more resources were needed to develop and apply regulations.
As of June 1, 1960, the Department of Health was reorganized and the Division of Public Engineering was made part of the Bureau of Environmental Health within the Department.
In the summer of 1961, the Program did a voluntary survey of medical and dental X-ray machines around the state. Regulations on the manufacture, use, storage, handling, transportation, and disposal of ionizing radiation producing devices and materials were prepared and adopted by the State Board of Health in January 1962.
The 1961 Legislature provided for the acquisition of land in Nye County to be leased as a disposal site for low level radioactive waste. This site was leased in 1962 to Nuclear Engineering Co. (NECO) of Pleasanton, California, as the operator, with the Department of Health responsible for oversight of the operation. The disposal site, called the Beatty Low-Level Radiation Storage Facility, opened in September 1962 and was the first commercially operated radioactive waste disposal facility to be licensed by the United States Atomic Energy Commission.
The state received five cents per cubic foot of waste buried and the operators had to post a million dollar bond. The site accepted prepackaged wastes and did on-site solidification and packaging of liquid wastes. Also in the early 1960s, the Division of Public Engineering cooperated with the Highway Department's Division of Safety to establish a radiological defense organization for the Nevada Civil Defense Agency. This initiative trained Highway Department and Highway Patrol personnel as radiological monitors.
When the Department of Health became the Division of Health of the Department of Health and Welfare in 1963, the Legislature designated the Division as the state radiation control agency. The Radiological Health Program was now within the Section of Public Health Engineering of the Bureau of Environmental Health of the Division of Health.
In 1964, the Program began collecting representative portions of the meals served at the Nevada State Children's Home to analyze them for fission product residue concentrates. Milk sheds around the state were also sampled on a monthly basis for similar analysis. In July 1965, the Civil Defense Agency assumed full responsibility for the mobile monitors project.
By 1966, "much of the radioactive wastes produced in the western United States" were disposed of at the Beatty burial site. In May 1966 a New York group bought a controlling interest in the operating company. By the middle of 1966, the site had already buried 493,639 cubic feet of waste.
In 1967, the Department of Health and Welfare became the Department of Health, Welfare and Rehabilitation. In 1969, the Program became the Radiological Health Section of the Bureau of Environmental Health, within the Department of Health, Welfare and Rehabilitation.
The 1971 Legislature provided funding for a Radiation Control Program. Regulations respecting radioactive materials, X-ray machines, and particle accelerators were proposed by the Bureau and adopted by the Board of Health on March 2, 1972. A report on the past, present, and future of radiation control in Nevada was submitted with these regulations to the Atomic Energy Commission and approved. This made Nevada an "Agreement State," and the Program took over certain licensing and regulatory functions that had been performed by the Atomic Energy Commission (after 1974, Nuclear Regulatory Commission) including full regulatory authority for the Beatty facility.
In 1973, the legislature established the Department of Human Resources to replace the Department of Health, Welfare and Rehabilitation.
From the 1970s through the 1990s, the parent bureau of the Radiological Health Section carried various names: Consumer Health Protection Services; Regulatory Health Services; Consumer Health Protection; and latterly, Health Protection Services.
Between 1963-the 1980s there were a number of incidents of leaking and broken packages as well as the consignment of unacceptable materials at the Beatty site, resulting in an extension of state inspection procedures, improved site security, and active state involvement at the national level in the regulating the packaging and shipping of potentially dangerous materials. By 1982, the State Board of Health ordered the site closed as a health hazard to the citizens of Nevada. In 1985, federal legislation was passed setting a timetable for removing Nevada from the business of dealing with low-level nuclear waste, but at the same time the Department of Energy placed Yucca Mountain on its list of potential sites for the disposal of high-level waste.
The Beatty site stopped receiving low-level radioactive waste at the end of 1992. The Section oversees the completion of the closure plan by the current licensee, US Ecology, and monitors for radioactivity in groundwater, air, soil, and vegetation. During its years of operation the Beatty site received four million cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste from commercial producers.
The Department of Energy continued to use the Nevada Test Site during the 1990s as a national disposal site for defense low-level radioactive waste. By 1994, DOE had shipped more than eight million cubic feet of defense waste to the site.
In the 1990s, the Section added a Radon Program to promote radon hazard awareness and provide public information.
The 1991 Legislature passed a provision requiring the evaluation and certification of mammography X-ray machines, facilities, and mammographers. The Section formulated regulations which were adopted by the Board of Health in January 1992, effective at the end of the year, to administer a mammography certification program. The Health Division later entered into a contract with the United States Food and Drug Administration under which the Section carries out inspections to ensure compliance with the federal Mammography Quality Standards Act of 1994.
Top: View of Beatty Low-Level Radiation Storage Facility from a distance. 1976. Nevada State Archives, BEATTY-0058
Bottom: Interior of Beatty facility, 1975. Nevada State Archives, BEATTY-0060.