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Citizen Groups Denounce Proposal for Nuclear Waste Transport Through Georgia

April 25, 2001

Citizen Groups Denounce Proposal for Nuclear Waste
Transport Through Georgia

Radioactive Roads and Rails Campaign Arrives in Atlanta
Marking 15th Anniversary of Chernobyl Nuclear Disaster

ATLANTA A proposal to transport nuclear waste through Georgia to Nevada for permanent storage could place Atlanta at risk to experience serious threats to public health, the environment and the economy in the event of a crash or a radiation leak, citizen groups said today.

On the eve of Chernobyl Day, environmental and public interest groups, concerned citizens and elected officials held a news conference today in downtown Atlanta to call attention to the dangers associated with transporting high-level radioactive waste through Georgia. A public workshop on the topic of high-level waste transportation will be held from 7-9 p.m. Thursday at Southface (241 Pine Street, Atlanta).

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 with a total population of 138 million people.

“If Congress gives 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 State Rep. Nan Grogan Orrock, who chairs the House Intra-Governmental Coordination Committee.

Against the backdrop of a full-sized inflatable model of a nuclear waste transport cask, participants at today s news conference commemorated the fifteenth anniversary of the catastrophic explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant — the world’s worst commercial nuclear disaster — and raised concerns about the safety of proposed radioactive waste transportation schemes.

“Given the inherent dangers of transporting high-level radioactive waste and the regulatory deficiencies in DOE’s current proposal, even the government s own reports predict accidents with these Yucca Mountain shipments,” said Ed Arnold, executive director of Physicians for Social Responsibility/Atlanta.

Lisa Gue, policy analyst for Public Citizen, explained that the transport casks never have been subjected to full-scale physical testing. 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.

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 would have the capacity to effectively respond to radiological emergencies in our community,” said Arnold.

DOE has refused to specify which routes would be used to ship waste. However, potential routes evaluated in a draft Environmental Impact Statement include I-75, I-16, I-20 and I-85 through Georgia, as well as rail lines. Evidence suggests that property values are likely to drop along nuclear waste transportation routes due to public perception of danger.

“Nuclear waste transportation is not the only risk associated with the proposal to build a permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain,” added Susi Snyder of Nevada’s Shundahai Network. “Yucca Mountain is riddled with earthquake faults, is full of water and is completely unsuitable for a repository.”

Yucca Mountain is sacred land claimed by the Western Shoshone Nation under the Ruby Valley Treaty of 1863. The Western Shoshone oppose the Yucca Mountain repository proposal, Snyder explained. Further, scientists in Nevada have pointed to the danger of groundwater contamination if waste stored at Yucca Mountain were to leak. Also, Nevada ranks third in the country for seismic activity, and if an earthquake occurs, the storage canisters themselves could break open.

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

Today’s press conference followed the annual meeting of General Electric, a major nuclear supplier. Participants applauded a shareholder resolution that would direct the company to assess the feasibility of GE’s phased withdrawal from nuclear activities. A statement from GE Stockholders’ Alliance was read on behalf of Patricia Birnie, who introduced the nuclear phase-out resolution.

“The best way to solve the nuclear waste problem is to stop generating it,” concluded Glenn Carrol, of Georgians Against Nuclear Energy (GANE).

The event was held as part of the Radioactive Roads and Rails Campaign, a national project of Public Citizen and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS), sponsored in Georgia by GANE, the Physicians for Social Responsibility/Atlanta, and Women s Action for New Directions/Atlanta.