While Attorney General Ashcroft announced the capture of an alleged al Qaeda operative intending to make a radioactive "dirty bomb," the Bush Administration has given the rubber stamp for thousands of potential dirty bombs to move across the United States to a leaky dump at Yucca Mountain. A national nuclear dump in Nevada, located far from the sites of waste generation would result in millions of shipping miles of high-level nuclear waste — the most concentrated nuclear material on the planet. The routes (barge, rail and truck) would be general commerce routes that link trade centers. Major US cities in 43 states are in the cross hairs for Yucca shipments, which in the current era, could well become dirty bombs if exploded in transit.
The radioactivity in these containers—primarily from commercial nuclear power–dwarfs the amount of persistent radioactivity released by nuclear weapons. Indeed, each truck cask contains the radiological equivalent of 40 times the persistent radioactivity released by the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. A rail shipment contains as much as 240 times more than released at Hiroshima. While shipping containers are touted as robust, the US Department of Energy's own tests have shown that rocket launchers that are for retail sale in many countries around the world are capable of penetrating a shipping cask, releasing deadly amounts of radioactivity.
"The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste shipments would travel through thousands of communities and each and every one of them will be a rolling risk of terror. Here in DC the rail route travels through tunnels nearly under the US Capitol. How can the US Senate stand by and allow this program to go forward?" asked Mary Olson, Director of the Southeast Office of Nuclear Information and Resource Service. "My home in Asheville, NC is at the cross roads of three major nuclear waste routes so we call it the 'Atomic Crossroads' — but so is Albuquerque, Atlanta, Indianapolis, St Louis, Chicago, Lansing and hundreds of other US cities."
The US Senate will make the crucial decision about Yucca, likely in the next few weeks. The State of Nevada has vetoed President Bush's approval of this flawed scheme. Congress has the opportunity to uphold or override Nevada's veto. The US House has sided with Bush. "The senators in states with nuclear reactors should be clear that they are not getting rid of all the nuclear waste, Yucca just makes room for new waste to be made, and converts their cities and states to potential terrorist target ranges," said Kevin Kamps, Nuclear Waste Specialist at NIRS.
Up to 100,000 shipments over 30 years are projected depending on how much is moved by truck, barge or rail. "Providing security over a 30 year period for tens of thousands of moving targets is not realistic" Kamps continued. "These shipments will be no secret; the containers are so large that it would be practically like trying to hit a barn if a terrorist decided to shoot at one! Putting dirty bombs on the rivers, roads and rails through our cities will NOT increase our security; Yucca Mountain is the exact wrong plan.”
Senate action on Yucca Mountain is expected in the coming weeks.