DOE cooperating with states to identify shipment routes

By JON SARCHE

Associated Press Writer

Friday, January 21, 2000

DENVER (AP) - The U.S. Energy Department recognizes western states' concerns about shipping nuclear waste and is working with them to identify safe routes, a Western Governors Association official said Thursday.

But Ron Ross, the WGA's program manager for nuclear and hazardous waste, energy and transportation, told the staffs of Gov. Bill Owens and U.S. Rep. Scott McInnis, R-Colo., that the states have limited authority over how nuclear waste will be shipped to a burial site in Nevada that is expected to open in 2010.

"Our position is they now have to start designating" shipment routes, Ross said. "We want to start that very early in the process."

He said the Energy Department is studying shipping the waste to Nevada's Yucca Mountain on Interstate 70 because it would be a relatively short route. But he stressed that the department has not picked a route yet.

A draft environmental impact statement for the waste-storage plan estimated that 70,000 tons of radioactive waste will be shipped to Yucca Mountain. The possibility that 33,350 waste shipments could travel along I-70 has worried many state and local government officials in Colorado.

Ross said the WGA believes that statement, released in November 1999, is flawed, in part because it does not designate a preferred shipment route.

Ross said the WGA is working with the Energy Department to designate a route at least four years before Yucca Mountain begins accepting waste to make sure emergency response agencies along the route and alternative routes receive proper training.

Colorado State Patrol Capt. Allan Turner, director of the patrol's hazardous material unit, said states where nuclear waste is shipped are requiring rigorous inspections of those trucks used.

But he said while Colorado opposes the designation of I-70 as a primary shipping route, the state may not be able to stop the federal government from using it.

That is despite the fact the state has banned shipments of nuclear waste along I-70 since the 1980s because of steep grades and tight curves. Turner said he was working with officials in Wyoming and New Mexico to develop an alternative to I-70.

Ross said the U.S. Supreme Court has determined that shipments of nuclear waste fall under interstate commerce law, meaning states cannot interfere with them.

But he said if there are safety concerns, the WGA has decided that a potentially unsafe shipment would be stopped.

"We wouldn't do anything illegal, but if it's not a safe shipment, we will take action" such as prohibiting a truck to continue on its route, Ross said. "We'll pay the costs later. That's not a threat to the DOE because we are cooperating with them."

McInnis requested the meeting to learn about alternatives to I-70 for shipping the waste.

"The mountain corridor along I-70 is too treacherous for the transport of high-level radioactive nuclear waste," he said in a recent written statement. "Anyone who's traveled the narrow twists and turns of the Glenwood Canyon or Vail Pass would likely agree that radioactive waste shouldn't be traveling along these difficult stretches."

Garfield County Commissioner John Martin said it would be extremely difficult to dispatch appropriate equipment and crews to an accident involving nuclear waste if it occurs in Glenwood Canyon or other areas.

A final environmental impact statement is expected to be released in November.