Re: Radioactive Waste Transport Container Regulatory Revisions: Sample Talking Points You Can Use to Write Your Own Public Comments, and How to Submit Them to NRC by Jan. 20 Deadline
Sample Talking Points You Can Use to Write Your Own Public Comments:
Use one or more of the following sample talking points to prepare your own public comments to NRC. (See instructions below re: HOW to submit your comments by Jan. 20.) [And see more info. about NRC's public comment proceeding.]
1. Any changes to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission's (NRC) and U.S. Department of Transportation's (DOT) regulations, to "harmonize" them (make them compatible) with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regulations and standards, should be in the direction of better protecting worker and public health, safety, and the environment ("better" in the clear sense of protecting people and the planet, not in the Nukespeak sense of saving the industry money in order to boost its profits!). That is, if IAEA's regulations and standards are stronger (allowing less exposure to hazardous ionizing radioactivity, to people and other living things), those should become NRC's/DOT's. But if NRC's/DOT's happen to be stronger, then those should remain -- and NRC/DOT should urge IAEA to strengthen its standards. In fact, if there are regulations in a certain country that are stronger/better than IAEA's and/or NRC's/DOT's, then those best-practices should be used to strengthen IAEA's and/or NRC's/DOT's regulations. The point is, the regulations -- at NRC/DOT in the U.S., at IAEA internationally, etc. -- should be strengthened to the highest standards and best-practices, not weakened to the lowest common denominator.
2. NRC's sign off on the U.S. Department of Energy's scheme to truck highly radioactive liquid waste more than 1,000 miles from Chalk River, Ontario, Canada to Savannah River Site, South Carolina, U.S.A., shows that there is something seriously wrong with NRC's high-level radioactive waste transportation regulations. Beyond Nuclear and environmental coalition allies in the U.S. and Canada continue to challenge these high-risk shipments. Such liquid shipments are unprecedented in North American history. Faulty welding involving equipment manufactured by Nuclear Assurance Corporation (NAC) at Chalk River, calls into serious question the quality assurance and structural integrity of the jury-rigged shipping containers for the liquid shipments provided by NAC, and rubber-stamped as acceptable by NRC. Waste handling failures by DOE at SRS itself further calls into question the safety of NRC's sign off on the highly radioactive liquid waste shipping scheme. (See additional posts at Beyond Nuclear's Nuclear Waste Transportation website section, from spring 2013 to the present.)
3. Quality assurance (QA) violations with the design and manufacture of irradiated nuclear fuel transportation containers call into question their structural integrity, and thus their safety in the event of extreme "accidents" (decision makers know a certain number of disasters -- from high-temperature/long-duration fires, to high-speed crashes into unyielding surfaces, to long-duration/deep-underwater submersions, etc. -- are likely, but have decided to go forward with such risks regardless, as "permissible" or "acceptable," so the common understanding of the word "accident" doesn't really apply; these are gambles, rolls of the dice, calculated risk-taking), and even extreme terrorist attacks (as with sophisticated or powerful explosives, such as shaped charges or anti-tank missiles).
Containers that are designed and built in compliance are also vulnerable to failure and release of hazardous ionizing radioactivity in significant amounts during "accidents" and attacks (because NRC's and IAEA's regulations are so "permissively" weak), but containers that violate QA are even more likely to fail catastrophically.
The public is indebted to whistle-blowers Oscar Shirani from Commonweath Edison/Exelon in Chicago, Illinois, as well as Dr. Ross Landsman, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) cask inspector for the Midwest Region (Region III). Shirani and Landsman blew the whistle on QA violations with the Holtec cask, certified by NRC for transporting irradiated nuclear fuel. See <http://www.beyondnuclear.org/waste-transportation/2004/7/22/summary-of-oscar-shiranis-allegations-of-quality-assurance-v.html>, for a "Summary of Oscar Shirani's Allegations of Quality Assurance Violations Against Holtec Storage/Transport Casks."
Given that Holtecs are used not only for storage on-site at dozens of U.S. atomic reactors, but are also certified by NRC for transport, this shows that something is seriously wrong with NRC's regulations and/or enforcement. But given that Holtecs are also used in other countries, such as Spain and Ukraine, this shows that there is also something seriously wrong with IAEA's regulations and/or enforcement, internationally.
Although the summary cited above was written in 2004, and the whistle-blowers' revelations date back to the year 2000, there is no indication that either Holtec or NRC has ever rectified the QA violations, right up to the present day. And Holtec is likely not the only transportable cask with QA problems, given NRC's obviously broken enforcement mechanisms and/or inadequate regulations. QA problems with storage-only cask systems over the decades, such as the VSC-24 (Ventilated Storage Cask, for holding 24 PWR assemblies, a license now owned by EnergySolutions of Utah), provide even more evidence that "something is rotten in Denmark" -- NRC is either incompetent when it comes to QA regulation and enforcement, or else complicit with industry to simply sidestep NRC regulations. In either case, these QA violations related to the design and manufacture of irradiated nuclear fuel shipping containers are putting the public along shipping routes at significant risk of catastrophic releases of hazardous radioactivity into their environment, in the event of "accidents" or attacks.
Even routine ("accident-free") shipments of irradiated nuclear fuel could be implicated, given QA violations. Ironically enough, Shirani was earlier praised by Holtec for discovering and revealing a QA violation regarding neutron radiation shielding on Holtec containers. Holtec then did the right thing, that time anyway -- fixed the QA violation to meet applicable NRC regulations, as Shirani verified in his QA inspector role for Commonwealth Edison/Exelon. Faulty neutron shielding could result in significant exposure to hazardous ionizing radioactivity, to nuclear waste transport workers (truck drivers, locomotive engineers, barge crew, inspectors, etc.), other workers (toll booth attendants, gas station attendants, rest area attendants, port authorities, customs officials, etc.), and unwitting, innocent, passerby members of the public.
Given that these shipments are like mobile X-ray machines that cannot be turned off, the same would be true regarding QA violations decreasing the effectiveness of gamma radiation shielding; QA violations diminishing containers' cargo isolation robustness could lead to the release of various kinds of hazardous ionizing radioactivity into the environment; etc.
4. Please note, regarding Shirani's QA whistle-blowing above, it was fully supported and backed up by Dr. Ross Landsman, NRC Region III cask inspector. See: <https://web.archive.org/web/20160331064027/http://www.nirs.org/radwaste/atreactorstorage/nrc_holtec.pdf>, for Dr. Landsman's memo to his superiors expressing his full support for Shirani’s QA allegations (the handwritten notes are by Shirani, and mention the devious manner in which Exelon Nuclear orchestrated his firing, and then defended itself against his wrongful termination lawsuit).
5. Whether due to incompetence or complicity, NRC and IAEA inability or unwillingness to ensure adequate QA compliance is a very serious matter. If the latter, it evokes the warning issued by the Japanese Parliament in 2012, that collusion between safety regulatory agencies, the nuclear power industry, and elected officials can lead to nuclear catastrophe. This was the very conclusion the Japanese Parliament made, after the first indepenedent investigation in its history, as to the root cause of the Fukushima nuclear catatrophe: collusion. This lesson should be learned from Fukushima, and applied to radioactive waste transporation, so no disasters due to such collusion ever take place, in the U.S. or anywhere in the world.
6. Regarding barge shipments of irradiated nuclear fuel on surface waters in the U.S., many such surface waters have been so targeted as routes. From the Feb. 2002 DOE Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed radioactive waste dump targeted at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, we learned that the following surface waters across the U.S. were under consideration for such barge shipments: Maryland's Chesapeake Bay; Virginia's James River; Delaware's Delaware Bay; surface waters surrounding New York City, in New Jersey, New York State, and Connecticut, including the Hudson River, the Connecticut River, and Long Island Sound; Massachusetts's Cape Cod Bay, Massachusetts Bay, and Boston Harbor; Lake Michigan, bordered by Illinois, Michigan, and Wisconsin; the Mississippi River through Louisiana and Mississippi; the Tennessee River through Tennessee and Alabama; the Missouri River through Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri; the Pacific Ocean along the California coast; and Florida's Atlantic Ocean coastline.
But shipments to a so-called centralized interim storage site (or de facto permanent parking lot dump) could likewise require barge shipments on surface waters, at the 26 reactors across the U.S. that lack direct rail access. DOE has indicated it prefers mostly rail shipments. But the only alternative to barges would be heavy-haul trucks, which raise their own sets of complications and risks.
"Accidents" happen, when such gambles, or calculated risks, are undertaken. But what if high-level radioactive waste is involved? U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) design criteria for atomic waste transport containers are woefully inadequate. Rather than full-scale physical safety testing, scale model tests and computer simulations are all that is required. The underwater immersion design criteria are meant to “test” (on paper, at least) the integrity of a slightly damaged container submerged under 3 feet of water for 8 hours. An undamaged cask is “tested” (on computers, at least) for a 1 hour submersion under 656 feet of water.
But if a cask were accidentally immersed under water, or sunk by terrorists, is it reasonable for NRC to assume that the cask would only be slightly damaged, or not damaged at all? Given that barge casks could weigh well over 100 tons (even up to 140 tons), how can NRC assume that they could be recovered from underwater within 1 hour, or even within 8 hours? Special cranes capable of lifting such heavy loads would have to be located, brought in, and set up. And what about the fact that Lake Michigan is deeper than 656 feet at locations not far from DOE’s proposed barge shipment routes? Oceanic barge shipments also raise the specter of such deep-water sinkings.
The dangers of nuclear waste cask submersion underwater are two fold. First, radioactivity could leak from the cask into the water. Each container would hold 200 times the long lasting radioactivity released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Given high-level atomic waste’s deadliness, leakage of even a fraction of a cask’s contents could spell unprecedented catastrophe in the source of drinking water countless numbers of people, considering fresh water surface waters like the Great Lakes, and rivers; leaks into seas or tidal rivers could ruin fisheries. Just being designed a radioactive waste barge route would decrease property values; an accident involving a waste barge all the more so; and even worse, if radioactivity is released into the environment.
Second, enough fissile uranium-235 and plutonium is present in high-level atomic waste that water, with its neutron moderating properties, could actually cause a nuclear chain reaction to take place within the cask. Such an inadvertent criticality event in Sept. 1999 at a nuclear fuel factory in Japan led to the deaths of two workers; many hundreds of nearby residents, including children, received radiation doses well above safety standards. It was the worst nuclear power disaster in Japanese history, until the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.
An inadvertent criticality would make emergency response a potentially suicidal mission. It would likely worsen the radioactivity releases to the surface water body, as well.
Both NRC and IAEA regulations regarding barge transport of irradiated nuclear fuel on surface waters are in need of significant strengthening, given the high risks involved to drinking water, fisheries, property values, tourism, recreation, etc.
As the water protectors at the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe Reservation on the Missouri River in North Dakota say, Mni Wiconi, Water Is Life. We put it at risk, at our own peril.
7. Fire safety regulations for irradiated nuclear fuel shipping casks are inadequate. NRC's design criteria require casks to survive a 1,475 degree Fahrenheit (800 degree Celsius) fire, lasting only 30 minutes. However, there are combustible materials on the roads, rails, and waterways that burn much hotter than 1,475 F. Diesel fuel, as but one example -- and found in abundance in transit across the U.S. -- burns at 1,800 F. And real-world fires have burned for much longer than 30 minutes.
For example, in July 2001, a train tunnel fire under downtown Baltimore, Maryland burned for an entire day, with temperatures at our above 1,475 degrees persisting for many hours on end. The State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects commissioned Dr. Marvin Resnikoff et al. at Radioactive Waste Management Associates to determine if an irradiated nuclear fuel shipping container, had one been on board that ill-fated train, would have endured the fire without breaching and releasing hazardous radioactivity into the escaping smoke, to fallout downwind. The study hypothetically examined the performace of a Holtec cask under those real-world fire conditions. The conclusion was the cask would have failed, and release some of its deadly cargo onto the winds.
The study (posted online at <http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/news2001/nn11459.pdf>) calculated that up to 56 people would have suffered exposures sufficient to cause latent cancer fatalities, from their acute, immediate exposure to the radioactivity in the smoke escaping from the fire. If residents continued living in areas contaminated with fallout for a year's time, nearly 1,600 would die from latent cancers. If residents continued living in contaminated areas for 50 years, nearly 32,000 would die from latent cancers. The clean up costs would have topped $13.7 billion in year 2001 dollars.
If home games were taking place at one or more of the immediately adjacent pro sports stadiums, the health impacts would have been even worse.
Given such potentially catastrophic consequences, NRC must significantly strengthen its fire safety regulations for irradiated nuclear fuel transportation.
8. NRC's security regulations for irradiated nuclear fuel transport containers are also dangerously inadequate. This was clearly shown by a test at the U.S. Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland in June 1998. A German CASTOR shipping cask was used, considered by some to be the "Cadillac of casks" due to its 15-inch die cast iron thick wall shell, much thicker in terms of metal than U.S. cask designs. A TOW anti-tank missile was fired at it. A hole as big around as a soft ball or grapefruit, was blown clean through the wall. This should have been no surprise, as TOW missile are designed to penetrate even thicker tank armor. And, contrary to statements as from U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (Republican-Illinois), TOWs were designed to hit Soviet T-72 tanks, that can travel faster than 30 miles per hour -- so they could also be used against radioactive waste trains going similar speeds, or more slowly, as they would while traveling through urban areas.
The hole breached in the cask would serve as the escape hatch for large-scale hazardous radioactivity to enter the environment, to fallout downwind, or flow downstream. Given the breach in radiation shielding, any emergency responders or nuclear workers approaching the breach could experience fatal doses of gamma radiation within minutes, making attempted plugging of the breach a potential suicide mission.
If the explosive attack were combined with an incendiary device, the release would be even worse. Cesium-137, for one, is highly volatile, and a large percentage would escape from any impacted fuel rods.
TOWs are now decades old, but are dangerously widespread on the international black market. However, even more powerful anti-tank missiles have been developed since, as well as sophisticated shaped charges.
Clearly, NRC's security regulations for casks must be significantly strengthened. (A NIRS backgrounder about the Aberdeen Proving Ground test, written by Paul Gunter, is posted online at: <https://web.archive.org/web/20160206062106/http://www.nirs.org/factsheets/nirsfctshtdrycaskvulnerable.pdf>
9. Regulations regarding the exterior surface contamination of irradiated nuclear fuel shipments are too lax in both the U.S., and internationally. The shocking history from Areva in France is a cautionary tale. Thanks to the work of watchdogs and investigative journalists, it was revealed that from one-quarter to one-third (adding up to hundreds of shipments) of all irradiated nuclear fuel shipment traveling to the La Hague reprocessing facility had external radioactive contamination measuring, on average some 500-times the regulatory limit. In one case, the contamination measured 3,000-times the regulatory limit. (See the Transport Special - Plutonium Investigation n°6/7, posted online at WISE-Paris under the Bulletins tab: <http://www.wise-paris.org/>)
But the U.S. has had a bad history along similar lines. The State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear projects has documented "49 incidents of accident surface contamination," in a report entitled Reported Incidents Involving Spent Nuclear Fuel Shipments, 1949 to  (posted online at <http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/trans/nucinc01.htm>).
Such external contamination could result in significant exposure to hazardous ionizing radioactivity, to nuclear waste transport workers (truck drivers, locomotive engineers, barge crew, inspectors, etc.), other workers (toll booth attendants, gas station attendants, rest area attendants, port authorities, dock workers, customs officials, etc.), and unwitting, innocent, passerby members of the public, as well as residents along transport routes.
Clearly, both U.S. and international regulations safeguarding against such external shipping container contamination must be strengthened significantly, to avoid any repeats of the French fiasco, and the American mistakes.
10. There has been a call, for well over a decade, by organizations such as NIRS, as well as Beyond Nuclear, for full-scale physical testing of shipping casks, to destruction. At one point, the NRC was saying it intended to do just that, in response to public pressure. But then NRC aborted that plan. We demand that such full-scale physical testing to destruction at long last finally take place, on each and every model of cask proposed to be certified to carry out transportation of irradiated nuclear fuel in the U.S.
Cask tests performed at Sandia National Lab some four decades ago have long been misrepresented by nuclear power and radioactive waste transportation proponents as some sort of "proof" that casks are impervious to breach. Films shot have been used as PR propaganda, without all of the context and facts explained. For one thing, some of the casks tested are no longer used; truth be told, current casks have not been similarly tested, and most certainly have not been full-scale physically tested to destruction.
For another thing, the tests themselves did not go as well as is portrayed.
For example, a fire test was ended, once lead radiation shielding began to melt and spurt out of the cask. However, the failure was later reworked into a supposed success -- by the half-truth of only mentioning how long the cask did "survive" the fire without failing (not adding the rest of the story -- that a very short time later, the cask did indeed fail).
A dramatic looking collision between a cask and a locomotive, failed to mention that the sill of the train -- the main force -- did not strike the cask directly, because the cask had been jacked up higher to avoid it. Instead the cask crashed though the much thinner, sheet-metal like skin on the front of the train, doing less damage to the cask that way.
A classified weapons system attack on a cask, even decades ago, did significant damage to the cask -- including down to the level where irradiated nuclear fuel would have been emplaced, thus creating a significant pathway for hazardous radioactivity to escape. Weapons systems have only grown more powerful over the past several decades.
Both NRC and IAEA should never engage in the PR stunts involving the Sandia tests from the 1970s, and they should rebut nuclear power industry propagandists who attempt to deceive the public and elected officials in this way. As but the most recent example, which implicates a cask certification NRC has granted: in the D.C. Federal District Court on January 18, 2017, an attorney from the Department of Justice, representing the Department of Energy, bragged up the safety significance of the Sandia tests from the 1970s. Thus, she engaged in the same kind of propaganda the nuclear establishment has stooped to for decades, this time in an attempt to soothe a federal judge's concern about high-risk radioactive waste shipments. The case involves an environmental coalition, including Beyond Nuclear, challenging DOE's unprecedented proposal to ship highly radioactive liquid waste, for more than 1,000 miles, from Chalk River, Ontario, Canada to Savannah River Site, South Carolina, U.S.A. NRC certified a jury-rigged NAC-LWT cask for use with this highly radioactive liquid waste, even the cask was designed for solid materials.
How to Submit Your Comments:
Submit comments by January 20, 2017. Comments received after this date will be considered if it is practical to do so, but the NRC is able to ensure consideration only for comments received before this date. A public meeting will be held December 5-6, 2016.
You may submit comments by any of the following methods:
- Federal Rulemaking Web site: Go to http://www.regulations.gov and search for Docket ID NRC-2016-0179. Address questions about NRC dockets to Carol Gallagher; telephone: 301-415-3463; email: Carol.Gallagher@nrc.gov. For technical questions contact the individual listed in the FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT section of this document.
- Email comments to: Rulemaking.Comments@nrc.gov. If you do not receive an automatic email reply confirming receipt, then contact us at 301-415-1677.
- Fax comments to: Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission at 301-415-1101.
- Mail comments to: Secretary, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001, ATTN: Rulemakings and Adjudications Staff.
- Hand deliver comments to: 11555 Rockville Pike, Rockville, Maryland 20852, between 7:30 a.m. and 4:15 p.m. (Eastern Time) Federal workdays; telephone: 301-415-1677.
For additional direction on obtaining information and submitting comments, see “Obtaining Information and Submitting Comments” in the SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION section of this document.
For Further Information Contact
Emma Wong, Office of Nuclear Material Safety and Safeguards, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001; telephone: 301-415-7091; Emma.Wong@nrc.gov.