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Great Lakes Article:

Erie on path of nuclear waste


By ERICA ERWIN
Erie Times
06/12/2002


Thousands of tons of nuclear waste could travel through Erie starting in 2010, pending U.S. Senate approval later this month.

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 said.

"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 said.

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 Working Group.

"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 and Norfolk 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, Sleptzoff said.

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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