NIRS

Daily Diary Entries from the Radioactive Roads and Rails Mock Nuclear Waste Cask Tour

Prepared by Kevin Kamps, Nuclear Waste Specialist at Nuclear Information and Resource Service, who is accompanied by his wife Gabriela Bulisova on the road...

Monday, July 17th, 2000

Today we entered Omaha, Nebraska. For a State with "only" two nuclear reactors within its borders, Nebraska would be hard hit by transportation to a repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Up to 34,000 truck shipments would travel through the entire State along Interstate 80, or up to 14,000 train shipments along Union Pacific and Burlington Northern/Sante Fe train routes. Up to 60 nuclear reactors in dozens of States to the East and South would ship their high level nuclear waste through Nebraska.

We parked the cask at the corner of 72nd and Dodge, near the University of Nebraska - "the busiest intersection in the State". Thousands of passersby got a look at our message, and we began to hear a buzz around town about the cask.

Our hosts in Nebraska are Nebraskans for Peace. NFP generated so many phone calls to Nebraska's U.S. Senator Bob Kerry earlier this year that Kerry's staff person begged for mercy. It failed to swing Kerry to vote against the Mobile Chernobyl bill, but the volume of calls no doubt sent a message to Kerry's office that his vote on Mobile Chernobyl carried a political price tag amongst his constituents.

NFP is the oldest and largest State-wide peace organization in the country. Its claims to fame include the beloved annual "Cat Lovers Against the Bomb" wall calendar, organizing to defeat plans to deploy the MX missile system in Nebraska, stopping the "White Train" nuclear shipments through the State, and helping defend Nebraska against a regional "low level" nuclear waste dump. Powerful allies to have in the fight against the Mobile Chernobyl, living as they are in a key targeted transport corridor State.

Tuesday, July 18th, 2000

We held a press conference with the cask at the "Heartland of America" park on the edge of downtown Omaha. Highway overpasses spanned overhead, a very appropriate symbol of the dark shadow that the Mobile Chernobyl casts over Heartland States like Nebraska.

We held a public presentation at an area church, attended by a State Senator, a State emergency response official, and members of the public from both sides of the political aisle. Issues that hit home with conservative members of the audience included the negative impacts on property values along transport routes for high level waste, as well as the huge subsidy to the nuclear power industry represented by the Price-Anderson Act, under which American taxpayers would be held financially responsible for the cleanup costs after a severe transport accident. The Department of Energy had the ability in its computer models to determine projected economic impacts from severe accidents as part of the Environmental Impact Statement for Yucca Mountain, but chose not to publish dollar values. Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, under contract with the State of Nevada, ran such calculations using DOE's own model. He determined that a single severe truck accident involving high level waste could lead to cleanup costs reaching $35 BILLION. A severe train accident could cost up to $270 BILLION to clean up. Such figures perked ears in Omaha, home of the Mutual of Omaha insurance giant.

Wednesday, July 19th, 2000

Today saw the mock cask parked in front of the towering Nebraska State Capitol in Lincoln, for a well attended press conference. A school bus filled with small children on a field trip pulled up directly behind the cask, adding a note of irony to the scene. Public Citizen's "Atomic Atlas" at its website (www.citizen.org) shows how close to elementary schools projected transport routes pass.

We met some very supportive State officials. Gabriela and I were treated to a special private tour of the Capitol building. Built in the late 1920's and early 1930's, the ornate architecture and interior design is a tribute to the spiritual and religious beliefs of Native American and pre-Christian Europe. Given Nebraska's reputation for conservative politics and religion, the Capitol building is considered by some the best trick ever played on Nebraskans. Mobile Chernobyl would be the WORST trick ever played on Nebraskans.

We met with Nebraska State Senator Don Priester and his staffperson Kate Allen, key figures in the successful fight to prevent a "low-level" nuclear waste dump from opening in the State.

Gabi and I drove the mock cask through the South Salt Creek neighborhood of Lincoln. This was the first neighborhood settled in the city. In the 1860's, a large influx of German settlers moved into the neighborhood. They are known as "Germans from Russia" because they had moved from Germany to Ukraine in 1763 at the invitation of Catherine the Great in her attempt to "Europeanize" her empire. When the Czar attempted to draft the Germans into the Russian Army, the Germans packed up and moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. Today, the South Salt Creek neighborhood is home to a diverse ethnic community, including recent low income immigrants from Mexico and Central America, many young families, and lots of children.

The Union Pacific and Burlington Northern train tracks pass right through the neighborhood. One resident told us you can almost reach out her window and touch the passing train cars. We spoke at a neighborhood association meeting, and parents of small children were very concerned to learn about the gamma and neutron radiation that streams out of these casks, even if there is no accident. The neighborhood association is determined to get the Lincoln City Council to pass a resolution blocking high-level nuclear waste shipments through their neighborhood.

A board member of Nebraskans for Peace, Bob Olson, put us up overnight. Bob's wife Betty was a founding member of NFP, and edited the Cat Lovers Against the Bomb calendar for many years before passing away last fall. We met the Olson's cat Sapphire (Sapphy), no doubt the inspiration for the calendar!

Friday, July 21, 2000

We pulled into Cheyenne, Wyoming just in time for the beginning of the 104th annual "Frontier Days" rodeo. We parked in front of the Capitol building for our press conference, a prime spot to be seen by the hundreds of thousands of visitors descending on Cheyenne for the week-long rodeo. The Union Pacific rail yard is only several blocks south of the Capitol building, and I-80 not far beyond that. Up to 34,000 truck shipments, up to 14,000 rail shipments, or some combination of the two could thus pass very close to Wyoming's capital.

Saturday, July 22, 2000

How could we not at least attempt to sneak into the Cheyenne "Frontier Days" parade? Warren Air Force Base, HQ for Strategic Air Command, is based in Cheyenne. It's the only Air Force Base lacking an airstrip: its primary mission is to staff the missile silos situated in the Nebraska, Wyoming and Colorado range land.

Warren Air Base usually takes up half of the two mile-long parade with its floats, if not its actual missiles rolling by on trailers. Our local hosts, folks with the Wyoming Peace Initiative, have tried for years to enter their anti-MX missile floats in the parade, only to be told by the "Frontier Days" Committee that such floats are not in the "Western theme" of the parade. How actual missiles ARE in the Western theme, while peace protests against them are not, the "Frontier Days" Committee did not say.

Unfortunately for the West, the nuclear power industry and its allies in the federal government are attempting to make nuclear waste a new Western theme. Despite 90% of the commercial nuclear reactors being east of the Colorado River, their high-level nuclear wastes are targeted for Nevada. The tens of thousands of shipments that would have to pass through States such as Wyoming (which has no reactors within its borders, yet would receive shipments from 58 reactors to the East) to get the wastes to Yucca Mountain make for a quite undesirable nuclear waste transportation theme for the West.

So with the cask in tow, we slowly rolled up into the column of floats as they lined up on a side street awaiting the start of the parade. We happened to be directly behind a neon green fire truck, the Air Force hazardous materials response unit, which seemed quite appropriate. After all, high-level nuclear waste from the nuclear weapons program is also targeted to be buried at Yucca Mountain.

Several parade officials passed us by without a batting an eye, so after 30 minutes in the line-up I thought our chances were good to make it into the parade. But then I spotted them, a phalanx of cowboys carrying clipboards - the dreaded Frontier Days Committee with the roster of permitted floats -- making their way towards me. The Superintendent of the Parade himself gave me the official boot. "Nope, not in this parade," he said sternly as he pointed to the exit. "Why not?" I asked. "Nothing political is allowed," he said gruffly. In front of me, dozens of floats glorifying the U.S. military, behind me, dozens of floats advertising large corporations like McDonald's and Wal-Mart. It seems that, at least in the star-spangled Cheyenne Frontier Days parade, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly do not apply to anything that the local power holders deem controversial.

So, instead of hundreds of thousands of parade on-lookers seeing our message, we had to settle for a few dozen concerned citizens coming to see our slide show presentation later that evening, and thousands more seeing the articles in the papers or catching the t.v. and radio reports generated by our press conference. Corrupt campaign finance laws have allowed the nuclear power industry to purchase a huge amount of "free" speech on Capitol Hill - tens of millions of dollars have been poured into Congressional, and now Presidential, campaigns - drowning out the concerns of tens of millions of people across the U.S. about the Mobile Chernobyl.

Millions more have been spent on lobbying and nationwide advertising campaigns. All an attempt to lock in the unsuitable Yucca Mountain site, and launch the Mobile Chernobyl as quickly as possible.

On Earth Day 2000, both myself representing NIRS and Wenonah Hauter (director, Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy and Environment Project) were arrested with 30 others (including Granny D, Doris Haddock, the 90 year old woman who walked from sea to shining sea for campaign finance reform) during a civil disobedience action in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

Part of the Alliance for Democracy's "democracy brigade" campaign, our Earth Day action demanded that public health and the environment take priority over Big Business' Mega Millions on such vital national policy as energy and nuclear waste disposal. Granny D will be a key note speaker at the second annual Nuclear-Free Great Lakes Action Camp in Michigan, August 20 to 26.

Monday, July 24, 2000

Driving west across Wyoming, we stopped in Laramie and Rawlins for press conferences. These and other smaller towns were built right on the Union Pacific rail line, their downtowns immediately adjacent to the tracks. Yet again, reporters' questions centered on such issues as lack of emergency preparedness, the doses to the public even without accidents occurring due to the "mobile x-ray machines that cannot be turned off", the consequences to human health and the environment due to severe accidents releasing radiation, and the loss of property value along transport routes.

Tuesday, July 25, 2000

In Jackson, dozens of concerned citizens took an evening off from frolicking in the beautiful Grand Tetons to listen to Dr. Marvin Resnikoff speak on the risks to Wyoming of high-level nuclear waste transportation. Folks stayed long after the presentation to ask questions and learn how they could become more involved. Gabriela and I drove the mock cask around Jackson's town square, exposing the thousands of tourists and outdoor adventurers NOT to gamma and neutron radiation, but to information about how they could act to stop the Mobile Chernobyl in its tracks.

Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Our drive through Idaho Falls and Pocatello, Idaho, took place on the very day that dozens of TRU-PACK shipping containers filled with plutonium-contaminated wastes departed the Idaho National Engineering Lab bound for the Waste Isolation Pilot Project dump site in New Mexico. Just a few days earlier, we were passed by what appeared to be smaller HALF-PAC containers as we traveled west on I-80 across Wyoming, plutonium waste containers probably bound for INEL. Idaho residents were interested to learn how high-level waste shipments from INEL to Yucca Mountain would impact their lives if that dump is similarly rammed down the throats of Nevadans. Concerned Idahoans encouraged me to tell Nevadans to fight with all their might against the Yucca Mountain dump, because they had started a life time too late to fight against INEL radioactive contamination of Idaho's soil, air, underground aquifer, and Snake River watershed. Ironically, activists who called Idaho potato growers and barley growers to warn them about INEL's plans to incinerate plutonium wastes were met with suspicion. "Are you trying to threaten us?" a spokesman for the potato growers jabbed. Similar responses came from a McDonald's - which gets most of its french fries from Idaho potatoes - and Budweiser, which gets most of the barley for its beers from Idaho. It seems such corporate institutions would rather there be plutonium incineration - so long as the customers of their products do not know how it might be affecting the foods they're eating - than to get involved in the resistance that could put an end to such insanity in the first place. Fortunately, groups like Keep Yellowstone Nuclear Free and concerned citizens from Idaho Falls to Jackson have blocked the incinerator up till now. It was wonderful to meet such folks - they hosted our tour through their area, for they're as concerned about high-level nuclear waste transports in their communities as they are about plutonium in the air they breath.

We pulled into Salt Lake City to take part in press conferences and public presentations declaring the formation of "Citizens Opposed to Radioactive Waste in Utah," a new organization formed to fight the nuclear industry's "Private Fuel Storage" high-level nuclear waste "interim storage" dump targeted at the reservation land of the Skull Valley Band of Goshute Indians just an hour's drive west. Held in the Salt Lake City/County Building under a portrait of Brigham Young (the pioneer leader who uttered the prophetic words "This is the place" when the Mormons settled on the edge of the Great Salt Lake), Citizen's Opposed to Radioactive Waste spokesman Jason Groenewold stated boldly that "Utah is NOT the place for the nation's nuclear waste!" The group claims prominent Salt Lake City and Utah citizens on its board of advisors, including current and former Governors, Senators, Representatives, U.S. Attorneys, and business leaders, and promises to form a road block to the nuclear industry's plans to "fast track" their dump's application through the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for approval.

Thursday, July 27, 2000

I was interviewed on the "Doug Wright" radio talk show, beamed out to several States and as far away as Guam on a powerful radio signal. Dr. Marvin Resnikoff of Radioactive Waste Management Associates also spoke on his calculations that a severe train accident in Salt Lake City involving irradiated nuclear fuel bound for Skull Valley, Utah could result in clean-up costs between $14 and $300 BILLION, and could cause 115 latent cancer fatalities, not to mention other health impacts. Dr. Resnikoff's calculations predict 25 accidents involving fully-loaded high-level radioactive waste casks bound for Skull Valley, and although he admitted most would probably be minor accidents, he stressed that some could be severe, and that casks are not designed to survive severe accidents without releasing radioactivity. Connie Nakahara from the State of Utah Department of Environmental Quality spoke on Utah Governor Leavitt's staunch opposition to the dump, and her agency's legal efforts to stop it before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's Atomic Safety Licensing Board. Private Fuel Storage executive director Scott Northard phoned the show to assure Utahans that Private Fuel Storage would be completely safe. Connie and Dr. Resnikoff then asked him why Private Fuel Storage is incorporated as a Limited Liability Company - why if it will be so safe are the 8 member nuclear utility companies refusing to use their own vast funds to provide financial assurance for the project?

Thursday evening was very powerful. After another public presentation at a local college, we drove the cask back to the front entrance of the Salt Lake City/County Building, where it served as the backdrop for a Citizen's Opposed to Radioactive Waste in Utah rally. The cask then drove slowly across downtown, leading the demonstrators in a march to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's public hearing on its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Skull Valley dump. The public hearing was held at the posh Little America Hotel, where we were in for a little unpleasant surprise. Several people from the rally were being denied entrance to the hearing - in fact, they were being escorted off the premises. When I came upon the scene, I asked the hotel security officers who were doing the kicking out why. They pointed to the placards from the rally the people were still carrying and said NRC regulations prohibit such signs in public hearings. I have attended several years' worth of NRC and Department of Energy hearings and had never heard of such a regulation. When I asked to see a copy of the regulation, I instantly joined the hotel security guards' list of "unwelcome" guests. A guard grabbed my arm, pulled me away from the building, and threatened to have me arrested if I tried to enter "his private property" - all this on the public sidewalk OUTSIDE a supposedly PUBLC hearing. The others handed their placards over to the security so that they could attend the hearing, and seeing as I had no placard, I was also allowed to enter. At the door into the room where the hearing had already started, a Salt Lake City police officer was checking each and every backpack, bag, and purse that entered the room. Again, I had never seen such security measures - not even at last January's Department of Energy Yucca Mountain Environmental Impact Statement public hearing in Las Vegas, attended by 500 not-so-happy-to-be-targeted Nevadans. The hotel security guard who had given me such grief outside took the opportunity to further harass me, demanding to search my backpack HIMSELF. Thank goodness, concerned citizens from Utah did not let such intimidations deter them from voicing their opposition to the Skull Valley dump. Because several of us were being harassed outside and in the hall, we missed Utah Governor Leavitt's strong statement of opposition against the dump which he delivered at the beginning of the hearing.

Nearly 200 people packed the hearing room to overflowing. The NRC had allotted only three hours for public comments, and ate up a significant fraction of that with their own opening remarks. The NRC officials informed the public attendees that because so many had signed up to speak, each speaker would be limited to 2 to 3 minutes. The NRC seemed to be blaming the public for coming out in such large numbers and overwhelming what was obviously an inadequately structured public hearing, and continually pressured speakers to keep their remarks short. Several concerned citizens requested the obvious, that NRC hold more public hearings in Salt Lake City to accommodate the large numbers. For most of the evening, NRC refused. But as the hearing went two hours over and midnight approached, NRC at last agreed to hold another Salt Lake City hearing. This was a real victory for the fledgling Citizens Opposed to Radioactive Waste in Utah, whose good work over the course of just two weeks turned out such large numbers to the hearing.

Several dozen speakers spoke, and over 90 % opposed the dump. There were many eloquent and impassioned speeches, hammering NRC for railroading the process, for a woefully inadequate environmental impact statement, and for even considering licensing a dump for 40,000 tons of irradiated nuclear fuel waste to a limited liability company that could later simply walk away and abandon the site with no financial responsibility for the eight nuclear utility parent companies. Utah Downwinders spoke about the lies told to them by NRC's forerunner, the Atomic Energy Commission, who assured their communities that nuclear weapons testing was safe. Decades and lost loved ones later, the Downwinders don't believe all the promises about how "safe" and "temporary" the Private Fuel Storage dump will be. Other speakers stressed that the nuclear industry's targeting of Native American lands for their deadly high-level nuclear wastes is blatant environmental racism. Dozens of Native American tribes have been approached, first by the Department of Energy's "Nuclear Waste Negotiator" and then by the nuclear power utilities themselves. Large sums of money have been offered to these often economically vulnerable and politically weak Native American communities. As uranium mining victim Keith Lewis of the Serpent River First Nation of Canada has said, "There is nothing moral about tempting a starving person with money." Other speakers pointed out that the PFS plans to send contaminated waste transport containers back to their point of origin could mean Salt Lake City would see the same high-level radioactive waste - and its risks - pass by THREE times: once to PFS, once back across the country to the reactor origin, then back to PFS. This of course does not count a fourth trip through Salt Lake City, down to Yucca Mountain, if the nuclear industry gets its way. Another speaker pointed out that the plan to ship 200 casks per year for a total of 4,000 to Skull Valley would take the entire license period to accomplish, and the NRC had not even discussed the shipments away from the "interim storage site," how long that would take (given that the license would already have expired), or how the Skull Valley dump would be decommissioned.

Such powerful statements and large numbers sent a loud and clear message to the nuclear power industry and the NRC: don't try to steam roll us with your nuclear waste dump!

Friday, July 28th, 2000

We drove for an hour westward, past the pungent salt air and surreal landscapes of the Great Salt Lake to do a public presentation at the Grantsville City Hall, not far from the proposed Skull Valley dump.

That evening, the Middle School Auditorium was again packed with local concerned citizens. Once again, the vast majority of those who spoke opposed the proposed dump.

One of the Skull Valley Goshute tribal members, Arlene Bear, said "we're all going to die one way or the other someday," and so she supports the dump. She is related to tribal chairman Leon Bear, who is heading the effort within the tribe for the dump. Larry Bear, the chairman's father, admitted Skull Valley is a "desperate land," the main reason for the dump even being considered. He added that any accident "would only be local" in its consequences, little comfort to all the locals in attendance.

Many others stated that Skull Valley and Tooele County already shoulder a heavy burden of toxic substances in their local environment. A huge magnesium factory on the shore of the Great Salt Lake is the single worst air polluter in the country, belching out shocking amounts of hydrochloric acid. There are two large scale U.S. Army incinerators burning nerve gas and chemical weapons, having "accidental" leaks out the stacks with alarming regularity. There are hazardous waste landfills, and a "low level" radioactive waste dump run by "Envirocare" that's now applying to accept all but the very highest level of "low level" atomic wastes. In fact, we had to slam on our brakes with our mock cask to avoid hitting a semi-truck trailer placarded with radiation signs that pulled out in front of us from a fast food joint parking lot as we drove into town.

Steve Unglesbee from the Nuclear Energy Institute, the nuclear power industry's lobbying group based in Washington, D.C. stood up for the dump, and for nuclear power. He said that U.S. nuclear plants replace the equivalent of 99 million cars' worth of carbon emissions from the air. As an anti-nuclear activist in Ohio once said at a hearing, "I guess we'll all have to start driving nuclear power plants then."

to be continued...