Extremely Dangerous and Radioactive Nuclear Waste Shipments

CHICAGO – Thousands of nuclear waste shipments would cross through Illinois, if Congressional plans for the country’s first nuclear waste repository in Nevada move forward. Today, Nuclear Energy Information Service, along with dozens of environmental and clean energy groups nationwide, released maps of the likely routes radioactive shipments would use.  The groups want state residents to tell Congress: Yucca Mt. is not the right place; and premature transportation of high-level radioactive waste HLRW is dangerous and unnecessary.

According to the map (see attached), 7,821 shipments of highly radioactive waste fuel from scores of nuclear power plants east of the Mississippi River, including the 14 in Illinois,  would pass through the state on interstates, railways and even barges, including five if Illinois’ largest cities with a total population of 3.3 million people. This is the 5th largest amount of HLRW passing through any state.  Each shipment would contain several times more radioactive material than the Hiroshima bomb blast released, with 20 to 50 tons of irradiated fuel assemblies in each canister. Department of Energy studies completed in the 1990s confirmed that accidents in transporting the waste to Yucca Mountain would be a certainty, due to the large number of shipments that would be required. The shipments would also be vulnerable to attack or sabotage along the hundreds or thousands of miles that each cask would travel.

“Illinois is not ready for mass transportation of nuclear waste,” asserts David Kraft, director of the Chicago based Nuclear Energy Information Service, an Illinois nuclear power watchdog organization.  “Most first responders are part-time or volunteer; some are not even trained to handle a radioactive waste accident. We have all witnessed horrible oil train derailments and explosions in recent months. An accident involving tons of nuclear waste in Chicago or Aurora could force thousands of people to evacuate their homes, schools, and businesses; and radioactively contaminate dozens of square miles,” Kraft points out.

The Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety (under IEMA) has committed to escorting every shipment of HLRW into, through and exiting Illinois.  With the State’s current budget crisis, and layoffs and downsizing of State agencies and departments, that commitment must be seriously questioned at the present time.  This makes unleashing thousands of shipments of HLRW on to Illinois roads and rails a potentially more dangerous proposition.

Some in Congress – including a very vocal but ill-informed Rep. John Shimkus (R.15th) of Illinois — want to force a nuclear waste dump to open in Nevada, over President Obama’s and the state’s objections as well as that of  the Western Shoshone Nation. The president has defunded the proposed Yucca Mountain repository since 2010, effectively abandoning the controversial project, while Nevada has demonstrated the site is not suitable for storing nuclear waste and opposes the project. Nevada controls land and water rights the federal government would need to complete the project. To overcome that obstacle, Congress would need to enact a law overriding the state’s rights. Doing so would then open the door for the nuclear waste shipments to begin.

“Congress should support the people of Nevada and abandon Yucca Mountain,” said NEIS Board President Gail Snyder.  “It is unconscionable to risk the lives of Illinois residents transporting nuclear waste through our neighborhoods and communities, just to dump it at Yucca Mountain, where we and the Dept. of Energy know it will leak anyway. We need real solutions to the nuclear waste problem, and we are never going to get them until Congress abandons Yucca Mountain. Until then, the waste can be stored more securely where it is now, without putting it on our roads and railways, traveling through our communities,” concluded Snyder.

NEIS is calling on the Illinois delegation to Congress to oppose Yucca Mountain and ensure transportation of nuclear waste occurs only when there is a scientifically proven, environmentally sound, and socially responsible long-term management plan; and an operational HLRW permanent disposal facility in place. The nuclear waste problem can never truly be resolved until nuclear power plants are permanently shut down and stop generating radioactive material. New reactors would only exacerbate the problem: more dump sites would need to be created, and the transportation of lethal radioactive waste would have to continue indefinitely.

Large-scale nuclear waste transport would also occur if, as some in Congress advocate, a “centralized interim storage” (CIS)  site for HLRW were created. In that case, the waste would either have to move twice (once to the “interim” site, and then to a permanent site), thus doubling the risks; or the “interim” site would become a de facto permanent waste dump–without going through the necessary scientific characterization.

A 2012 report released from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory concluded,

“The one-site solution for stranded SNF based on minimizing the transportation distance matches the base case scenario with four and five storage sites for the most favorable ISFSI site in Illinois (47 and 44). The more cost-effective and flexible three-site ISFSI solution (Fig. 48) would move this site to northwest Illinois. Although the northwest Illinois location may not quite be optimized with respect to transportation distance for the case of stranded plant fuel, it may well fit into a national scheme for the current SNF storage issue. Therefore, establishing this general location as the initial consolidated ISFSI location would seem to have merit….

“This critical finding is encouraging considering the fact that Recommendation #3 of the Transportation and Storage Subcommittee of the BRC, as excerpted previously, gave priority to the SNF stored at the orphaned plants. ORNL’s conclusion is that, if the BRC’s said recommendation is to be implemented as the pilot project of a larger, longer-term national fuel disposition campaign, the northwestern Illinois location seems to have geographical attributes and transportation infrastructure advantages that would facilitate the entire planning, implementation and operation phases of the campaign.” (see attached file)

Siting a CIS facility in Illinois for the nation’s “orphaned” HLRW (from reactors that have already closed, such as Exelon’s Zion Station north of Chicago) would add an additional 9,000+ tons of HLRW to the 9,000+ tons that Exelon’s reactors in Illinois have already produced – all with no place to go for disposal.  Experts believe this HLRW would sit in Illinois until at least 2048 at the earliest, thus making Illinois a national de facto HLRW dumpsite.

“Rep. Shimkus’ zeal for moving HLRW around prematurely could inevitably lead to Illinois becoming the de facto HLRW dump for entire nation, “ Kraft points out.  “As Einstein once said, ‘Intellectuals solve problems.  Geniuses prevent them.’  We could use a few more geniuses on the HLRW issue in the Illinois delegation to Congress, and Rep. Shimkus does not seem to be one,” Kraft concluded.

“The nation needs a permanent, deep geologic HLRW disposal facility.  That’s a given, and we support that,” Kraft continues.  “Engaging in a dangerous high-level radioactive waste shell game that unleashes 70,000+ tons of HLRW onto the nation’s crumbling road and rail infrastructure and waterways, just so the nuclear industry can continue to make more even more HLRW is irresponsible and does not solve the problem of finding the permanent disposal facility location.  Neither does sending it to an inadequate hole in the ground, nor a ‘temporary’ CIS.  For those reasons we and scores of other safe-energy and anti-nuclear organizations nationwide are urging citizens and municipalities to TELL their Congressional representatives to reject the ‘Fukushima Freeway’ concept of radioactive waste management,” Kraft concluded.

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Stop Fukishima Freeways Campaign

The State of Nevada has updated their nuclear waste transportation page.
State of Nevada Nuclear Waste Transportation Page


** NEIS was founded in 1981 to provide the public with credible information on the hazards of nuclear power, waste, and radiation; and information about the viable energy alternatives to nuclear power.