The Windsor Star

Plutonium shipments will bypass Michigan

October 2, 1998
Associated Press

The U.S. Energy Department, pressured by a powerful congressman and local officials, pledged that plutonium fuel shipments would not be sent to Canada through Michigan. The federal government was considering sending trucks carrying the radioactive fuel from scrapped nuclear warheads across Interstate 69 through Port Huron and across the Blue Water Bridge to Chalk River, Ont. Michigan was one of three possible routes.

But Energy Secretary Bill Richardson sent a letter Wednesday to Rep. David Bonior (D-Mount Clemens) assuring him that the southeastern Michigan route had been taken off the list. Other alternatives considered

"As a result of concerns you have raised, we have removed the route over the Blue Water Bridge from further consideration and will consider other alternatives," Richardson said in the letter. Officials from Port Huron, Marysville and St. Clair County said they feared disaster from road accidents, fire and even terrorism if the plutonium went through or near their communities. The route went through Bonior's district and he has been pushing the Energy Department for months to eliminate it from consideration. Bonior told Richardson last month that the bridge was the fourth busiest crossing point between the U.S. and Canada and crossed the St. Clair River, the primary source of drinking water for many communities.

Accident feared

"Should any type of spill or accident occur, it would have a disastrous affect," he wrote Richardson in an August letter. Richardson noted the amount of radioactive plutonium being transported initially would only be 119 grams -- an amount about the size of two AA penlight batteries. Federal officials said the chance of an accident would be very rare: the fuel would be enclosed in pellets and packaged inside eight metal rods, locked in a truck. But local officials in Michigan were concerned about the shipments increasing in the future.

The plutonium shipment is part of an Energy Department plan to recycle scrapped Cold War nuclear warheads into fuel to be used in commercial reactors. Canadian reactors also will receive nuclear fuel from the Russian military.