Daily Diary Entries from the Radioactive Roads and Rails mock high level nuclear waste cask tour
July 5 to July 11,
Chicago, IL to St. Louis, MO
Written by Kevin Kamps
Nuclear Waste Specialist
Nuclear Information & Resource Service
On the road cell phone number: 202-262-9518
Voice mail in D.C. office (I'll phone back ASAP): 202-328-0002
Wed., July 5th, 2000
Leaving Chicago I hit a long traffic jam. The mock nuclear waste cask crawled along I-94 and I-90 past downtown Chicago, under the shadow of the towering skyscrapers, at 20 miles per hour, and sometimes came to a dead stop. All in all, the cask was stuck next to the very same neighboring cars for well over an hour. This is actually on the short end of how long Chicago traffic jams can last. During a particularly long dead standstill, people in neighboring cars actually rolled down their windows to ask me what in the world I was hauling behind me. I was able to hand them all our literature. I explained to them that - at their distance of six feet from the cask -- had this been an actual high level nuclear waste cask, they would have been exposed to the equivalent of one chest x-ray per hour in harmful neutron and gamma radiation. This is because it would take so much shielding material such as lead to completely contain all the radiation in the waste that the container would be too heavy to transport. High level radioactive waste shipments are like mobile x-ray machines that cannot be turned off. Such exposures would be especially harmful to pregnant women and the babies within their wombs, infants and small children, the elderly, and the infirm - persons whose immune system is already challenged. Such random exposures would go unrecorded. In a place like Chicago, targeted for as many as 36,300 high level radioactive waste shipments according to the Department of Energy, people driving on the highways or living along the rails could be exposed many times over the 25 to 30 years of shipments.
Thursday, July 6th, 2000
Traveling along the I-80/I-90 toll road to our events in northern Indiana, I had some interesting encounters with toll booth attendants. The first attendant actually thought that the mock cask was real, and asked "can I see your papers?" I explained that this was only a model of what an actual truck cask would look like. The attendant was very interested to see our literature, and even phoned his co-workers up the toll road. At each toll booth, attendants asked me many of the same questions: how much radiation would such a cask expose them to? how many such casks were projected to travel this toll road? how soon would such shipments begin? Toll booth attendants are yet one more forgotten sector of the population who would unknowingly be exposed to multiple radiation doses from high level nuclear waste shipments. Given the tens of thousands of shipments potentially traveling the Indiana toll road, such exposures could add up quickly.
Friday, July 7th, 2000
Our events in northern Indiana have gone well over the past couple days. Dr. Marvin Resnikoff and Matt Lamb from Radioactive Waste Management Associates in New York City gave slide show presentations to an environmental studies class at Calumet College in Whiting, Indiana, and to the Citizen Action Coalition canvassers in South Bend. Citizen Action Coalition of Indiana has worked against the Mobile Chernobyl for years. Their door to door canvass campaign generated 15,000 letters to the newly elected U.S. Senator from Indiana Evan Bayh in the space of just several weeks. Citizen Action Coalition has taken part in the Nuclear-Free Action Camps in New England and the Great Lakes, serving as a core organizer of the latter. A representative of the South Bend fire department also attended the presentation. Resnikoff and Lamb's presentation was based on their analyses of the risks to health and the impacts to the economy of a severe accident involving high level radioactive waste transport. They used the Department of Energy's own models to perform these analyses, yet arrived at very different results. One of the more startling findings was that health impacts could be more than ten times worse than what DOE reported in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Yucca Mountain. DOE, assuming 25 year old irradiated fuel, calculated 31 latent cancer fatalities attributable to a "maximum" hypothetical rail cask accident. However, by substituting in 10 year old irradiated fuel (which would have had less time to decay and thus would be more radioactive), Resnikoff and Lamb found that 355 to 431 latent cancer fatalities could result. Another startling finding involved economic impacts of a severe accident. DOE did mention categories of economic impacts that could result from a severe transport accident (such things as emergency response costs; survey, cleanup, and decontamination; relocation costs; loss of business due to interdiction and evacuation; stigma effects for an area impacted by a nuclear accident). However, even though its model could calculate dollar values for such economic impacts, DOE chose not to reveal such information in its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Yucca Mountain. Resnikoff and Lamb, using DOE's own model, did perform such calculations. What they found was shocking. A severe truck cask accident could result in $20 billion to $36 billion in cleanup costs for an accident in an urban area. A severe rail accident in an urban area could result in costs from $145 billion to $270 billion. The slide show presentation was followed by a brief rally involving the mock cask and CAC canvassers dressed in all-too-real radiation accident costumes, complete with gas masks, full body suits, and yellow booties. Lisa Gue at Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Project did excellent media work, and we were pleased to wake the next morning to see our rally covered as front page headline news in area papers with big, full color pictures.
Saturday, July 8th, 2000
The next stop on the Radioactive Roads and Rails tour was Indianapolis, Indiana. Here, Judy Treichel from the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force and Steve Frishman from the State of Nevada Nuclear Waste Project Office sat down with City/County Councilors. These public officials were most concerned about the immediate local impacts such a transport program would mean for Indianapolis, especially in terms of emergency responder preparedness and negative consequences for property values along nuclear waste transport routes such as Interstate 70. Dave Menzer of Citizen Action Coalition based in Indy will follow up with these officials, in hopes of advancing a City/County resolution prohibiting high level radioactive waste shipments. A few years ago, the Indiana State Legislature passed such a resolution, prohibiting high level nuclear waste shipments through the State until generation of high level wastes had ceased. Indiana has no nuclear power reactors within its borders, thanks in large part to the effective activism and legal intervention of CAC in the early to mid 1980's. Steve and Judy also did a presentation about their decades of involvement at Yucca Mountain, and where the situation is at presently. Attendees included members of the public, the minority leader of the City/County council, and canvassers and organizers from CAC's Indy office from other offices around the State. After the presentation, Lisa Gue from Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Project led participants in a "What you can do now" session. We all wrote post cards to Indiana elected officials urging them to oppose the Mobile Chernobyl through the State. Participants left "armed" with NIRS well known "Danger - Radioactive Waste Transport Route" stickers, ready to educate their fellow Hoosiers by posting the stickers in visible public places. Contact me at NIRS (ph. 202-328-0002 ext. 14) if you'd like to organize stickering actions where you live.
Monday, July 10th, 2000
From Indy our cask tour traveled back into Illinois to the capital of Springfield. Here I was hosted by Dr. Alex Casella, a professor of physics in the Energy and Environmental Studies program at Illinois University at Springfield. We held a press conference at the State Capitol building, with the cask parked at the foot of the Abraham Lincoln statue. Lincoln lived and practiced law in Springfield when he was elected President in 1861. Honest Abe probably would have been ashamed of the nuclear establishment's dishonesty regarding high level nuclear waste transportation risks. Radioactive Waste Management Associates' slide presentation focuses in on the nuclear industry's and Department of Energy's misuse of cask tests performed at Sandia National Labs, New Mexico in the late 1970's. The tests were only designed to verify computer models, not to test the safety of transport casks. But the DOE and nuclear industry used the spectacular footage of high speed crashes and fiery infernos to produce an "educational" film, which they distributed by the thousands to emergency management agencies, journalists, and emergency responders. One of the newspaper reporters in Springfield had actually viewed the film. What DOE and industry did NOT tell audiences viewing their film was that the casks used in the tests were obsolete and no longer in service at the time of the tests. Also, the casks contained fresh uranium and not irradiated nuclear fuel, thus exerting much lower pressures and temperatures within the cask. Some of the tests actually breached the containers. Valves operated as designed and opened to relieve pressure during the long duration fire test, spewing forth steam that would have been radioactive had irradiated fuel been inside. The long high temperature fire also began melting and vaporizing the lead radiation shielding, and opened a crack on the cask. A cask was breached by a missile in a terrorism test. The test involving a train colliding with a cask hauled by a truck looked spectacular on the film, but the narrator failed to point out that the cask merely sliced through the locomotive's sheet metal, missing the real test of colliding with the train's solid structure below. That cask also bounced twice after the impact; another cask subjected to two consecutive drop tests cracked. When he learned such information that had never been communicated in the nuclear establishment's film, the Springfield journalist agreed that the film represented a propaganda tool designed to sedate the public's concerns about high level nuclear waste transportation. He and a large number of additional local reporters from newspapers, t.v. and radio were eager for information on high level nuclear waste transport cask safety, and how rail shipments on a DOE-targeted train line through Springfield would affect the region. I relayed to them information from Marvin Resnikoff's 1983 book "The Next Nuclear Gamble" about nuclear waste storage, transport and "disposal." Marvin documented that the tests for transport cask safety are decades old and inadequate. For instance, the fire test was first developed way back in 1947, and has not changed much since. Casks are only required to be able to survive a 1,475 degree Fahrenheit fire for 30 minutes. However, many flammables on the roads and rails today burn at much hotter temperatures. Diesel fuel, for example, burns at 1,800 degrees. Other chemicals burn at temperatures over 3,000 and 4,000 degrees. In addition, there have been countless real life accidents that have burned for much longer than 30 minutes. The 30 foot drop test onto an unyielding surface was developed in the early 1960's. It represents only a 30 mile per hour collision. Speeds on the roads and rails these days are a bit faster than 30 mph, and such objects as bridge abutments are fairly unyielding. Crush tests are not even required. Cask valves that are designed to relieve pressure within the shipping container represent direct pathways for radiation escape into the environment under accident conditions. Cask seals and welds are other weak points in the event of accidents. Recalling all the countless miles of corn fields that stretched to the horizon that I had passed driving into Springfield, I told the reporters about the DOE's own calculation on severe accident consequences in a rural area. Several years ago, DOE estimated that a severe transport accident in a rural setting that released only a miniscule fraction of the cask's radioactive cargo would contaminate a 42 square mile area of land. The cleanup would cost $620 million and take one year and three months. Such radioactive contamination, albeit on a much larger scale, has ruined the breadbasket of the former Soviet Union - northern Ukraine and southern Belarus. Chernobyl's radioactive cesium and strontium, absorbed into crops through their roots, has turned fertile farmland into a deadly zone. Only 14 years have passed since the Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe - radioactive cesium and strontium will poison the food supply for 300 years or more. A severe accident with a high level waste shipment could cause such long term damage to a region, albeit on a much smaller scale. But for local residents, such an accident would represent their very own Chernobyl. That's why the bold banner headline on our mock cask reads "Stop the Mobile Chernobyl!"
Tuesday, July 11, 2000
Today we crossed the mighty Mississippi and entered into St. Louis, Missouri. Driving across the tall bridge over the river, I wondered how many hundreds of feet down to the water below, and how deep the water? Had the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission tested casks for such an accident? Water immersing a transport cannister could provide the neutron reflection necessary to induce a nuclear criticality accident in the large quantity of fissile uranium and plutonium still contained in the waste. Such an inadvertent criticality accident occurred in Japan last October. The uncontained and unshielded nuclear chain reaction continued for 20 hours, and led to the deaths of two workers and the exposure of over 400 other workers, emergency responders, and local residents. Such an accident was deemed impossible at such a uranium fuel fabrication plant, so no emergency response plan was in place. Likewise, the DOE, NRC and nuclear industry assure the public in this country that nuclear waste transport accidents are next to impossible, and inadequate training, equipping and preparing of emergency responders seems to be the rule rather than the exception.
We held a press conference in conjunction with the Missouri Coalition for the Environment at City Hall in downtown St. Louis. The mock cask made for a sobering picture framed beneath the monumental St. Louis arch. This gateway to the west holds a different, somber symbolism in the Atomic Age. The vast majority of commercial nuclear power reactors are located east of the Mississippi River, yet both the proposed "interim storage site" and the proposed permanent national repository for high level nuclear wastes are located in the far West, and on Native American land. A little environmental racism to go with the fact that neither Utah nor Nevada have nuclear reactors within their borders?! In addition, both States have already suffered the most from nuclear weapons testing fallout, and have already suffered "low level" atomic waste dumping. Tens of thousands of high level nuclear waste shipments would pour through St. Louis if the dump sites at Skull Valley, Utah and Yucca Mountain, NV are opened. If DOE chooses to use mostly truck casks to transport waste, St. Louis would see two shipments per day for decades. If mostly train casks would be used, three train casks per week would pass by the Gateway to the West. Each truck cask could hold up to 40 times the long-lasting radiation released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Every single train cask could hold up to 260 times the long-lasting radiation released at Hiroshima. Our press conference location also faced a memorial to firefighters located in a park across Market Street, a reminder that emergency responders would be on the front line in the event of a radioactive waste transport accident. A city alderman and a candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives attended the press conference. A deputy delivered a statement released by the mayor expressing his opposition to high level nuclear waste shipments through St. Louis.
In the evening, 80 people attended my slide show presentation at Hixson Middle School in Webster Groves. This community lies right on the Union Pacific railroad tracks, a primary high level nuclear waste transport route that already saw two dozen shipments of Three Mile Island's melted down fuel pass through on its way to Idaho in the mid-1980's and early 1990's. Attendees feared for loss of property values, as well as the health of their children. Many of those in attendance had made strong statements of opposition to DOE's Yucca Mountain plans at a public hearing in St. Louis in January. It took citizen pressure to win that hearing, which was not originally scheduled. Citizen pressure and even pressure from concerned Members of Congress was required to wrest hearings from a stubbornly reluctant DOE for such heavily impacted transportation corridors as Cleveland, Ohio, Chicago, and Lincoln, Nebraska.
It seems that citizen pressure is again needed to win public hearings in transportation corridor States, this time from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission in regards to the proposed "interim storage site" for high level wastes on the reservation of the Skull Valley Goshute Indians in Utah. The nuclear power industry, impatient with the "slow" pace of the Yucca Mountain Project, is intent on buying itself a waste dump, and quick. Eight nuclear utility companies, led by Northern States Power in Minnesota, has entered into private negotiations with the tribal council of the Skull Valley Goshutes to "temporarily" store 40,000 tons (all that presently exists) of high level atomic waste. Traditional tribal member Marjegen Bullcreek leads the opposition to the dump, citing the sacredness of the land and the future health of her descendants. Tribal member Sammy Blackbear has even filed lawsuit against the Bureau of Indian Affairs and Bureau of Land Management for allowing the dump proposal to go forward. Blackbear charges the three member tribal council with bribing tribal members to support the dump, and with withholding tribal monetary disbursements from dump opponents. The State of Utah, a Utah wilderness protection organization, and Utah Downwinders who've suffered from nuclear weapons testing fallout have filed contentions against the dump before the NRC's Atomic Safety Licensing Board. NRC recently published its Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the proposed dump. NRC plans to only hold two public hearings, both in Utah. Just as DOE attempted to do with the Yucca Mountain DEIS, NRC is attempting to downplay the environmental, economic and social impact impacts of high level radioactive waste transportation by not holding public hearings in corridor States such as those I'm traveling on this Radioactive Roads and Rails tour. Kay Drey, NIRS board member who deserves special thanks for her role in coordinating public participation in the January 2000 DOE hearing and in setting up this tour stop for the mock cask, penned a petition urging NRC to hold public hearings in corridor States, and to grant an adequate extension to the present Septmeber 21st deadline for the public to make comments on the Skull Valley DEIS. I will now carry this petition on the tour, and deliver it to NRC at the public hearings in Salt Lake City at the end of July. Please watch NIRS website (www.nirs.org) for information on how you can sign onto this petition, and how you can submit your own comments to NRC. If NRC approves the nuclear industry's petition to open the Skull Valley dump, Mobile Chernobyls could hit the roads and rails as early as 2003.