Waste Transportation

The transportation of radioactive waste already occurs, but will become frequent on our rails, roads and waterways, should irradiated reactor fuel be moved to interim or permanent dump sites.



Senate Energy & Water Appropriations bill would open high-level radioactive waste parking lot dumps, launch large-scale Mobile Chernobyl program

As reported by the New York Times and The Hill, the Energy & Water Appropriations bill (H.R.2028, the Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2016) passed the U.S. Senate today, by a vote of 90 to 8.

As AP reported: The legislation includes a pilot program to allow storage of nuclear waste at private facilities, such as one proposed in western Texas...

The legislation would fund a pilot program to relocate radioactive waste from shuttered nuclear power plants to a storage site near Midland, Texas. The project would provide a partial solution as lawmakers try to resolve a decades-old dispute over storing nuclear waste at a repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The Yucca site has never opened amid fierce opposition from Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other lawmakers.

(Thus, nuclear power industry lobbyists have prevailed in getting what they want included, while emergency relief for Flint, Michigan amidst its drinking water lead poisoning catastrophe was left out. This, despite the best efforts of Michigan's U.S. Senators, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters (both Democrats), due to a hold placed by U.S. Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Learn more about Flint's cautionary tale vis-a-vis radioactive waste in Beyond Nuclear's article in Counterpunch, "After Flint, Don't Let Them Nuke the Great Lakes Next!")

A blog by Marc Boom, Associate Director of Government Affairs at Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) warned that "Senate Energy and Water Bill [is] Not as Non-Controversial as Claimed."

Boom blogged:

For example, the bill contains a provision that authorizes a new pilot program to allow the Department of Energy to store nuclear waste at private facilities licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. This is an unwise approach to one of the most contentious issues of American politics—nuclear waste—without any of the comprehensive work necessary for a full reform of the nation’s nuclear waste laws. Simply, this provision removes meaningful motivation and impetus for adherence to the long standing principle that the nation’s nuclear waste must be buried in deep geologic repositories, permanently isolated from the human and natural environments. We urge the controversial provision be removed.

In fact, NRDC has led opposition to so-called "centralized" or "consolidated interim storage" un-linked to permament geologic disposal. Way back in 2012 and 2013, NRDC's senior nuclear attorney, Geoff Fettus, testified at U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources (ENR) Committee hearings on radioactive waste management, about the importance of maintaining that linkage, lest "centralized interim storage" become de facto permanent surface storage, or parking lot dumps.

The ENR Committee Chairman in 2012, Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), got it. De-linking "centralized interim storage" and permanent disposal did not happen on his watch. The risks of "centralized interim storage" becoming de facto permanent parking lot dumps, for lack of a permanent repository, was too great. New Mexico being targeted for so-called "centralized interim storage" -- at Eddy-Lea Counties, in the extreme southeastern corner of the state, near the DOE's Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) -- made that risk all too real to allow to happen.

Alas, such wisdom is not prevailing in the U.S. Senate now, as pro-nuclear U.S. Senators seek to do the bidding of the nuclear power industry's lobbyists.

The Senate version of H.R.2028 is posted online.

Here is the relevant legislative language, related to "consent-based centralized interim storage," extracted from the bill (Section 306).

Also see an overview of the bill's current status.

A congressional summary, posted online, describes Section 306 thus:

(Sec. 306) Authorizes DOE to conduct a pilot program with private sector partners to license, construct, and operate one or more storage facilities to provide interim storage for spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste. Permits the Nuclear Waste Fund to be used for this purpose, subject to appropriations.

That same summary describes Section 311 this way:

(Sec. 311) Permits DOD [sic, should read DOE] to: (1) enter into contracts to store spent nuclear fuel and high-level radioactive waste to which DOE holds the title or has a contract to accept title, and (2) enter into new contracts or modify existing contracts to accept title for high-level radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel.

Regarding funding for "centralized interim storage," the bill reads:

Nuclear Energy

For Department of Energy expenses including the purchase, construction, and acquisition of plant and capital equipment, and other expenses necessary for nuclear energy activities in carrying out the purposes of the Department of Energy Organization Act (42 U.S.C. 7101 et seq.), including the acquisition or condemnation of any real property or any facility or for plant or facility acquisition, construction, or expansion, and the purchase of no more than three emergency service vehicles for replacement only, $1,057,903,000, to remain available until expended: Provided, That of such amount, the Secretary of Energy may obligate up to $10,000,000 under existing authorities, for contracting for the management of used nuclear fuel to which the Secretary holds the title or has a contract to accept title: Provided further, That of such amount, $80,000,000 shall be available until September 30, 2018, for program direction. (emphasis added)

DOE has "standard contracts" to "accept title" to all commercial irradiated nuclear fuel in the U.S. (Incredibly, this includes for the high-level radioactive waste at proposed new reactors, such as Vogtle 3 & 4 in GA, and Summer 2 & 3 in SC, if their increasingly behind schedule and over budget construction projects should ever be completed, and the reactors ever actually operate. Between Election Day 2008 and Inauguration Day 2009 (early Nov. 2008 to mid-Jan. 2009), as the Obama administration was entering office, the George W. Bush DOE hastily -- even sloppily -- signed "standard contracts" with nuclear utilities to take ultimate responsibility for irradiated nuclear fuel to be generated by a large number of proposed new reactors. Most of these proposed new reactors, thankfully, have since been cancelled, so hopefully will never be built, and never generate high-level radioactive waste.)

But in U.S. Senate Energy & Water Development Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Lamar Alexander's (R-TN) Report accompanying H.R. 2028, different funding levels are cited:

The Committee recommends $30,000,000 for used nuclear fuel disposition to implement sections 306 and 311. Within this amount, funds are provided for financial and technical assistance associated with a consent-based siting process, including education, technical analyses, and other support to entities considering hosting an interim storage facility; and for incentive payments to entities with signed agreements with eligible jurisdictions. (emphasis added)

(See Pages 80-81 of the PDF version of the Report posted online.)

This Senate-passed version of the Energy & Water Appropriations bill now goes to a conference committee with the U.S. House, in order to try to reach a reconciled version. That final bill -- which could be different in significant ways from both the current Senate and House versions -- would then return to each House of Congress for final passage, and then would become law with President Obama's signature.

A most interesting impasse regarding radioactive waste, between the House and Senate, is the demand by U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), and U.S. House Environment and the Economy Subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL), that any radioactive waste management program include the Yucca Mountain, Nevada dump.

But Senate Democratic Leader, Harry Reid from Nevada, is adamantly opposed. Reid has led opposition to the Yucca dump since the 1987 "Screw Nevada" bill targeted his state in the first place. In 2010, Reid helped secure the Obama administration's cancellation of the Yucca Mountain Project. Reid has also played the lead role in slashing, or entirely zeroing out, Yucca's budget, for well over a decade, ever since attaining his position as Democratic Leader in the U.S. Senate.

Upton and Shimkus have pledged not to support parking lot dumps, unless the Yucca dump is included. Reid will oppose the Yucca dump with all his might. (See Follow Up posted below -- a May 24th blog by NRDC, re: Upton and Shimkus's attempt to keep the Yucca dump on life support.)

Whether the Yucca dump is opened, or one or more regional parking lot dumps (as at Waste Control Specialists, LLC in Andrews County, Texas; Eddy-Lea Counties, near WIPP in New Mexico; other DOE sites, such as Savannah River Site, South Carolina; Native American reservations, yet to be named; or even nuclear power plants, such as Dresden in Morris, Illinois), it would launch unprecedented numbers of shipments of high-level radioactive waste onto the roads, rails, and/or waterways: Mobile Chernobyls, Floating Fukushimas, Dirty Bombs on Wheels.

You can learn more about high-level radioactive waste transporation risks at the following sources:

NIRS Stop Fukushima Freeways! website section;

NIRS Mobile Chernobyl website section;

State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects Nuclear Waste Transportation website section;

Beyond Nuclear Radioactive Waste Transporation website section.

What You Can Do:

Please take action. Urge your U.S. Representative, and your two U.S. Senators, to block the opening of the Yucca dump, of one or more parking lot dumps, and the consequent launching of Mobile Chernobyls. (Most Members of Congress have Webforms on their Websites, where you can submit written comments. Most Member offices also provide FAX numbers. You can also write letters at the addresses providedn at those Websites, and/or call your Members of Congress, via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard, at (202) 224-3121.) Also contact President Obama, and urge the same.


D.C. hazardous materials spill raises specter of mixing high-level radioactive waste with flammables/explosives on very same railway

CSX train derailment, showing Capitol Dome in the backgroundAs reported by Patrick Madden on WAMU, Washington, D.C.'s non-voting U.S. Representative, Eleanor Holmes Norton, has vowed to continue her fight to ban shipments of flammable and explosive materials from passing through the nation's capital on the CSX railway.

This comes after the Sunday, May 1st CSX train derailment, immediately adjacent to the Rhode Island Metro Station on the Red Line in Northeast D.C., involving the release of hazardous materials, as well as flammable ethanol (see photo, left).

And, as revealed in the U.S. Department of Energy's Feb. 2002 Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the proposed high-level radioactive waste dump at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, irradiated nuclear fuel from the Calvert Cliffs, Maryland nuclear power plant, and/or the North Anna, Virginia nuclear power plant, could travel the CSX railway along the very line where the recent derailment happened. (Figure J-37, Highway and rail routes used to analyze transportation impacts - Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia, Page J-151).

The nuclear power industry and its friends in government agencies such as DOE, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the U.S. Department of Transportation often downplay the risks of high-level radioactive waste shipments. They point out that there are already many hazardous materials in transit, such as gasoline, that most people seem to find acceptable.

Of course, Rep. Norton, and many residents of the District, are not okay with hazardous, flammable, and explosive materials passing so close to the residences of large numbers of people.

And what the nuclear apologists never acknowledge is that high-level radioactive waste would be added to those other hazardous, flammable, and explosive materials on the move. A long duration, high temperature fire could be all it takes to break open an irradiated nuclear fuel shipment.

Photo of black smoke billowing out of the Howard Street Tunnel, with downtown Baltimore visible in the background. July 2001. Given the long duration and high temperature of the fire, if high-level radioactive waste had been on board, its shipping container would have likely breached, and its hazardous radioactive contents released. Large numbers of latent cancer fatalities would have resulted downwind, especially over time.As Dr. Marvin Resnikoff of Radioactive Waste Management Associates reported after a real world train tunnel fire beneath downtown Baltimore in 2001 (see photo, left), if high-level radioactive waste had been aboard that train, its shipping container likely would have breached open, releasing some amount of its radioactively hazardous contents. Dr. Resnikoff calculated that the acute dose from the escaping radioactivity would have resulted in dozens to scores of latent cancer fatalities. If residents of Baltimore continued to live in contaminated areas for a year, more than 1,400 people could die from latent cancer as a result. Exposures over a 50-year period could kill more than 30,000 from resulting cancers. (See Table 1: Results: Evaluation of Baltimore Tunnel Fire with Hypothetical Spent Fuel Cask, Page 13.)

The Howard Street Tunnel had been targeted by DOE for Calvert Cliffs nuclear power plant irradiated nuclear fuel shipments, under its Yucca dump proposal. However, when the Yucca FEIS was published about six months after the Howard Street Tunnel train fire, DOE had gone out of its way to avoid planning irradiated nuclear fuel shipments, by train, through that tunnel. Instead, DOE proposed to barge the containers on the Chesapeake Bay, and then to offload the containers onto trains, not far beyond downtown, at the Port of Baltimore. This proposal carries its own risks.


Beyond Nuclear interviewed on RT re: Obama's "Nuclear Security Summit"

RT has interviewed Beyond Nuclear's Radioactive Waste Watchdog, Kevin Kamps, about the March 31-April 1 so-called "Nuclear Security Summit" convened by President Obama. Kevin discusses what is not being discussed, for the most part: both global nuclear weapons abolition, and nuclear power security risks. He also discusses the senseless shipment of weapons-usable plutonium from Japan to the U.S. on the high seas, and the unprecedented, highly risky shipment on the highways of liquid high-level radioactive waste (containing weapons-usable highly enriched uranium) from Canada to the U.S.


DOE undertaking logistical planning for shipment of "stranded" or "orphaned" high-level radioactive waste away from decommissioned nuclear power plants to de facto permanent parking lot dumps

The U.S. Department of Energy is pushing the envelope of its legal authority, and undertaking detailed logistical planning for the shipment of irradiated nuclear fuel from shutdown commercial atomic reactors.

The resultant study is entitled:

"Preliminary Evaluation of Removing Used Nuclear Fuel from Shutdown Sites," Fuel Cycle Research & Development, Prepared for U.S. Department of Energy, Nuclear Fuels Storage and Transportation Planning Project, Steven J. Maheras (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory), et al., October 1, 2014, FCRD- NFST-2014-000091 Rev. 1, PNNL-22676 Rev. 4.

It is posted online at:

The primary author, Steven J. Maheras, attended the Jan. 20, 2016 DOE "Consent-Based Siting" public meeting in Washington, DC, for opening de facto permanent parking lot dumps, as well as permament burial dumps. [Maheras also attended a meeting of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (on high-burnup fuel, including its transport), held in Knoxville, TN on February 17, 2016, as well as the DOE "Consent-Based Siting" meeting in Chicago on March 27, 2016.]

This report contains significant detail about transport logistics for "stranded" or "orphaned" waste. DOE and the nuclear power industry have used the excuse of "stranded" or "orphaned" irradiated nuclear fuel, at permanently shutdown and even entirely dismantled nuclear power plant sites, as a primary driver for launching Mobile Chernobyls, Floating Fukushimas, and Dirty Bombs on Wheels on the roads, rails, and waterways. The supposed justification for rushing into nonsensical "centralized interim storage" is to free up those decommissioned nuclear power plant sites for "unrestricted re-use." This emphasis on returning the sites to productive use ignores the residual hazardous radioactive contamination still present in soil, groundwater, fauna and flora, even after astronomically expensive decommissioning and "clean up" has been declared complete.


Beyond Nuclear joins in launch of "Stop Fukushima Freeways!" campaign

Map of road and rail routes targeted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for shipping high-level radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain, Nevada for disposal. The map, prepared by Dr. Fred Dilger, is based on 2008 DOE Yucca Mountain Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement route maps.Beyond Nuclear joined with Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and grassroots allies across the country to launch the "Stop Fukushima Freeways!" campaign, to prevent risky shipments of high-level radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain, Nevada or parking lot dumps (centralized or consolidated interim storage).

The launch included the release of detailed maps, prepared by State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects consultant, Dr. Fred Dilger. The maps show not only the routes that high-level radioactive waste truck and train casks would travel through 46 states and the District of Columbia, but also how many casks would be shipped, and how concentrated the populations are along those routes. A national map, as well as state by state maps (listed in alphabetical order), have been published.

Beyond Nuclear sent out a national press release, and also joined in on a grassroots press release in Michigan, where it is actively watchdogging such atomic reactors as Palisades and Fermi Unit 2.

As he did on national tele-briefing a couple weeks ago, that helped launch the campaign, Beyond Nuclear's Radioactive Waste Watchdog, Kevin Kamps, continues to highlight the risks of lesser known barge shipments of high-level radioactive waste on surface waters, and the "Floating Fukushima" risks they represent:

Surface waters documented by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as potential shipping routes for barges of high-level radioactive waste include: Chesapeake Bay; James River of Virginia; Delaware Bay; New Jersey’s Atlantic coast; Hudson River of New York; Long Island Sound; Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts Bay, and Boston Harbor; Lake Michigan; Mississippi River; Tennessee River; Missouri River; California’s Pacific Coast; and Florida’s Atlantic Coast.

NIRS has posted these barge route maps (see them listed under the date Sept. 28, 2004).

NIRS has posted a "Stop Fukushima Freeways!" campaign page, with links to numerous supporting materials and resources.

The State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects has posted Dr. Dilger's maps and other documents, as well as those of Agency Director Robert Halstead and others, at its nuclear waste transportation website section.