Detroit, MI — According to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), highly radioactive nuclear fuel rods could travel the same railway that experienced the train derailment involving highly flammable methyl alcohol in Detroit this morning. Concerned citizens' groups fear that if high-level radioactive waste were to be involved in a massive methyl alcohol explosion or fire, as could have happened in Detroit today, a radioactive catastrophe could result.
A brand new website shows that the proposed high-level radioactive waste shipping route passes within 0.3 miles of Greenfield Union Elementary School, one of the two schools evacuated today due to the train derailment in Detroit. An address can be typed into the website at http://www.ewg.org/reports/nuclearwaste/find_address.php, and a map showing the distance to a proposed high-level radioactive waste transport route will be generated. The website is based upon DOE's high-level radioactive waste transportation route maps which were released in February, 2002 as part of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed national dump at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. A copy of this DOE map is attached. The Environmental Working Group website also lists schools and hospitals in Detroit that are located next to the proposed high-level radioactive waste shipping route (see www.ewg.org/reports/nuclearwaste/schoolhosp.php?stab=US).
While in 2002 DOE was still considering using truck shipments on highways for Fermi's waste, earlier this year it decided to use mostly rail shipments, thus implicating the train route involved in today's derailment.
Whether or not this proposed high-level radioactive waste shipping route will be used could depend on the outcome of the U.S. presidential election a week from now. George W. Bush fully supports the Yucca Mountain, Nevada national dump for high-level radioactive waste, while Democratic nominee John Kerry opposes it.
The DOE report also shows that 6,429 irradiated fuel assemblies weighing 1,160 tons could travel this railway through Detroit 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 this rail route through Detroit on their way to Yucca
Mountain, Nevada. The Nevada State Agency for Nuclear Projects has posted DOE's route maps on-line at: www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/maps2002/roadrail/mi.htm.
"It is very disturbing to think what might have happened had that derailed train been shipping highly radioactive waste along with its cargo of highly flammable and explosive methanol," 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 citizen coalition concerned with nuclear power and radioactive waste issues.
"DOE's Yucca Mountain plan 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 an explosion or long duration, high temperature fire as could have happened with the methanol train derailment in Detroit today," 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 Mountain. 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. Such a radiological release in metro Detroit could cost billions 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 methanol flame temperatures can burn hotter than 1,100 degrees Celsius (over 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit) according to the Society of Fire Protection Engineers "Handbook of Fire Protection Engineering," 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, the U.S. Department of Energy and Detroit Edison plan to transport high-level radioactive waste through Detroit should be blocked," Kamps said. "A major radiation release could mean evacuating Detroit communities not just temporarily, but forever."