March 27, 2001
Renewal of German Atomic Waste Shipment Spawns
U.S. Groups Say Similar Protests Could Happen Here
WASHINGTON, D.C.?– The United States could see protests similar to those now occurring in Germany if the federal government approves a plan to transport high-level nuclear waste across the country to a Nevada storage site, two U.S. public interest groups said today.
Thousands of protesters are demonstrating throughout Germany as the first high-level radioactive waste is transported through that country since 1998. Approximately 15,000 people demonstrated peacefully in Leuneberg, Germany, on Saturday, while others are protesting at the French-German border and all along the 300-mile transport route. Tens of thousands of police have been mobilized to protect the lethally radioactive shipment.
“The protests in Germany are so large and the people so determined because they know these transports are not necessary,” said Michael Mariotte, executive director of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) who has been present for previous transports in Germany. “They are being done simply for the convenience of the nuclear power industry.”
Lisa Gue, a policy analyst with Public Citizen’s Critical Mass Energy and Environment Program, agreed. “The nuclear industry should not be permitted to evade liability for its most dangerous byproduct,” she said. “Around the world, concerned citizens are mobilizing to protest this unacceptable trade-off and the serious risks that transporting high-level nuclear waste imposes on their health and safety. I predict Americans will do the same.”
Mariotte and Gue drew parallels between the well-organized protests in Germany and mounting citizen opposition to proposed nuclear transport schemes in the United States. The U.S. Department of Energy is preparing to recommend Yucca Mountain, in Nevada, as a permanent repository for high-level radioactive waste. If this proposal is approved, 77,000 tons of nuclear waste from the nation’s commercial reactors and weapon’s sites would be transported through 43 states en route to Nevada starting in 2010.
Another proposal by a consortium of nuclear utilities known as Private Fuel Storage would involve transporting 44,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste to an interim storage facility on the Skull Valley Goshute Reservation in Utah. Under this scheme, cross-country shipments could begin as early as 2003.
Opponents of the Yucca Mountain repository and Private Fuel Storage proposals have concerns about both the suitability of the sites and the safety of transporting high-level radioactive waste. Containers that would be used to ship the waste have not been subjected to full-scale physical testing, and an accident involving a release of radiation could have catastrophic consequences.
“Transporting high-level nuclear waste is inherently dangerous because it increases the risk of radioactive release and disperses this risk along transportation routes where emergency responders may lack the capacity to respond effectively to a radiological emergency,” Gue said.
Even without an accident, high-level nuclear waste shipping containers routinely emit low doses of radiation, which could elevate the risk of cancer among vulnerable aspects of the population. Also, property values would decline along nuclear transportation routes.
“High-level waste should never be transported to inappropriate sites, and neither Yucca Mountain nor Skull Valley are scientifically or publicly acceptable,” Mariotte said. “We can expect similar protests over much longer transport routes if high-level atomic waste is attempted to be moved to such sites.”
The German shipment left a reprocessing center in Valognes, France early Monday morning. It is expected to arrive at a relay center in Dannenburg in northern Germany on Tuesday. There, the 100-ton waste casks will be transferred from train cars to large trucks. On Wednesday, the trucks are to drive the final nine miles to an “interim” storage facility at Gorleben. Thousands of protestors are expected to block the trucks departure from Dannenburg.
The protests this year are particularly significant, since the ruling Social Democrat/Green Party coalition has endorsed the transports as part of an agreement to close the country s nuclear power plants within the next 30 years. That endorsement, however, does not seem to resonate with the grassroots activists, farmers, and people from all walks of life who have consistently opposed the transports and radioactive waste storage at Gorleben.
Many Germans remain strongly opposed to transporting high-level nuclear waste, citing risks to the environment and human health and safety. In 1997, similar demonstrations at the same location brought out more than 20,000 protestors and more than 30,000 police. Again in 1998, well-organized demonstrations disrupted a nuclear shipment to the Ahaus storage site in northern Germany.
Updates on the protests at Gorleben can be found at http://www.greenpeace.de/castor and http://www.x1000malquer.de (While most of the information will be in German, some will be in English.) First person accounts of the 1997 and 1998 German transports, with photos, can be found in the International News section of NIRS Web site, www.nirs.org.