Thousands of tons of nuclear waste could travel through
Erie starting in 2010, pending U.S. Senate approval later
Erie is included on a preliminary map that charts the route
the waste could take on its way to Nevada's
Yucca Mountain, where President Bush wants
to build a central repository for the waste, now stored
at nuclear power plants.
The nuclear waste would travel by train — the Department
of Energy's preferred method— or by
truck. Erie's proximity to Interstate 90 and a major east-west
rail line makes the city an easy choice for transportation
of hazardous materials, said Nick Sleptzoff, director of
the county's Emergency Management Agency.
"Erie County has the second-largest volume of hazardous
materials going through it, next to Philadelphia," Sleptzoff
said. "Is it a concern? You're concerned about all risks."
However, Sleptzoff said, nuclear-waste transportation is
highly regulated, and the nuclear-waste containers, called
casks, are rigorously tested.
DOE spokesman Joe Davis said that in more than 30 years
of transporting nuclear waste by trains and trucks, only
eight accidents have occurred, and none of those involved
the release of any radioactive material.
"We believe that, after 24 years of scientific study and
more that $8 billion spent in finding a repository, (that)
Yucca Mountain, because of its geology, location and isolation,
is a far better place to put nuclear waste than leaving
it scattered in 39 states, including in Pennsylvania," Davis
"In the interest of our national security, our environmental
security, our energy security and our homeland security,
we want to move safely and securely nuclear fuel from where
it's currently stored to Yucca Mountain, where it can be
stored 1,000 feet underground."
Governors would have input on transportation routes through
their states' transportation departments, and no waste would
be moved until the Yucca Mountain site opens in 2010, Davis
Although preliminary routes are sketched out in the DOE's
latest environmental impact statements, nothing has been
set in stone, he added.
Pennsylvania's U.S. senators, Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum,
both support the creation of a repository at Yucca Mountain.
"This is just a vote on whether the government should continue
on a path that leads to Yucca as a final repository," said
Bill Reynolds, Specter's press secretary. After the location
has been approved, various government agencies, including
the DOE, Department
of Transportation, Nuclear
Regulatory Commission and the Environmental
Protection Agency, would have to make sure
the routes were safe, Reynolds said.
"Security has always been a major issue," Reynolds said.
The NRC has the final say on the route.
One public interest group dedicated to informing the public
about the project has created a Web site —- www.mapscience.org
— that Net surfers can use to find out how close they
live or work to the proposed routes.
"We developed the site because we think it's appalling that
three weeks out from a permanent vote on shipping up to
100,000 shipments of deadly nuclear waste, the average citizen
had no idea," said Mike Casey, spokesman for Environmental
"People's right to know has not been respected," he continued.
"No matter what your position is on nuclear power, you still
have to be educated on it."
I-90, a major truck route through the nation, is likely
to be used should the waste come through Erie, Casey said.
Two railroads, CSX
Southern, also operate tracks through the
city that could carry the waste to points west.
"I don't know what the motivation is about," Davis said
of the creation of the Web site. "I would say the Web site
itself, if it's factual and shares all the facts and is
not trying to scare anyone, it may be helpful, but anyone
that signs on needs to know the routes are preliminary."
Should the waste travel through Erie, both the city's and
county's Emergency Management Agency would be notified by
the NRC and given a time frame on it would be coming through,
EMA personnel are trained to handle any accidents, he added.
"Security around those shipments is going to be a lot higher
than it has in the past," he said. "I don't believe it's
the kind of concern that some people would lead us to believe
it should be."
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