WASHINGTON - If the Senate votes this month to approve a
site in Nevada for the storage of radioactive waste from
nuclear power plants, the waste would be transported through
hundreds of congested population centers, including Toledo.
With the Senate debate about to get under way, proponents
and opponents of using Yucca Mountain as a radioactive storage
bin are debating the possible hazards of transporting such
waste across the country.
The House approved the site 306-117 in May.
The Department of Energy has done a 5,000-page environmental
impact statement for proposed routes and modes of transportation.
If trucks are chosen, there would be 100,000 truckloads
of radioactive waste transported through 44 states over
36 years until Yucca Mountain filled up. If trains are used,
there would be 20,000 trainloads. More than 200 million
Americans live in the 700 counties with potential routes.
The number of people in Ohio living within a mile of a nuclear
transportation route is 2,021,664.
If waste is transported by rail - the Department of Energyís
preferred method - the most likely scenario would be through
downtown Toledo within a mile of many businesses and thousands
of residents, according to DOE information.
If trucks are used, spent waste from the Davis-Besse nuclear
plant, 22 miles from Toledo, would be driven west on the
The Environmental Working Group, which conducts research
on health and the environment, used the DOE impact statement
and U.S. Census Bureau data to claim that throughout Ohio,
47 hospitals and 1,117 schools are within one mile of the
If highways are used to transport radioactive waste, Ohio
could expect to have 22,539 truck shipments of nuclear waste
- 94 percent from outside Ohio - until Yucca Mountain is
filled. If rail is used, Ohio could expect 4,093 train shipments
- 95 percent from outside Ohio.
There were 1,087 fatal tractor-trailer accidents from 1994
to 2000 in the state and 3,720 train accidents from 1990
Backers hope Yucca Mountain will be licensed and ready to
receive waste in 2010. It would take about 36 years to fill
its storage caverns.
Eager to prolong the debate past the June 26 date when the
Senate could vote, scientists who work with environmental
groups contracted with several private mapping firms to
show Americans how close they are to potential transportation
routes. As of today, Americans will be able to go a Web
site at www.mapscience.org
and type in their address and ZIP Code to find
out how close the nearest proposed route is.
According to the Department of Energy, a national average
of 66 truck accidents and 10 rail accidents over the first
24 years of transporting nuclear fuels to Nevada could be
expected. But the process of developing specific transportation
plans with state input is just beginning.
Hoping to win backers for their position that Nevada should
not be used, Nevada officials are trying to sound alarm
bells in other states about such transportation problems.
They raise the specter of possible terrorist attack, or
derailed trains, or overturned tractor-trailers that might
puncture casks, releasing radioactivity and causing thousands
of cancer deaths.
President Bush designated Yucca Mountain as the nationís
main nuclear waste repository and began the process of seeking
a federal license for it. Nevada objected under the 1982
Nuclear Waste Policy Act. Nevadaís veto can be overridden
only by a majority vote in each house, leaving the matter
up to the Senate because the House has approved the project.
Jim Hall, who headed the National Transportation Safety
Board for seven years until last year and now is a transportation
consultant, said after reading the 21/2-foot-tall environmental
impact statement that he was "shocked" to find that "there
isnít a plan in place to deal with transportation of nuclear
waste to Nevada. In my experience with government, and in
the post 9/11 world, Iím very concerned. Itís reckless and
Mr. Hall said while he is pro-nuclear power and has no position
on whether Yucca Mountain is a good site, he is worried
that it is difficult for government bureaucracies to change
directions to respond to new safety concerns if they have
not been taken into consideration from the start.
"Everybodyís playing this as Nevadaís problem,íí he said.
"But whatís been under the radar is that people in 44 states
are potentially affected by the mixed-use plan of trucks,
train, and barges to transport this waste. And after 9/11,
Americans have a right to know about this, and government
does not have a good track record of performing before the
Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group,
argues that the debate so far has failed to take into account
that at the end of 2046, when Yucca Mountain presumably
would be filled, nuclear power plants would have produced
42,400 more metric tons of radioactive waste compared with
43,500 tons now. That would be enough to fill up a second
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham acknowledged as much last
month, prompting anger in Nevada, which said this shows
the administrationís argument that Yucca is needed to keep
all spent fuel in one place is faulty. The not-in-my-back-yard
argument has been a key reason for much of the bipartisan
support for shipping waste to Nevada.
The Nuclear Energy Institute regards the debate over transportation
as alarmist. One argument of supporters is that for decades
spent nuclear fuel and weapons-grade material have been
shipped around the country without any harmful radiation
The House vote, said NEI President Joe Colvin, was "a clear
bipartisan signal" to the Senate that good science backs
the safety of shipping spent nuclear waste to Nevada.
Mr. Colvin said the industry is hoping for a quick decision
in the Senate. Other supporters note that $8 billion has
been spent to turn Yucca Mountain, near Las Vegas, into
the central nuclear waste repository. Opponents of acting
quickly argue that there is no nuclear power plant facing
an immediate crisis on what to do with spent fuel.
Of all the thousands of tons of nuclear waste spread across
the country, more than a quarter of it is in Ohio, Pennsylvania,
and the Northeast - so much that the Energy Department has
projected that an average of nine truckloads a week could
be going through northwest Ohio for nearly 40 years.
FirstEnergy Corp.ís Davis-Besse nuclear plant in Ottawa
County, which began operating 25 years ago, spent $5 million
in 1996 to load three outdoor storage vaults with waste
it had no room left to store indoors. Detroit Edison Co.ís
Fermi II nuclear plant in Monroe County, which is eight
years younger than Davis-Besse, has adequate storage capacity
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