NIRS


Radioactive Roads and Rails




Final Installment of Daily Diary Entries

from the "Radioactive Roads and Rails" Tour with the Mock Nuclear Waste Transportation Cask

Conducted by Kevin Kamps, Nuclear Waste Specialist at Nuclear Information & Resource Service

Tuesday, August 1st, 2000

Following is the transcript of my presentation to the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board (NWTRB) meeting on this day at the Pinon Plaza Casino in Carson City, Nevada. The NWTRB panel was established by Congress, and its members appointed by the President, to oversee the validity of the Department of Energy's technical and scientific work on the Yucca Mountain Project - including high-level radioactive waste transportation issues. Given the scope of their work, I tailored my remarks to convey the public concerns about technical and scientific shortcomings of the rush to launch the Mobile Chernobyl program onto our nation's roads and rails…

My name is Kevin Kamps, nuclear waste specialist at Nuclear Information & Resource Service based in Washington, D.C. NIRS is an information clearinghouse for concerned citizens and grassroots organizations on nuclear power and radioactive waste issues.

For the past month, I have hauled a replica of a nuclear waste truck transportation cask across the country along actual projected transport routes to Yucca Mountain, Nevada. Our tour began at the Cook nuclear reactors in Michigan. We then traveled through Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Utah. We are culminating our tour here in Carson City and Las Vegas, Nevada over the next few days.

I have spoken with hundreds, even thousands, of individuals across the U.S. on this tour. When people learned that I would be attending this meeting of the NWTRB, they asked me to communicate their concerns to you.

Persons living and working along transport routes were upset to learn that the "dose receptors" referred to in the Department of Energy's Yucca Mountain Draft Environmental Impact Statement actually referred to themselves and their families.

Many people were surprised, and even shocked, to learn that both truck and train transportation containers loaded with high-level radioactive waste bound for Yucca Mountain would release radiation even during "routine", "incident-free" transports. This is of course due to the gamma and neutron radiation exposures flowing out of the casks.

While stuck in a three hour long traffic jam on the toll roads in and near Chicago - routes targeted for tens of thousands of Yucca Mountain truck shipments - people actually got out of their vehicles to ask me questions. Neighboring motorists were shocked and disconcerted to learn that had this been an actual shipment of high-level radioactive waste, they could have received the equivalent of 3 chest x-rays of radiation during that 3 hour long traffic stoppage. A pregnant woman was especially upset about the implications for her unborn baby, and said she would contact her elected officials about her concerns. Toll booth attendants were similarly concerned about their repeated exposures to thousands of such shipments, especially when traffic jams slow traffic to a crawl through - or full stop next to - their toll booths.

In Chicago, northern Indiana, St. Louis, Lincoln, Nebraska, and Cheyenne, Laramie, and small towns across Wyoming, we held meetings in neighborhoods where projected Yucca Mountain rail way routes pass right through residential communities. Numerous residents' homes were right next to the tracks. Parents were especially concerned about the radiation doses their young children would receive from thousands or tens of thousands of rail shipments passing by their homes. Homeowners and business owners worried about the negative implications for their property values. All felt that the Department of Energy's Yucca Mountain Draft Environmental Impact Statement inadequately addressed such "incident-free" exposures, especially for their neighborhoods located right on the tracks.

State highway patrol officers expressed concerns about the cumulative effects of their exposures to such things as radar, coupled with "low dose" exposures to high-level radioactive waste shipments if and when they are called upon to guard or escort shipments. Some officers had heard about the German police unions' refusal to support further high-level radioactive waste transports in Germany. Due to tens of thousands of protestors blocking shipments, tens of thousands of police officers were deployed to guard the casks. Hundreds of German police officers stood in close proximity to the casks for long hours over the course of many days while the shipments were blocked. Truck drivers and railway employees expressed similar concerns about their routine exposures at work.

All of the people I've mentioned who live or work along projected transport routes also expressed deep concern about severe accidents releasing radioactivity into their communities. Emergency responders also expressed dismay about their potential acute exposures in the event of having to respond to an accident, especially in light of their lack of adequate training and radiation monitoring and protection equipment. All of these people felt that the Department of Energy's Yucca Mountain Draft Environmental Impact Statement inadequately addressed the potential health impacts from such a severe accident.

For instance, D.O.E. assumed 25 year old irradiated fuel in its DEIS severe accident calculations. Dr. Marvin Resnikoff of Radioactive Waste Management Associates in New York City presented his own critique of D.O.E.'s Yucca Mountain D.E.I.S. severe accident analyses at a number of our tour stops. Assuming 10 year old fuel - which can legally be shipped - Dr. Resnikoff ran D.O.E.'s own computer models and found a ten-fold increase in numbers of latent cancer fatalities that could result from severe transport accidents. Listeners at our public presentations were very concerned to learn of such disparities.

Dr. Resnikoff also used D.O.E.'s own computer models to calculate projected dollar values for severe accident clean up costs. He found a single severe truck accident could cost up to $35 BILLION to clean up, and a severe train accident up to $270 BILLION. Concerned citizens were confused why such dollar values had not been published in the D.O.E. Yucca Mountain Draft Environmental Impact Statement, nor announced at the public hearings. They were also puzzled why the only measure of protection was against latent cancer fatalities. They asked what about the broad range of other health impacts that could result from "incident free" or accidental transportation scenarios.

People we met and talked with were also very concerned to learn that transport casks are not subjected to full-scale physical testing under the Nuclear Regulatory Commission certification process. In fact, many expressed their desire that tests to destruction be conducted, to see just what kind of accident forces could actually result in the release of radioactivity from high-level nuclear waste transportation containers. Many people requested of me to ask the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board to urge D.O.E. to conduct full-scale physical tests to the point of destruction, especially because the Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not require this.

In summary, the many hundreds of people I spoke with who live and work along projected Yucca Mountain transportation routes are concerned about the risks to their communities, and are feeling very forgotten about and overlooked in the whole Yucca Mountain site suitability determination process. They urge the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board to hold the Department of Energy to the highest level of technical standards.

Thank you for this opportunity to share with you these concerns of Americans from across the country.

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2000

Today marked the second and final day of the U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board meeting in Carson City, Nevada. Out of all the highly technical presentations that blurred into incomprehensibility for me, there were some highlights I would like to share.

Bob Loux, executive director of the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, told the members of the NWTRB that the State and people of Nevada look to them with hope. Loux urged the NWTRB to uphold the highest standards of scientific and technical integrity, for it is perhaps the only body somewhat removed from the intense political pressures aiming to force open the Yucca Mountain repository despite the site's scientific unsuitability.

Ivan Itkin, director of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management, also addressed the NWTRB. When a panel member asked if and when a final repository design would be delivered by D.O.E., Itkin responded that the design is "evolving," and would continue to do so up until the license application, if not beyond. Itkin compared the Yucca Mountain repository design to the Wright Brothers' airplane. What if we were still flying around in the Kittyhawk?, Itkin asked.

During the public comment period, Judy Treichel of the Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force criticized Itkin's comparison. If Itkin is comparing the Yucca Mountain repository to the Space Shuttle, then he left a part out, Treichel said. Itkin failed to point out that the people of Nevada are unwilling passengers on this flight, and must be marched aboard at gun point. In addition, the launch will take place over the heads of all future generations of Nevadans, another risk the people of Nevada are not willing to take. (She didn't mention it, but before the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on lift off, the chances of such a catastrophe happening were estimated to be 1 in 25,000. After the fatal explosion, the probabilities were adjusted to 1 in 25. That kind of experience is important to keep in mind, as D.O.E. "experts" discussed probabilities of potential failures at the Yucca Mountain repository being infinitesimally small.) Judy also emphasized the point that Yucca Mountain would not "solve" any "problem": nuclear power plants would continue generating atomic waste, so the repository would represent just ONE MORE high-level radioactive waste site. In an important sense, every single one of the tens of thousands of high-level radioactive waste shipments bound for Yucca Mountain would represent yet another site, this time on wheels - bringing the risks of high-level waste to the front doors of tens of millions of unsuspecting Americans along transport routes.

Scientists contracted by the State of Nevada showed that C-22 (the "super metal" that D.O.E. proposes for containers to hold the high-level waste within Yucca Mountain for tens of thousands of years) began to crack, pit, and deteriorate after just days and weeks when subjected to mineral solutions that could be present at the proposed site. I overheard several attendees saying that this presentation electrified the NWTRB as none other had for five years, as evidenced by the barrage of questions panel members had for the presenters. Such a finding casts doubt on D.O.E.'s main barrier to the release of radiation from Yucca Mountain, for their own studies have already shown the geology cannot be counted on to isolate the waste.

Geologists showed that there is a 25% chance that a "volcanic crisis" will occur near Yucca Mountain over the next 10,000 years, and a 5% chance for an actual eruption. The chairman and other members of the NWTRB questioned D.O.E. charts apparently showing low radiation doses to the public downwind from an eruption. When questioned, D.O.E. scientists admitted that they had multiplied the high consequences from an eruption with the very low probability of its occurring to yield the seemingly low dose rates to the public. (Since when is 5% such a low probability when we're talking about high-level nuclear waste?) John Hadder, with Nevada's State-wide environmental group Citizen Alert, criticized D.O.E. during the public comment period for using just such deceptions in an attempt to lull the public into complacency during the Yucca Mountain Draft Environmental Impact Statement public hearings.

John Hadder also added that, given the huge uncertainties associated with D.O.E.'s "Total System Performance Assessment," individual disqualifying conditions (such as disqualifying Yucca Mountain if the flow rate of water through the site is too fast) should be applied all the more. Instead, D.O.E. is attempting to re-write its own Guidelines and remove such disqualifiers, effectively undermining any shred of public confidence still remaining in the process.

Perhaps it is hopeful that NWTRB panel members and their advisers had many questions themselves about the huge uncertainties that D.O.E. seems all too ready to discount as irrelevant in its drive to open the repository.

After the NWTRB meeting, John Hadder and I drove from Carson City to Reno to be interviewed on a cable access television talk show called "We the People." On the way there, we actually saw the lightning bolts that struck the mountains, igniting wildfires that burned large areas over the next several hours. Numerous fire trucks roared past us towards the fire. As we left the studio that evening, smoke was thick in the air. What an ironic reminder of the fires at D.O.E. nuclear weapons facilities in Los Alamos, Hanford, and most recently Idaho that spewed unknown amounts of radiation into the air, and threatened even worse catastrophes. A friend familiar with the Los Alamos area pointed out the irony that the town and lab - established to create weapons that could engulf the world in nuclear conflagration - found itself engulfed in flames. Making matters more ironic, the Los Alamos fire was intentionally started in an effort to head off wild fires, but quickly grew out of control. "To err is human," but with nuclear waste around, errors can lead to catastrophes. As Einstein said, "The splitting of the atom has changed everything save for our way of thinking, and thus we drift towards unparalleled catastrophe."

A less publicized but equally ironic "wildfire with a radioactive twist" burned on the Skull Valley Goshutes Indian Reservation - site of the nuclear industry's proposed Private Fuel Storage "temporary" outdoor parking lot for 40,000 tons of irradiated nuclear fuel - just days after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission Draft Environmental Impact Statement public hearings in Utah. During recent Atomic Safety Licensing Board (ASLB) hearings about Skull Valley, NRC dismissed the State of Utah's contentions that wildfires pose a serious threat to the proposed site.

However, during the public comment period at the ASLB, Utah State Senator Ron Allen spoke powerfully about fire dangers at Skull Valley. Senator Allen represent Tooele County (site of the Skull Valley Reservation), where he formerly served as County Fire Marshall and still serves as a volunteer firefighter. In fact, all of the firefighters in Tooele County are volunteers. Senator Allen told the ASLB that he had spoken to firefighters across Tooele County, and most told him they would not show up to fight a fire at the proposed nuclear waste dump. They knew about the Chernobyl firefighters and "liquidators" - about the countless lives lost and lives ruined due to Chernobyl's deadly radiation. Senator Allen had read Private Fuel Storage's proposal for dealing with a wildfire, and found it misguided, even incompetent. In fact, PFS seems content to let a wildfire overrun its facility, claiming there would be no combustibles to feed the fire. But how would the surrounding high temperatures from a raging wildfire affect the high-level nuclear waste storage containers? Could they overheat? After all, the irradiated nuclear fuel inside them would already be very thermally hot, in the ballpark of 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Thursday, August 3rd, 2000

Driving down from Carson City to Las Vegas, we passed some interesting sites: U.S. Ecology's leaking "low level" radioactive waste dump in Beatty; the Nevada Test Site (where the Atomic Energy Commission and Department of Energy have conducted many hundreds of above-ground and below-ground nuclear weapons test explosions, and where "low level" D.O.E. atomic waste is currently being dumped); and the proposed Yucca Mountain repository itself.

We pulled into a Nye County "early warning system" well site directly downstream from Yucca Mountain. A geologist working for the county gave us a tour. A "fence post" of wells has been sunk downstream of Yucca Mountain to study the groundwater flow, and to give "early warning" if the repository is opened and begins leaking radiation into the aquifer. The geologist pointed across Highway 95 toward the farming community that draws its water from the aquifer that flows beneath Yucca Mountain - we had just passed the signs for "Amargosa Farms".

Looking over toward Amargosa Farms brought many memories and emotions welling up within me. Sponsor of the Mobile Chernobyl bills in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI), taking his cue from the Nuclear Energy Institute's nationwide ad campaign, declared Yucca Mountain oppressively hot, bone dry, even uninhabited, and thus the perfect place for nuclear waste. I wonder what those farming families down the road think of Congressman Upton's words?

On the Floor of the U.S. Senate earlier this year, Mobile Chernobyl bill sponsors Frank Murkowski (R-AK) and Larry Craig (R-ID) actually claimed that no one drinks the water at Yucca Mountain. I guess during their trips to Yucca Mountain, they failed to look down the valley to Amargosa Farms. They must have neglected to read the letter written to them by Ed Goedhart, owner of Ponderosa Dairy in Amargosa Valley, imploring them not to doom the largest dairy herd in Nevada to radioactive contamination via their water supply. Late last year, in an effort to convince his Senate colleagues to take away the Environmental Protection Agency's radiation protection standard setting role for Yucca Mountain, Frank Murkowski said EPA's groundwater protection standard would kill the Yucca Mountain repository. One has to wonder why he would so actively advocate dumping high-level nuclear wastes at an unsuitable site that cannot live up to radiation protection standards. Might it have something to do with the campaign contributions from the nuclear power industry which he receives?

Those farming families in Amargosa Valley are the very people referred to by the Department of Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission as "dose receptors" at all of the public hearings, educational meetings, and technical seminars. Simply by drinking their well water, eating veggies from their gardens or crops irrigated with their well water, or drinking milk/eating meat from cows given well water to drink, they would receive harmful doses of radiation leaking from the Yucca Mountain repository. When asked by a member of the Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board in Carson City the day before, a D.O.E. scientist admitted that he had not counted the additional dose such people would suffer from using contaminated cow manure for fertilizer on their crops. Just one more little stone left unturned at Yucca Mountain. Of all the things overlooked, perhaps the biggest one of all is that the people of Nevada are unwilling to be "dose receptors," nor to doom their future generations forever with that fate.

As we pulled away from Yucca Mountain bound for Las Vegas, rain drops appeared on our windshield, making a tinny pang on the hollow mock nuclear waste cask. A cloud burst had formed directly over Yucca Mountain, darkening the sky. Presently, rainfall means refreshment for all life in Amargosa Valley. If the repository opens, rain fall would come to mean a ticking clock, a time bomb - how long would it take for the rain water, percolating down through the earthquake-fractured rock of Yucca Mountain, to corrode the high-level waste containers and wash the deadly radiation into the ground water? D.O.E. seems to be betting that the answer to that question is more than ten thousand years, an arbitrarily short timeframe considering that Yucca Mountain's wastes would be deadly for hundreds of thousands of years. The highest stakes gambling is not taking place in Las Vegas, but at Yucca Mountain.

We pulled into Las Vegas, intending to attend a meeting of the Affected Units of Local Government at the D.O.E.'s Yucca Mountain Project office. The parking lot at D.O.E. was full. My wife Gabriela needed to shop for necessities and develop her film from the tour anyway, so we decided to park at the Meadows Mall directly across the street while Gabi shopped, and while I walked across the street to check with D.O.E. about where to park our vehicle with its long trailer.

However, we were immediately "busted" by a Mall security officer. Not even asking whether or not we were customers, he demanded we leave the Mall's private property. We explained that we were about to shop at the Mall. He didn't seem to care, fired off that the Mall allows nothing political on its private property, and ordered us with the full authority of his higher management to move our vehicle immediately. We'd had more luck trying to pull the cask into the Warren Air Force Base with its Strategic Air Command nuclear missile launch center in Cheyenne, WY than we were having trying to park at this mall. We finally found parking on a side street quite a distance away. We walked back to the Yucca Mountain Project and learned a space had been reserved for us there. By the time we walked back to our vehicle, and drove it to the reserved parking spot, the meeting was wrapping up. If the Meadows Mall had allowed me to park there for a few minutes, I could have removed my vehicle right away and could have attended the meeting. As it was, I missed the meeting.

We found it ironic that neighboring the D.O.E. Yucca Mountain Project office, the Meadows Mall would give us so much grief for parking in their lot for a few minutes. We'll be sure to send the Meadows Mall management our "Radioactive Roads and Rails" informational brochure about radioactive waste shipments lowering property values along transport routes. Nevada is targeted to receive all of the nation's high-level nuclear waste. The economy of Las Vegas is entirely based on tourism. How many tourists would be deterred from visiting Las Vegas if the Yucca Mountain dump opens? How much business would the Meadows Mall lose? Meadows Mall should WELCOME, even HOST, a mock nuclear waste cask in their parking lot, expressing its opposition to the Yucca Mountain Project directly across the street, rather than chase us away instantly.

Friday, August 4th, 2000

Our "Radioactive Roads and Rails" tour culminated with a press conference and street theater at the new Federal Building in Las Vegas. Nevada's entire Congressional delegation was represented. U.S. Senator Richard Bryan, U.S. Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, and spokespeople from the offices of Senator Harry Reid and Congressman Jim Gibbons led dozens of Nevadans in symbolically stopping the Mobile Chernobyl in its tracks by blocking our mock nuclear waste cask in the street. Kalynda Tilges from Citizen Alert, Suzi Schneider and Greg Gable from Shundahai Network, and Judy Treichel from Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force were there, spearheading the grassroots Nevadan opposition to the Yucca Mountain dump. I'd never seen so many television cameras covering an event - further evidence that nuclear waste is at the top of the agenda in Nevada this election year. All of this attendance and coverage, despite the blazing sun and temperatures topping 110 degrees. If there's one thing hotter than the summer sun in Las Vegas, its folks' passion to stop Mobile Chernobyl in its tracks, and the unsuitable Yucca Mountain repository proposal. Mobile Chernobyl should be a central election year issue across the country, in the 43 States targeted for unprecedented tens of thousands of high-level nuclear waste shipments starting as early as 2003 if the "interim storage" site in Utah is opened.

We later cruised up and down the Las Vegas Strip for hours. Despite all the glitter and spectacle of the big casinos we passed, our mock nuclear waste cask STILL turned heads among the throngs of tourists we passed, alerting them to contact their elected officials and candidates for public office once they return home to their own States.

Saturday, August 5th, 2000

It was a dream come true to haul the mock nuclear waste across the country, to educate countless people about the risks of nuclear waste transportation and warn them about the Mobile Chernobyl. A friend and I built it two and a half years ago with just such a vision in mind.

Driving the long journey back to Michigan, where the mock nuclear waste cask will be used in the second annual Nuclear-Free Great Lakes Action Camp starting August 20th, I realized the end of this tour marks a new beginning of the national effort to defeat the Skull Valley and Yucca Mountain dumps. Given the incredible people we met across the country, who hosted us and made this tour possible and successful, I have renewed hope that our efforts will not be in vain. During our trip back, we were already on our cell phone taking first organizing steps on what to do next with the momentum we've built. Lisa Gue with Public Citizen's Critical Mass Energy Project still has numerous "Radioactive Roads and Rails" events coming up over the next several weeks, building momentum in other States. Now we're entering into the Nuclear-Free Great Lakes and Nuclear-Free Northeast Action Camps. The power is building to stop Mobile Chernobyl in its tracks. Please contact me to plug into this exciting national movement.

Thank you for taking the time to read my diary entries from the "Radioactive Roads and Rails" tour!

---Kevin Kamps
Nuclear Waste Specialist
Nuclear Information & Resource Service
1424 16th Street, NW, Suite 404
Washington, D.C. 20036

Phone: (202) 328-0002, extension 14
Fax: (202) 462-2183
E-Mail: kevin@nirs.org
Web: www.nirs.org


Earlier Diary Entries