...Counterpunch quoted Beyond Nuclear's Kevin Kamps (then working at Nuclear Information and Resource Service) concerning a train tunnel fire beneath downtown Baltimore -- on a route targeted for high-level radioactive waste shipments. The risks of "Mobile Chernobyls" caused by severe accidents, or "dirty bombs on wheels" caused by terrorist attacks, are rearing their ugly heads again in 2011, as President Obama's and Energy Secretary Chu's Blue Ribbon Commission on America's Nuclear Future moves to advocate "centralized interim storage" (parking lot dumps) for high-level radioactive wastes. If carried out, this would lead to unprecedented thousands of shipments of high-level radioactive waste on the roads, rails, and waterways. It would represent a very risky radioactive waste shell game for no good reason, as the containers would have to be moved someday all over again -- this time to a permanent disposal site, perhaps back in the same direction from which they came.
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.
EU policy of "deep geologic disposal" still contains loophole for shipments to foreign countries for reprocessing
Reuters has reported that the European Union has set a deadline of 2015 for its 14 member states with nuclear power industries -- comprising a total of 143 atomic reactors -- to come up with plans for "deep geologic disposal" sites for burial of their high-level radioactive wastes. However, the EU admits it will take as long as 40 years to construct those repositories. Deutsche Welle also reported on this story, including on the loophole in the new EU directive that will still allow high-level radioactive waste shipments to foreign countries for reprocessing, so long as those countries also have deep geologic repositories.
While the court ruling on July 1st against the Yucca dump is a major environmental justice victory for the Western Shoshone Indian Nation, President Obama's Blue Ribbon Commission for America's Nuclear Future is advocating "centralized interim storage" for commercial high-level radioactive waste, which could easily lead to a revival of reprocessing in the U.S. The Skull Valley Goshutes Indian Reservation in Utah, DOE's Savannah River Site in South Carolina, and the Dresden nuclear power plant and adjacent General Electric reprocessing facility in Morris, Illinois, are at the top of the list for consolidation of high-level radioactive wastes for "interim storage" and/or plutonium extraction. But any "away-from-reactor" scheme would launch an unprecedented number of high-level radioactive waste trucks, trains, and barges onto our nation's roads, rails, and waterways. In terms of accident potential, these would be "Mobile Chernobyls." In terms of attack potential, they would be "dirty bombs on wheels," or "floating radiological dispersal devices." In any event, it would represent a radioactive waste shell game through major metro centers and other sensitive areas, for the wastes would have to be moved all over again, to a permanent dumpsite someday, supposedly.
Government Accountability Office investigator Mark Gaffigan recently testified before Congress on "lessons learned from Yucca Mountain," including tricks for overcoming public resistance to dumps. In his concluding section entitled "Principal Lessons Learned that Could Facilitate Future Nuclear Waste Storage or Disposal Efforts," Gaffigan testified that federal government "transparency" and "cooperation" with local and state governments would help win support for dumps. He also said "Education has helped foster public acceptance. For example, DOE's contractor at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant gained public acceptance through education and training programs on the safe transportation of radioactive waste. One important aspect of education has been to dispel the inaccurate perception that nuclear waste poses risks comparable to nuclear weapons." (emphasis added) This last point is a real red herring -- opponents to risky radioactive waste transportation don't compare it to nuclear weapons risks. Also, WIPP shipments are risky, and have suffered accidents. In one, a collision spewed plutonium within a WIPP container that had already traveled 1,000 miles and had almost arrived at WIPP. Rather than contaminate WIPP surface facilities by opening the damaged container there, the shipment was sent 1,000 miles to Idaho, doubling transport risks with an already damaged container.
Beyond Nuclear has just obtained a copy of an email from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), sent to a concerned citizen in Michigan who questioned Bruce Power's proposed shipment of 16 radioactive steam generators on the Great Lakes to Sweden for so-called "recycling" (that is, contamination of the metal recycling stream with hazardous radioactivity). DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) -- infamous for large-scale oil pipeline leaks in rivers, deadly natural gas pipeline explosions, and the cozy relationships between its top officials and the very industries and even companies it is supposed to regulate -- is the U.S. federal agency that must approve Bruce Power's shipment before it enters U.S. territorial waters on the Great Lakes.
Dated Oct. 1, 2010 and written by DOT radioactive waste transportation specialist Rick Boyle, the email documents some 40 shipments of large radioactive nuclear components approved by PHMSA in the past. These 40 shipments included 16 water-borne vessel shipments; 23 shipments by road/rail; and 1 shipment by vessel/road.
The water-borne vessel shipments transported 21 radioactive steam generators; 12 reactor vessel heads; 2 radioactive pressurizers; and 3 radioactive reactor vessels. The road/rail shipments transported 31 radioactive steam generators; 12 radioactive reactor vessel heads; 2 radioactive pressurizers; and 5 radioactive reactor vessels. The single vessel/road shipment transported 1 radioactive reactor vessel. Altogether, 52 radioactive steam generators, 24 radioactive reactor vessel heads, 4 radioactive pressurizers, and 9 radioactive reactor vessels have been transported, with approval by PHMSA.
Judging from the nuclear power plant locations where the water-borne vessel shipments originated, and the ultimate destinations, it appears that the Great Lakes, rivers, bays, and sea coasts across the U.S. were used as waterways for shipping large, radioactive nuclear components. This "normalization" of radioactive shipping risks on the waterways -- including the Great Lakes, drinking water supply for 40 million people -- could lead to the shipment of even more risky high-level radioactive wastes, which would include the risk of nuclear chain reactions due to underwater submersion accidents: water could act as a neutron moderator, just as it does in a reactor core, sparking an inadvertent criticality in the fissile contents of the irradiated nuclear fuel rods (U-235 and Pu-239). Such an underwater nuclear chain reaction -- such as on the bottom of the Great Lakes -- would dramatically worsen hazardous radioactivity releases into the environment, and would make emergency response a potential suicide mission given the gamma and neutron radiation fields being given off.
Rather than concern regarding the risks, DOT's Boyle expressed pride, bragging "As you can see, we have quite a bit of experience moving large contaminated objects." What he fails to mention, though, are the accidents that such transports have already been involved in, or caused.
For example, the Big Rock Point radioactive reactor vessel shipment by road and rail, from Michigan to South Carolina for burial in an unlined ditch, experienced a number of incidents, and caused not one but two train derailments in its wake. It seems that the 290 ton weight of the shipment damaged the train tracks in Grand Blanc, Michigan, as well as at another spot in the Carolinas, causing follow on trains to derail. Such risks must be addressed by PHMSA before rubberstamping any further such shipments, including Bruce Power's proposal!
Beyond Nuclear, and a coalition of scores of environmental groups, are demanding PHMSA undertake a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) before rubberstamping approval for Bruce Power's proposed shipment of 16 radioactive steam generators on board a single boat on Lakes Huron, Erie, and Ontario, and the rivers and canals that connect them. Bruce's proposed shipment is twice the size of the biggest radioactive steam generator shipment by water listed in DOT's email.