Groups cry foul over possible nuke-waste routes

Groups cry foul over possible nuke-waste routes

A long line of locomotives sits idle on a set of railroad tracks in Grand Junction. Opponents of storing spent nuclear fuel in Nevada released a map this week that shows what the Nuclear Information and Resource Service — an anti-nuclear energy group — called “Fukushima Freeways,” or routes that would be used to deliver spent fuel to Yucca Mountain. Much of the fuel could be shipped by road or by rail on its way to the site, an idea that has generated strong opposition due to the number of people along the routes who could be affected in case of disaster.



Much of the nation’s spent nuclear fuel used to generate electricity might go through Grand Junction by road or by rail on its way to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, according to Nevada consultants hoping to fend off efforts to reconsider using the site.

Opponents of storing spent nuclear fuel in Nevada released a map this week that shows what the Nuclear Information and Resource Service — an anti-nuclear energy group — called “Fukushima Freeways,” or routes that would be used to deliver spent fuel to Yucca Mountain.

Those roads and rail lines run through urban areas with as many as 14 million people living and working within the “radiological region of influence,” said Marvin Resnikoff of Radioactive Waste Management Associates, a consultant working with the state of Nevada, which has opposed storing radioactive waste in Yucca Mountain. Resnikoff spoke to reporters in a teleconference.

Transportation is inevitably one of the first problems opponents of nuclear energy throw up to halt development, said David Blee, executive director of U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council, an industry organization.

“These are old arguments,” Blee said. “They’re dusting off the playbook and reviving myths that didn’t resonate the first time.”

Similar concerns were raised in 2002 — the shipments then were called “Mobile Chernobyls,” Blee noted — and yet energy legislation that included nuclear power passed the House with 305 votes and the Senate with 60.

Since then, the Yucca Mountain project has seen setbacks, but there are efforts to revive it, said Resnikoff and Fred Dilger, also a consultant to the state of Nevada, who constructed the transportation maps using information supplied by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Dilger’s maps, he said, are “representative routes.”

The Department of Energy has refused to release any routes it might have in mind, Dilger said.

Shipments of spent nuclear fuel would be subject to accidents and sabotage and the casks containing the spent fuel encased in concrete could be pierced by advanced weaponry or by aircraft, Dilger said.

Worse, said Tim Judson, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, the dangers posed by an accident involving spent fuel are something “first responders are completely unprepared for.”

Most, about 9,500, of the approximately 12,000 shipments of spent fuel would be transported by rail, and the rest by highway or other forms of transportation, Judson said.

“Because of the sheer volume, it’s guaranteed that there will be accidents,” Judson said.

Such fears amount to a “non-issue,” countered Blee, who said the casks containing radioactive pellets are robust and able to withstand significant damage.

In any case, the National Academy of Sciences, including Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz,  has looked at the transportation issues and found “no major impediment” to shipping the wastes, Blee said, noting that there already have been “several thousand shipments already around the world that are currently earmarked for any U.S. repository.”


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