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Public Citizen, Consumer Groups Denounce Proposal for Nuclear Waste Transport Through Northern Indiana

July 6, 2000

Public Citizen, Consumer Groups Denounce Proposal for Nuclear Waste Transport Through Northern Indiana

Radioactive Roads and Rails Campaign Coming Through Northern Indiana

If nuclear waste is transported through Indiana to Nevada for permanent storage as proposed, the communities of South Bend and Whiting would encounter serious threats to public health, the environment and the economy in the event of a crash or a radiation leak, consumer groups said today.

Under a proposed plan, more than 21,000 shipments of nuclear waste could pass through northern Indiana by truck, on I-80 and I-94, and by rail. The casks would pass by South Bend and Whiting. Even without an accident, property values are likely to drop along nuclear waste transportation routes due to “public perception of danger,” said Roger Voelker, South Bend resident and organizer for the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana.

The nuclear waste transportation casks have never been fully tested. A 1987 study, sponsored by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, used computer modeling to predict cask performance in accident conditions, but the casks themselves have never been subjected to full-scale testing. U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) risk analysis data indicate that between 70 and 310 accidents could be expected involving waste shipments to Nevada.

At press conferences and public briefings in Whiting and South Bend, members of the public demonstrated their opposition to the transportation of radioactive waste through Indiana. Concerned citizens and civic leaders joined the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) and Public Citizen in calling attention to the dangers of transporting high-level radioactive waste through northern Indiana en route to a proposed repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada.

The DOE is currently preparing to recommend Yucca Mountain, Nevada, as a “permanent disposal site” for high-level radioactive waste generated by atomic weapons facilities and commercial nuclear reactors across the country.

“Members of Congress are under intense pressure from the nuclear power industry to force a dump at Yucca Mountain,” said Judy Treichel, executive director of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force. “If the nuclear industry prevails, over 50 million 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 Nevada.”

Today’s events took place against the backdrop of a full-sized mock nuclear waste transport cask. The cask, traveling through Indiana this week, is being hauled across the country by NIRS as part of the national Radioactive Roads and Rails campaign. The states participating in this campaign, including Indiana, will be highly impacted by nuclear waste transportation if the proposed repository is approved.

“It’s unclear whether hospitals, police, and rescue personnel would have the capacity to effectively respond to radiological emergencies in our community,” said South Bend City Council President Charlotte Pfeifer.

Calculations done for the state of Nevada, using DOE’s computer models, show that a severe truck accident could cost up to $270 billion in clean-up and relocation costs, said Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, a physicist at Radioactive Waste Management Associates.

“These economic costs, in terms of evacuation, lost wages and actual clean-up, do not even appear in the Environmental Impact Statement the Department of Energy has produced,” he said.

Kevin Kamps, of NIRS, quantified the amount of radiation in each cask by comparing it to the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.

“Each truck cask could hold up to 40 times the long-lasting, deadly radiation that was released by the Hiroshima bomb, and each train cask could hold up to 200 times what was released at Hiroshima,” he said. “The American people don’t deserve these lethal shipments passing by their homes and schools.”

Transportation hazards are not the only risks associated with the proposal to build a permanent nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. Geologist Steve Frishman, an expert on Yucca Mountain, pointed to the danger of groundwater contamination and the potentially severe consequences of an earthquake in the area. 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. “No one can guarantee the integrity of the storage casks throughout the 10,000 year period that the waste will remain dangerously radioactive.

“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 such as Whiting and South Bend, which are unlucky enough to be located along transportation routes targeted for the large-scale shipment of nuclear waste.”