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Thursday
Feb282013

Hanford's radioactive leaks should not be exploited to enact commercial Mobile Chernobyl legislation 

Hanford tanks under constructionIn 2002, George W. Bush's Energy Secretary, Spence Abraham, shamelessly exploited the 9/11 terrorist attacks in order to push the nuclear power industry's agenda -- ironically rushing the huge security risk of road, rail, and barge shipments of high-level radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain, Nevada for permanent burial. He argued before a congressional hearing panel that permanently closed atomic reactors, such as Big Rock Point in Michigan, needed to move their irradiated nuclear fuel to a single, consolidated storage site -- Yucca Mountain -- as soon as possible, as a homeland security priority. They didn't get away with it -- the Obama administration has wisely canceled the Yucca Mountain dump proposal.

However, the nuclear power industry, and its friends in government, are now pushing "centralized interim storage" -- moving commercial irradiated nuclear fuel to "parking lot dumps" at places like Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, NM; Savannah River Site, SC; Native American reservations; or nuclear power plants, like Dresden in IL.

Once again, permanently closed nuclear power plants, including Big Rock Point in Michigan, are being used, in an attempt to justify an expedicted "pilot" centralized interim storage facility. This time, Obama's resigning Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, and U.S. Senators such as Lamar Alexander (R-TN, Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA, Chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK, Ranking Member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee), are leading the charge. They argue that permanently closed nuclear power plants need to be able to move their high-level radioactive wastes, in storage in dry casks, so these parcels of land can be released for "un-restricted re-use." This argument ignores the significant radioactive contamination of soil, groundwater, flora, fauna, and surface water sediments at these sites, despite decommissioning efforts costing hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars. Big Rock Point itself has lingering plutonium, and other radioactive, contamination, calling into very serious question the site's "un-restricted re-use" for residential development, a state park, or anything else.

These supposedly "interim" facilities could easily become de facto permanent surface storage sites, if a deep geologic repository is never opened. The now thankfully canceled Private Fuel Storage, Limited Liability Corporation (PFS LLC) parking lot dump targeted at the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians Reservation in Utah is a cautionary tale in this regard. If scores of rail-sized containers of Maine Yankee wastes had been moved to PFS, when the Yucca dump was canceled, they would have had to be "returned to sender" in Maine -- 4,000 miles of round trip risks through many states, which would have accomplished absolutely nothing.

Even if a deep geologic repository is opened someday, the centralized interim storage wastes would have to be moved, yet again, unnecessarily multiplying transport risks. If the repository is located back in the direction from which the wastes came in the first place, this would also represent needless round trip transport risks. In a recent letter to the editor to the Washington Post, Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps warned about the risks of playing a radioactive waste shell game like this on our nation's roads, rails, and waterways.

There is the political danger, as Spence Abraham did in the aftermath of 9/11, that the recently announced high-level radioactive waste leaks from six Hanford Nuclear Reservation underground storage tanks in Washington State -- posing a severe risk to the nearby Columbia River -- could be twisted, in an attempt to create public panic, in order to rush the enactment of centralized interim storage legislation.

However, as Beyond Nuclear has warned in an action alert, Hanford's leaking wastes must be stabilized on-site as a top priority. As Washington State Governor Jay Inslee has called for, leaking tanks must transer their wastes into brand new, state of the art storage tanks, as soon as possible. And the liquid and sludge high-level radioactive wastes must be solidified (vitrified) into glass logs, to maximize the wastes' stability over the longer term. Vitrified glass logs, encased in steel canisters, would be the form in which the high-level radioactive wastes would be someday transported away from Hanford, to a deep geologic repository, where they would be permanently buried.

Just as Hanford's military high-level radioactive wastes must be stabilized first, before transport away, so too must commercial irradiated nuclear fuel, stored on-site at reactors, be safeguarded and secured, as soon as possible. For more than a decade, hundreds of environmental groups have called for Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS). HOSS calls for the emptying of extremely vulnerable storage pools, and the design and fabrication of quality dry casks that are safeguarded against accidents, fortified against attacks, and built to last for centuries without leakage of high-level radioactive waste into the living environment.

Beyond Nuclear's Paul Gunter is currently on a speaking tour of the Pacific Northwest. He will visit the Columbia Generating Station (CGS) located immediately adjacent to the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, as part of Beyond Nuclear's "Freeze Our Fukushimas" campaign. CGS is a General Electric Mark II Boiling Water Reactor, similar in design to the Mark Is which melted down, exploded, and have released catastrophic amounts of hazardous radioactivity at Fukushima Daiichi, Japan.

Paul will also speak as a panelist at the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Eugene, Oregon this weekend. Hanford's recently revealed radioactive leaks will be a hot topic of conversation, for sure!

Please urge your U.S. Senators and Representative to block centralized interim storage legislation, which would launch unprecedented numbers of potential Mobile Chernobyls onto the roads, rails, and waterways. You can phone your Members of Congress via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121, or write them a letter, send them a fax, or email them by finding their contact information at their websites. The most effective way to influence your Members of Congress is to meet with them (or their staff) face to face. Consider coming to ANA's DC Days April 14-17, or arrange a meeting with your Members of Congress's district office nearest you!

As but the latest sign that Mobile Chernobyl's engines are revving on Capitol Hill, U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) told reporters yesterday that centralized interim storage nuclear waste legislation will be drafted in the near future. Sen. Wyden toured Hanford on Feb. 19th in the aftermath of the leaks being revealed, and ordered a Government Accountability Office investigation of matters at Hanford. Sen. Wyden also donned a radiation protection suit in April 2012 and toured the devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan. Upon his return to Capitol Hill, he called on the full resources of the U.S. government to be deployed to Japan to prevent an even greater catastrophe from unfolding at Fukushima Daiichi's Unit 4 high-level radioactive waste storage pool, at risk of a cooling water drain down and irradiated nuclear fuel fire.