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Citizen Groups Denounce Proposal for Nuclear Waste


Sept. 6, 2000

Citizen Groups Denounce Proposal for Nuclear Waste
Transport Through Iowa

Radioactive Roads and Rails Campaign Arrives in Des Moines

Des Moines, IA. — If nuclear waste is transported through Iowa to Nevada for permanent storage as proposed, Des Moines 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.

Environmental groups, concerned citizens and elected officials joined Public Citizen at a news conference held in Nolan Plaza to call attention to the dangers associated with transporting high-level radioactive waste through Iowa. A public workshop on the topic of high-level waste transportation will be held tomorrow evening at the Thoreau Center, in Des Moines.

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.

“Members of Congress are under intense pressure from the nuclear power industry to force the construction of a dump at Yucca Mountain,” said Lisa Gue, a policy analyst with Public Citizen s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program. “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.”

DOE has refused to specify which routes would be used to ship waste. However, potential routes evaluated in the draft Environmental Impact Statement include I-35 and I-80 through Iowa, as well as rail lines.

Participants raised concerns about the transportation scheme s safety during today s news conference held in front of a full-sized, inflatable model of a nuclear waste transport cask. A 1987 study sponsored by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission used computer modeling to predict how the casks, which 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.

“Iowans do not wish to place such a terrible burden on this state. Over 450 local communities would be along the highway and rail routes projected. What assurance for safety can we count on?” asked Jane Magers of EarthCare, a Des Moines area environmental group.

Amber Hard, campaign director for the Iowa Public Interest Research Group (Iowa PIRG), expressed concern about the impact of high-level waste transport on property values for homes and businesses along I-80. 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 occurs, the storage canisters themselves could break open. The chance of an earthquake 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.”

“The proposal to build a permanent storage facility at Yucca Mountain does not address the nuclear waste problem,” Magers said. “It merely transfers the risk to the state of Nevada and to communities like Des Moines, which are unlucky enough to be located along transportation routes targeted for the large-scale shipment of nuclear waste.”

This week s events were held as part of the Radioactive Roads and Rails Campaign, sponsored nationally by Public Citizen and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, and in Iowa by EarthCare, Iowa PIRG, Iowa SEED Coalition and Iowans for Nuclear Safety.