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Radioactive shipments may pass through city
Senate to begin debate on site, transit options

By ANN McFEATTERS
Toledo Blade
06/11/2002


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 Ohio Turnpike.

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 route.

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 through 2001.

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 irresponsible.íí

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 fact.íí

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 Yucca Mountain.

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 release.

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 for now.
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