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Citizen Groups Denounce Proposal for Nuclear Waste Transport Through Pennsylvania

June 28, 2001

Citizen Groups Denounce Proposal for Nuclear Waste Transport Through Pennsylvania

Radioactive Roads and Rails Campaign Arrives in Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH, Pa. A proposal to open a repository for high-level radioactive waste in Nevada would not adequately address the nation s continued generation of dangerous waste but instead would introduce new risks in the vicinity of the dump and along transportation routes in 43 states including Pennsylvania, citizen groups said today. State and national environmental and public interest organizations joined at a news conference outside the William S. Moorhead Federal Building to call attention to the dangers associated with transporting the waste through Pennsylvania. The groups also outlined substantial flaws in the repository proposal.

“The proposal for a radioactive dump at Yucca Mountain does not solve the nuclear waste problem. It transfers the risk to the state of Nevada and to communities like Pittsburgh along shipment routes,” said Elissa Weiss, M.D., member of Physicians for Social Responsibility – Pittsburgh. “A crash or radiation leak during transportation could pose serious long-term and far-reaching threats to our health, environment and economy.”

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

“Congress is under immense pressure from the nuclear power industry to approve a dump at Yucca Mountain,” said Molly Rush, staff member at the Thomas Merton Center. “But this proposal is clearly contrary to sustainable energy goals and would irresponsibly initiate the largest nuclear transportation scheme in history. “

The DOE has refused to specify which routes would be used to ship high-level waste to Yucca Mountain. However, potential routes evaluated in a draft Environmental Impact Statement include I-70, I-76, I-80 and I-84 through Pennsylvania, as well as rail lines.

The issue is particularly timely given the concern generated recently over a similar proposal. That plan calls for a shipment of irradiated fuel rods from West Valley, N.Y., to pass through Butler, 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, within the next month en route to the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory for temporary storage.

Against the backdrop of a full-sized model of a nuclear waste transport cask, participants at today s news conference raised concerns about the safety of transporting radioactive waste. These include accidents resulting in the exposure of thousands to radioactivity, as well as contamination of food and drinking water sources. DOE risk analysis data indicate that between 70 and 310 accidents could be expected involving waste shipments to Nevada.

“There is no practical way to ensure that hospitals, police and rescue personnel would have the capacity to effectively respond to emergencies involving radioactive release in communities along shipment routes,” Weiss said.

Lisa Gue, policy analyst for Public Citizen, noted that the transport casks have never been subjected to full-scale physical testing. Rather, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission relies on computer modeling to predict how the casks would perform in the event of an accident. Even without an accident, the high-level nuclear waste shipments would routinely emit radiation equivalent to one chest X-ray per hour.

“Transportation hazards are not the only risk associated with the proposal to build a permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain,” said John Hadder, northern Nevada coordinator with Citizen Alert. “The site itself is unsuitable for a repository; by the DOE s own analysis the mountain only provides about five percent containment of the waste over 10,000 years.”

The DOE s repository designs hinge on the ability of a specific alloy to resist corrosion for thousands of years from water that will infiltrate the site. But this is based on scant experimentation on the alloy collected over a period of months, with this limited data used to estimate how the metal will behave over thousands of years, Hadder said. Scientists in Nevada have pointed to the danger of groundwater contamination if these canisters leak, because the proposed repository sits atop an aquifer. In fact, by the DOE s own calculations, the canisters will leak and contaminate the site and surrounding environment the question is how much will leak and when. Further, Nevada ranks third in the country for seismic activity. As recently as 1992 an earthquake that ranked 5.2 on the Richter scale struck just eight miles southeast of Yucca Mountain, causing more than $1 million damage to DOE buildings.

Thursday s press conference was part of the Radioactive Roads and Rails Campaign, a national project of Public Citizen and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS). A public workshop will be held this evening from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at St. Hyacinth Church, 2nd Floor Church Hall (the corner of Kraft Place and Boulevard of Allies, Pittsburgh).