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.



7 Great Lakes States U.S. Senators object to radioactive waste shipment from Canada to Sweden

Seven U.S. Senators from Great Lakes States -- Russell Feingold (D-WI), Robert Casey Jr. (D-PA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Carl Levin (D-MI), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Richard Durbin (D-IL, Assistant Senate Majority Leader), and Charles Schumer (D-NY) -- have written to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) and the Canadian federal government, expressing serious concerns about a proposed shipment of 16 radioactive steam generators from Bruce Nuclear Power Plant in Ontario to Sweden for "recycling" into consumer products. The shipment, on board a single ship, would violate International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) limits for the quantity of radioactivity aboard a single vessel. The shipment would travel via Lake Huron to Lake St. Clair, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and connecting rivers (St. Clair, Detroit, the Welland canal, and St. Lawrence), and then across the Atlantic Ocean (see route map). Shockingly, Bruce Power's CEO, Duncan Hawthorne, has stated that there is no emergency plan for dealing with the sinking of the ship, stating there would be plenty of time to determine what to do once the ship sank. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, as well as the US DOT PHMSA, must approve permits for the shipment before it can commence. PHMSA has recently been the subject of severe criticism for oil pipeline leak and natural gas pipeline explosion disasters, as well as for the close ties between its leadership and companies involved in these disasters. Beyond Nuclear, along with a coalition of environmental groups, has called upon PHMSA to conduct a full environmental analysis on the proposed shipment, in order to fulfill its National Environmental Policy Act federal legal obligations, before permitting the shipment to enter U.S. territorial waters on the Great Lakes -- 20% of the world's surface fresh water, drinking supply for 40 million in the U.S., Canada, and numerous Native American/First Nations, and regional engine for one of the biggest economies on the planet.


Bi-national environmental coalition demands U.S. Dept. of Transportation scrutinize risks of radioactive waste ship on Great Lakes

Detroit News graphic of route, Sept. 11, 2010A U.S.-Canadian environmental coalition has sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, demanding that it perform a federally required National Environmental Policy Act examination of the risks associated with Bruce Power shipping 16 radioactive steam generators from its 8 reactor nuclear power plant on the Lake Huron shoreline in Ontario, via the remaining Great Lakes, across the Atlantic, to Sweden for melting down and mixing into the consumer product scrap metal recycling stream. The coalition also demands that PHMSA analyze the less dangerous alternative of a longstanding Canadian plan simply to store the steam generators indefinitely onsite. They demand this happen before granting a U.S. DOT permit for the shipment of these radioactive wastes through U.S. waters on the Great Lakes. As described in the coalition's press release, the Great Lakes and Saint Lawrence Cities Initiative has calculated that the radioactive cargo would violate International Atomic Energy Agency safety regulations for the amount of radioactivity allowed on a single ship by 50 times over. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, whose staff has described the shipment as of very low risk, will hold a hearing in Ottawa, Ontario beginning on Sept. 29th to receive public comment from concerned citizens. Over 75 such submissions have been made by groups from the U.S. and Canada, showing how concerned environmentalists are about this radioactive waste shipment on the Great Lakes. Beyond Nuclear has registered to provide oral testimony at the hearing on the comments it has submitted. A full size image of the map showing the route above appeared in the Detroit News on Sept. 11.


Resistance builds to radioactive waste shipments on Great Lakes

The Great Lakes United (GLU) Nuclear-Free/Green Energy Task Force has taken the lead in shining a spotlight on the proposal by Bruce Nuclear Power Complex in Ontario to barge 16 radioactive steam generators out the Great Lakes, and across the Atlantic, to Sweden for "recycling" the metal for un-restricted re-use in consumer products. A resolution signed by scores of organizations in the U.S. and Canada, as well as a cover letter to heads of government in the U.S. and Canada, signed by Task Force co-chairs Dr. Gordon Edwards and Michael Keegan, as well as GLU executive director Derek Stack, is posted at the GLU website. Also posted there are three documents written by Dr. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility: a graphic image and photograph showing the radioactive "intestines" inside steam generatorss; an inventory of the hazardous radioactive isotopes that contaminate steam generators; and official company and government environmental assessment documents showing that the plan had been to store the radioactive steam generators on-site as waste, not ship them off for "recycling."

In addition to the radiological risks of one of these barges sinking -- including stigma impacts on economic sectors such as Great Lakes tourism and fisheries, even if there is not a radioactive release -- there is also the precedent setting nature of this proposal. As part of its Yucca Mountain plan, the U.S. Dept. of Energy has also proposed barging high-level radioactive wastes on the Great Lakes, as well as on the Chesapeake and Delaware Bay, various surface waters surrounding metro New York City as well as Boston, the California and Florida coastlines, and such inland rivers as the James in Virginia, the Mississippi, the Missouri, and the Tennessee. Unlike steam generators, irradiated nuclear fuel sinking risks accidental nuclear chain reactions underwater, due to the presence of fissile U-235 and Pu-239 in the high-level radioactive waste, which would make emergency response a "suicide mission," and would worsen radioactive releases to the environment. But any other "away-from-reactor" plans, such as reprocessing or "centralized interim storage" (aka parking lot dumps), could also involve such barge shipments.

Beyond Nuclear has delivered copies of the materials about the Bruce steam generator barge shipments proposal to the U.S. congressional delegations of the eight Great Lakes States (IL, IN, MI, MN, NY, OH, PA, WI). Please contact your own U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative via the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Urge them to take action, such as contacting the Obama administration, to protect the inland and coastal waters of the U.S. from the risks of shipping radioactive wastes.


The Yucca Mountain Dump Plan Would Launch Up to 453 Barges of Deadly High-Level Radioactive Waste Onto the Waters of Lake Michigan

As part of its plan to transport high-level radioactive waste to Western Shoshone Indian land at Yucca Mountain, Nevada, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) proposes up to 453 barges carrying giant high-level radioactive waste containers onto the waters of Lake Michigan. See the second page of this fact sheet for a map
of the proposed routes and a breakdown of shipment numbers by port.
Accidents happen. 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?
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 for tens of millions of people – Lake Michigan. 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
Don't let DOE and NRC get away with shipping high-level radioactive wastes on Lake Michigan!
Urge your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative to oppose the Yucca Mountain dump plan.
Call their offices via the U.S. Capitol Switchboard: (202) 224-3121.
For more info., contact Beyond Nuclear at (240) 462-3216.

Summary of Oscar Shirani’s Allegations of Quality Assurance Violations Against Holtec Storage/Transport Casks

Holtec storage/transport casks are the first dual purpose container for irradiated nuclear fuel certified by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). According to Holtec International's website (, Holtec casks are already deployed at 33 U.S. nuclear power plants. Up to 4,000 rail-sized Holtec storage/transport casks would also be used at the proposed Private Fuel Storage interim storage facility in Utah. Given the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) recent decision to use “mostly rail” transport to the proposed Yucca Mountain repository, Holtec casks could very well become among the most used shipping containers for highly radioactive waste.

Exelon, the largest nuclear utility in U.S., uses Holtec casks for irradiated fuel storage at its reactor sites. In 1999 and 2000, Oscar Shirani, as a lead quality assurance (QA) auditor for Exelon, identified numerous “major design and fabrication issues” during a QA inspection of Holtec International (the cask designer), Omni Fabrication, and U.S. Tool & Die (the subcontractors responsible for manufacturing the casks). In fact, he identified a “major breakdown” in the QA program itself. The problems were so severe that Shirani sought a Stop Work Order against the manufacturer of the casks until the problems were addressed. Instead, he was run out of Exelon. According to Shirani, these design and manufacturing flaws mean that the structural integrity of the Holtec casks is indeterminate and unreliable, especially under heat-related stress such as during a severe transportation accident.

Although NRC has dismissed Shirani’s concerns, NRC Region III ( Chicago office) dry cask inspector Ross Landsman refused to sign and approve the NRC’s resolution of Shirani’s concerns, concluding that this same kind of thinking led to NASA’s Space Shuttle disasters.[1] He stated in September 2003, “Holtec, as far as I’m concerned, has a non-effective QA program, and U.S. Tool & Die has no QA program whatsoever.”[2] Landsman added that NRC’s Nuclear Reactor Regulation division did a poor follow-up on the significant issues identified, and pre-maturely closed them.

Shirani alleges that all existing Holtec casks, some of which are already loaded with highly radioactive waste, as well as the casks under construction now, still flagrantly violate engineering codes (such as those of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers [ASME] and American National Standards Institute [ANSI]), as well as NRC regulations. He concludes that the Holtec casks are “nothing but garbage cans” if they are not made in accordance with government specifications.[3]

Specific examples of the QA violations and related problems alleged by Shirani include:

  • Welding problems, such improper “fast cooling” of hot cask welds and metal using fans and air conditioning equipment, which are in violation of ASME and ANSI codes and risk tearing and cracking of the unevenly cooling welds and metal, in order to meet production goals. Welds on the casks were also performed by unqualified welders. Even NRC has acknowledged that “weld quality records are not in agreement with the code requirements.”[4]
  • Inadequate controls on the quality of materials used in the manufacturing process, risking brittleness and weakness in the casks.
  • Holtec’s failure to report holes in neutron shielding material (neutrons are especially hazardous emissions from highly radioactive waste).
  • US Tool & Die’s failure to use coupon (a small physical sample of metal) testing, and Post Weld Heat Treatment on a regular basis, as required by ASME code and in violation of the codes that were part of the license agreement with NRC.
  • Holtec and U.S. Tool & Die quality control inspectors’ bypass of hundreds of non-conforming conditions, departures from the original design during cask manufacture. The departures from the original design amount to design changes that require revised analysis to guarantee that manufactured casks actually live up to the structural integrity of the original design. The fact that this revised analysis was never done is in violation of ASME and ANSI codes, and thus NRC regulations, and means the actual manufactured casks' structural integrity is questionable, according to Shirani.
  • Holtec’s consent to allow U.S. Tool & Die to make design decisions and changes, despite the fact that U.S. Tool & Die does not have design control capability under its QA program.
  • Failure to conduct a “root cause investigation” of Holtec’s QA program, even though root causes are the main reason for repeated deficiencies.
  • Exelon’s obstruction of Shirani from performing any follow-up of the audit to confirm that problems had been solved, despite knowing that the fabrication issues identified would have a detrimental impact on the design.
  • Exelon’s falsified quality-assurance documents and the misleading of the NRC investigation, stating that Shirani’s allegations of QA violations were resolved when in fact they were not.
  • Lack of understanding in the NRC of the design control process and Holtec's QA program, relating to flaws in welding, design, manufacturing, and materials procurement control. NRC lacks a corrective action mechanism for repeated findings. Shirani alleges his audit findings embarrassed NRC because it had also audited the Holtec casks just a few months previously but found no problems whatsoever.

Shirani concludes that these numerous design and manufacturing flaws call into question the structural integrity of the Holtec casks, especially under heat-related stress such as during severe transportation accidents. He also warns that his eight-day audit showed him only a snap shot of problems, and that there could in fact be additional ones yet to be identified.

[1] Elizabeth Brackett, "Nuclear Controversy," " Chicago Tonight," WTTW Channel 11 Television, Chicago, Illinois, January 29, 2004.

[2] J.A. Savage, "Whistleblower Alleges PG&E Proposed Dry Casks Slipshod," California Energy Circuit, Vol. 1, No. 1, Berkeley, California, September 5, 2003.


[4] April 2002 NRC review panel memo, cited in J.A. Savage, "Whistleblower Alleges PG&E Proposed Dry Casks Slipshod," California Energy Circuit, Vol. 1, No. 1, Berkeley, California, September 5, 2003.

* This summary was prepared by Kevin Kamps (202-328-0002 ext. 14;, Nuclear Waste Specialist at Nuclear Information and Resource Service in Washington, D.C. July 22, 2004.

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