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Citizen Groups Denounce Proposal for Nuclear Waste Transport

July 19, 2000

Citizen Groups Denounce Proposal for Nuclear Waste Transport
Through Colorado

Radioactive Roads and Rails Campaign Arrives in Denver

DENVER –?If nuclear waste is transported through Colorado to Nevada for permanent storage as proposed, Denver could experience serious threats to public health, the environment and the economy in the event of a crash or a radiation leak, public interest groups said today.

Concerned citizens, elected officials and civic leaders joined Public Citizen at a press conference held outside Muneca’s Restaurant on route I-70 to call attention to the dangers associated with transporting high-level radioactive waste through Colorado. A public workshop on the topic of high-level waste transportation is to be held tonight at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is currently 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 travel through 734 counties with a total population of 138 million people. Because of its location, Denver would likely be a major hub through which the waste would travel.

“Members of Congress are under intense pressure from the nuclear power industry to force a dump at Yucca Mountain,” said Bob Halstead, transportation advisor to the state of Nevada’s Nuclear Waste Project Office. “If the nuclear industry prevails, Americans in 43 states will have the risks of nuclear waste transportation imposed on them and their communities for at least 25 years while the waste is being shipped to Yucca Mountain.”

Today’s press conference took place against the backdrop of the Denver skyline and in view of the I-70 and Union Pacific rail line, which would be likely nuclear waste transportation routes. To date, DOE has refused to specify which routes would be used ship waste; information about the potential routes evaluated in a draft environmental impact statement has not been made public. However, experts with the state of Nevada have analyzed likely routes and concluded that about 20,000 shipments of high-level waste could pass through Denver, Halstead said.

Press conference participants raised concerns about the transportation scheme’s safety. A 1987 study sponsored by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission used computer modeling to predict how the casks that would be used to transport nuclear waste would perform in the event of an accident. But the casks themselves have never been subjected to full-scale testing. DOE risk analysis data indicate that between 70 and 310 accidents could be expected involving waste shipments to Nevada. It’s unclear whether hospitals, police and rescue personnel in Colorado could respond effectively to a nuclear waste emergency.

Betty Kelly, proprietor of Muneca’s Restaurant, said that she is very concerned about the impact of high-level waste transport on property values for homes and business along I-70. Evidence suggests that even without an accident, property values are likely to drop along nuclear waste transportation routes due to a public perception of danger.

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,” said Lisa Gue, policy analyst for Public Citizen. “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.”

Dr. LeRoy Moore, of the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center agreed.

“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 to communities like Denver, which are unlucky enough to be located along transportation routes targeted for the large-scale shipment of nuclear waste. Given the uncertainties about Yucca Mountain and the enormous risks of transporting this material, it makes much more sense to leave the waste at the generation plant, while developing a better alternative.”

Other speakers at the press conference included Debbie Ortega, president of the Denver City Council and Chris Arend, who spoke on behalf of Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.).

Today’s events are being held as part of the Radioactive Roads and Rails Campaign, supported nationally by Public Citizen and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), and in Colorado by the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, Colorado Coalition for the Prevention of Nuclear War, and the Iliff School of Theology Peace and Justice Studies.