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Citizen Groups Denounce Proposal for Nuclear Waste Transport Through Ohio

October 4, 2000

Citizen Groups Denounce Proposal for Nuclear Waste
Transport Through Ohio

Radioactive Roads and Rails Campaign Arrives in Cleveland

Cleveland, Ohio If nuclear waste is transported through Ohio to Nevada for permanent storage as proposed by the federal government, Cleveland could experience serious threats to public health, the environment and the economy in the event of a crash or a radiation leak, spokespeople for the Radioactive Roads and Rails campaign said today.

Labor, environmental and public interest groups held a news conference outside the Federal Building to call attention to the dangers associated with transporting high-level radioactive waste through Ohio. A public workshop on the topic of high-level waste transportation will be held in the evening. The Radioactive Roads and Rails campaign will hold events in Youngstown and Toledo later this week.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is preparing to recommend Yucca Mountain, located near Las Vegas, Nev., as a “permanent disposal site” for high-level radioactive waste generated by atomic weapons facilities and commercial nuclear reactors across the country. A new analysis prepared by the Clark County Comprehensive Planning Division in Nevada found that the waste would have to travel through 734 counties with a total population of 138 million people.

“If Congress caves in to the pressures of the nuclear power industry for a dump at Yucca Mountain, it will initiate the largest nuclear transportation plan in history,” said Lisa Gue, policy analyst for Public Citizen. “Seventy thousand metric tons of high-level radioactive waste would be on the roads and rails of 43 states, passing the homes, workplaces and schools of 50 million Americans, for at least 25 years while the waste is being shipped to Nevada.”

DOE has refused to specify which routes would be used to ship waste. However, potential routes evaluated in the draft Environmental Impact Statement include the Ohio Turnpike as well as rail lines through the state.

Seane Wise, a Chief Steward of UE Local 791 who works on the Ohio Turnpike in the Cleveland area, drew attention to a resolution recently adopted by the national convention of the United Electrical, Radio & Machine Workers of America/United Turnpike Workers. The resolution, which was initiative of the Ohio Local 791, opposes the transportation of high-level nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain.

“This is an issue of worker safety, public health, and environmental sustainability,” Wise said.

Participants at todays news conference, which took place against the backdrop of a full-sized inflatable model of a nuclear waste transport cask, raised concerns about the safety of radioactive waste transportation schemes. Gue explained that a 1987 study sponsored by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission relied on computer modeling to predict how the casks would perform in the event of an accident. But the casks themselves have never been subjected to full-scale physical testing.

“We already know that accidents happen on our roads and railways,” said Chris Trepal, executive director of Earth Day Coalition. “If shipments of nuclear waste were involved, its unclear whether hospital, fire and police personnel in Ohio would have the capacity to respond effectively to a radiological emergency.”

Even without an accident, the transport casks containing nuclear waste would be licensed to release low-level radiation at a rate of 10 millirems per hour from a distance of 2 meters, routinely exposing people nearby the equivalent to a full-body X-ray. Workers and other drivers on the Ohio Turnpike would be disproportionately affected.

“Toll booth workers dont want the risks of low-level radiation imposed on them each time a Yucca Mountain shipment enters and exits the turnpike,” Wise said. “Turnpike maintenance personnel should not have to cope with potential radiological accidents. In short, our union is sending the message that high-level nuclear waste does not belong on the Ohio Turnpike.”

Transportation hazards are not the only risks associated with the proposal to build a permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Scientists in Nevada have pointed to the danger of groundwater contamination if waste were to leak. Further, if an earthquake were to hit, the storage canisters themselves could break open. The chance of an earthquake occurring is far from remote; Nevada ranks third in the country for seismic activity.

“There is no safe way to dispose of nuclear waste,” Gue said. “A repository at Yucca Mountain would have a regulatory period of 10,000 years, but the waste will remain dangerously radioactive for much longer. No one can guarantee the integrity of the storage casks so far into the future.”

Said Margaux Shields of Ohio Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), “The proposal to build a permanent storage facility at Yucca Mountain does not address the nuclear waste problem. It merely transfers the risk to the state of Nevada and communities like Cleveland, which are unlucky enough to be located along transportation routes targeted for the large-scale shipment of nuclear waste.”

Julie Marini also spoke at todays press conference, representing the office of Mayor Michael White. A written statement by U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) was circulated. The event was held as part of the Radioactive Roads and Rails Campaign, which is sponsored nationally by Public Citizen and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), and in Ohio by UE Local 791 (Ohio Turnpike Workers), Earth Day Coalition and Ohio PIRG (Public Interest Research Group).