If Congress makes the recently proposed changes to the Nuclear Waste Policy Act, thousands of shipments of containers of the most concentrated commercial radioactive waste by way of roads, rails, and waterways would be triggered. These hazardous shipments would impact every local community through which they pass.
While the containers are shielded, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission acknowledges that the penetrating gamma rays can be detected over a half mile from the containers (900 meters or 0.56 miles).
Commercial high level radioactive waste has been stored at more than 100 nuclear reactors across the country since the first commercial nuclear reactor began operating in Shippingport, Pennsylvania in 1957.
This intensely radioactive waste is first cooled underwater in 40 foot deep water-cooled pools that are rapidly filling beyond capacity. As pools fill up, some waste is transferred to dry storage at reactor sites, but it is being proposed that the remainder of the 70,000+ tons of high-level waste currently stored at reactor sites be transported across the United States to proposed Centralized Interim Storage sites.
Despite Centralized Interim Storage (CIS) being illegal under the current US laws, the Department of Energy (DOE) is encouraging private Centralized “Interim” Storage (CIS) facilities. Theoretically, they would only last until a permanent repository opens, but these sites could become de-facto permanent, above-ground or near-surface dumps. Alternately, if these sites are temporary, high-level nuclear waste must be transported more than once.
Transport casks, although certified by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, are not required to meet the real road, rail, and water conditions they could encounter. They have never been physically tested. In 1978, a predecessor to today’s casks was subjected to tests which were filmed, and later debunked, showing the soundness of the transportation casks. These films are still used to give the impression that physical testing is performed on today’s casks, but only computer modeling is done.
Casks are designed to withstand a 30 minute fire at 1475 degrees Fahrenheit, submersion in 8 feet of water and drops onto unyielding surfaces and onto a steel spike. But, fires can burn hotter and longer, waterways are much deeper and impacts can be far greater and can occur at different angles than the design scenarios.
If the Nuclear Waste Policy Act and its 1987 Amendments are changed or reinterpreted to allow Centralized “Interim” Storage, and a supposedly temporary site or sites get licensed, tens of thousands of shipments of irradiated nuclear fuel are expected to travel via truck or rail through as many as 45 states, including many densely populated metropolises and through prime farmland growing our nation’s food.
Truck casks contain fewer fuel assemblies than rail casks, but require many more shipments. Both modes pose risks of major radioactive accidents and routine radioactive emissions even through the heavy shielding. Barge shipments would take place on the Great Lakes, rivers, oceans and bays.
Such large-scale transport, which could affect 100 million Americans who live within a mile or two of proposed transport routes, would occur if efforts to revive the proposed scientifically-indefensible Yucca Mountain, Nevada waste dump are accomplished, or if a Centralized “Interim” Storage (CIS) site for high-level radioactive waste is opened.
There have been some shipments of high level irradiated (spent) fuel since it was first generated in the 1940s and 1950s but the amounts will exponentially increase if shipments of the over 70,000+ tons of high-level waste currently stored at reactor sites begins.