Potterville, MI – According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), highly radioactive nuclear fuel rods could travel the same Grand Trunk Western (GTW) railway that experienced the train derailment and propane spill in Potterville on Memorial Day. Concerned citizens’ groups fear that if high-level nuclear waste were to be involved in a massive propane explosion or fire, as was narrowly averted in Potterville, a radioactive catastrophe could result.
DOE’s high-level nuclear waste transportation route maps were released in February, 2002 as part of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed national geologic repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Nuclear waste from Detroit Edison’s Fermi nuclear plant near Monroe could be hauled by rail through Detroit, Pontiac, Durand, Lansing, Potterville, Charlotte, Battle Creek, Climax, Scotts, Vicksburg, Schoolcraft, Marcellus, and Cassopolis before leaving Michigan. The DOE route map for Michigan is attached.
The DOE report also shows that 6,429 irradiated fuel assemblies weighing 1,160 tons could travel the GTW route through Michigan over the course of 24 to 38 years. In a 1995 report, the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects reported that 131 rail casks from Fermi nuclear plant could travel the GTW line through Michigan on their way to Yucca Mountain, Nevada. The Nevada State Agency for Nuclear Projects has posted DOE’s route maps on-line at:
“It is very disturbing to think what might have happened had that derailed train been shipping nuclear waste along with its hundreds of thousands of gallons of explosive propane,” said Kevin Kamps, Nuclear Waste Specialist at Nuclear Information & Resource Service in Washington, D.C.
Kamps is a native of Kalamazoo and a board member of Don’t Waste Michigan, the state-wide citizens coalition concerned with nuclear power and radioactive waste issues.
“DOE’s Yucca Mountain plan, soon to be voted on in the U.S. Senate, would allow for high-level nuclear waste to be shipped on trains carrying other hazardous, flammable, and explosive chemicals,” Kamps said.
“Nuclear waste shipping containers are not required to withstand such a massive explosion or long duration, high temperature fire,” Kamps said. “Release of even a small fraction of the radioactive cargo could spell catastrophe for an entire region.”
Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, a University of Michigan educated nuclear physicist, has calculated that each of the 131 rail containers of atomic waste from Fermi could hold over two hundred times the long-lasting radiation released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
In its Yucca Mtn. Environmental Assessment (1986), DOE reported that a fiery accident releasing just a fraction of the atomic waste in a shipping container could contaminate a 42 square mile area, costing $620 million and taking a year and three months to clean up.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires nuclear waste casks to be designed to withstand a 1,475 degree Fahrenheit fire for 30 minutes. But propane flame temperatures top 3,400 degrees Fahrenheit (Resnikoff, “Next Nuclear Gamble,” 1983, p. 229) and real life train fires have burned out of control for many hours or even days.
“Given the potentially catastrophic risks of severe transport accidents and even terrorist attacks on shipments, Senators Stabenow and Levin should vote against the nuclear industry-driven rush to transport
high-level radioactive waste through the major cities of Michigan,” Kamps said. “A major radiation release could mean evacuating Potterville, and even Lansing, not for just a few days, but forever.”