The highly-radioactive dismantled reactor vessel from the Big Rock Point nuclear power plant near Charlevoix in northern Michigan is being carted through Michigan, Ohio, and several other states en route to a radioactive waste dump in South Carolina.
The nuclear reactor vessel began its secretive thousand mile journey to the dumpsite in Barnwell, South Carolina under cover of darkness at 3 a.m. Tuesday, October 7th. Highly radioactive due to 35 years of nuclear chain reactions within it (which made the metal of the reactor vessel itself radioactive), as well as due to radioactive contamination from experimental plutonium fuel rods which ruptured within it, the huge (282 ton) reactor vessel will travel by truck, train, and perhaps even barge before reaching its burial site.
The semi-secret shipment bearing the radioactive cargo traveled by heavy haul truck (96 wheels, traveling at a maximum speed of 5 miles per hour due to the heave load) from Charlevoix through Petoskey on US 31, then south down the 131 Expressway to State Route 32, then east to Gaylord. There, it will be loaded onto a train and carried by the Lake State Railroad Company from Gaylord to Oak Grove, Otsego Lake, Waters, Frederic, Grayling, Roscommon, St. Helen, West Branch, Alger, Sterling, Standish, Pinconning, Linwood, Kawkawlin, and Bay City (thus traveling through Otsego, Crawford, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Arenac, and Bay Counties). At that point, the shipment could go either down the CMGN (Central Michigan)/ TSBY (Tuscola & Saginaw Bay)/ AA (Ann Arbor, Mich. Interstate) line to Toledo, or else down the CMGN/CSXT (CSX Transportation) lines to Toledo. The CMGN (Central Michigan)/ TSBY (Tuscola & Saginaw Bay)/ AA (Ann Arbor, Mich. Interstate) line to Toledo would pass through: Saginaw, Fosters, Burt, Montrose, Flushing, Lennon, Durand, Byron, Cohoctah, Oak Grove, Howell, Lakeland, Hamburg, Whitmore Lake, Ann Arbor, joins/becomes AA line, Milan, Azalia, Dundee, Temperance, Lambertville, Toledo OH (thus passing through Saginaw, Flint, Shiawassee, Livingston, Washtenaw, and Monroe Counties). The CMGN/CSXT (CSX Transportation) lines would pass through Saginaw, Bridgeport, Birch Run, Clio, Mt. Morris, Flint, Grand Blanc, Newark, Holly, Rose Center, Clyde, Highland, Milford, Wixom, Northville, Plymouth, New Boston, Waltz, Carleton, Monroe, LaSalle/Toledo Beach, Erie/Luna Pier, Toledo OH (thus passing through Saginaw, Genesee, Oakland, Washtenaw, Wayne, and Monroe Counties).
According to official reference documents covering the shipment, there are 13,100 curies of radioactive contamination in the reactor vessel in the form of activated metal, and 3 curies of loose surface contamination. At a meeting with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, British Nuclear Fuels (hired by nuclear utility Consumers Energy to dismantle the Big Rock nuclear reactor) admitted that the transport container (a 25 foot long, 13 foot diameter steel cylinder with walls 3 inches thick) may be damaged and breached in a 30 foot !QD!. BNFL claimed, however, that the release of radioactivity and radiation dose rates would meet regulatory acceptance standards. But NRC regulations allow for 1 rem per hour doses at a distance of 1 meter (a little over 3 feet) away under accident conditions. International Atomic Energy Agency transport regulations more recently adopted by the U.S. Department of Transportation assume that emergency responders could receive up to 5 rem doses of radiation in just 30 minutes.
“Have emergency responders along the projected rail routes been told that they’re ‘permitted’ to get in 30 minutes under accident conditions what nuclear industry workers may be exposed to in the course of a year of ‘normal’ operations at a nuclear reactor?” said Brendan Hoffman of Public Citizen. “How many emergency responders have been given copies of the regulations to know what dangers they would face in an accident? It appears that most emergency responders have not even been notified the radioactive reactor is headed their way.”
“Apparently, the nuclear utility did not even directly contact the Otsego County emergency services director nor the local fire chief about this shipment,” said Kevin Kamps. “Officials at the U.S. Department of Transportation’s hazardous materials office had not even heard about the shipment as recently as yesterday. The public and emergency responders deserve to know about radioactive waste shipments for their own safety. What is the nuclear industry trying to hide?”
“If local officials and emergency responders at the point of transfer from truck to train have not been notified, what of officials and emergency responders throughout the rest of Michigan (not to mention other states down the line) along routes this shipment will travel?” said Terry Lodge, of Toledo, a longtime activist against nuclear power. “This is the epitome of the ‘nuclear priesthood’ that must guard the lethal atom for thousands of years. Our ‘plutonium economy’ will see hundreds of highly-radioactive shipments per year passing through large population centers for decades to come. They must be transported perfectly. Even the government admits that sheer perfection is impossible. Statistics are fine until you’re the loser.”
Only three irradiated commercial nuclear power reactor pressure vessels have been shipped for burial previously in the United States, all during the 1990’s: Portland Gas and Electric’s Trojan nuclear reactor vessel in oregon, shipped up the Columbia River by barge for burial in Richland, Washington; and the Maine Yankee and Yankee Rowe (Massachusetts) nuclear power plant reactor vessels, shipped by road and rail to the Barnwell, South Carolina atomic waste dump. A fourth, long-delayed California reactor vessel shipment shows how irradiated reactor vessels are political hot potatoes: due to local resistance and deteriorated railroad tracks near the San Onofre nuclear power plant in southern California, the nuclear utility decided to ship the reactor vessel by boat through the Panama Canal to get it to the Barnwell, South Carolina dumpsite. But Panama rejected the proposal. The utility then tried to get permission to ship it past the tip of South America, but Chile objected. The current proposal is to ship the shutdown nuclear power plant reactor vessel all the way around the world, across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, to the Port of Charleston, South Carolina. But resistance is brewing there as well to reject the shipment.”