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Public Citizen Demands Full-Scale Testing of Nuclear Waste Transportation Cask

Nov. 17, 1999

Public Citizen Demands Full-Scale Testing of Nuclear Waste Transportation Casks

Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s 1987 Study Is Inadequate and Outdated

BETHESDA, MD — When determining the safety of transporting nuclear waste, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) should conduct full-scale tests on real transportation casks, rather than relying on computer-simulated tests, a Public Citizen analyst told the NRC today.

Amy Shollenberger, senior policy analyst for Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy Project, challenged the NRC to change its testing methods to ensure it gets an accurate idea of the dangers of transporting nuclear waste. Shollenberger made her remarks during a roundtable discussion in which the NRC solicited suggestions on how best to analyze the safety of the casks.

The discussion focused on a 1987 study conducted for the NRC by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories. The study, Shipping Container Response to Severe Highway and Railway Accident Conditions, concluded that the potential for a nuclear waste transportation crash to result in a radioactive release was negligible. However, the study relied on computer-generated tests done more than a decade ago.

“Full-scale testing of real casks and real fires must be performed,” Shollenberger said. “It is unacceptable to use computer programs to design casks and then test those simulated casks with computer models. Real casks must be made and subjected to real world conditions in order to accurately characterize the effects of a serious transportation crash.”

The study used computer analyses to predict the effects of crashes on computer-generated models of casks, which likely wouldn t be built in the exact manner or with the same materials as real casks. Further, the study clearly stated that uncertainties made it difficult to assess potential impacts and plan for contingencies associated with spent nuclear fuel transportation crashes.

“It is crucial that communities be prepared to respond to a radioactive crash,” Shollenberger said. “Both the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission have refused to take the necessary steps to educate communities along nuclear waste transportation routes about the dangers of this shipment plan.”

Yucca Mountain in Nevada is the only site currently under consideration to serve as a permanent geologic repository for high-level radioactive waste. The DOE is studying the mountain to determine whether it is suitable for permanent storage of the nation’s nuclear waste. If the site is chosen, shipments of high-level nuclear waste to Nevada could begin as early as 2007. The radioactive waste would travel through 43 states over 25 years, exposing 50 million Americans to dangerous levels of radiation. In addition, this highly toxic material would travel through more than 100 cities with populations of more than 100,000 people. The first year of shipments to a geologic repository alone would far exceed the total number of shipments during the past 30 years.