Lakewood Sun Post

Federal plan draws council's ire

Thursday, March 07, 2002

Lakewood Sun Post

Lakewood City Council unanimously and quickly passed a resolution opposing a plan by President George W. Bush's administration to create a federal nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

Councilman Denis Dunn, D-at large, brought forth the resolution, noting that Lakewood must go on record opposing the Department of Energy's selection of Yucca Mountain as a high-level nuclear waste repository, and the transportation of high level radioactive waste through our community and Northeast Ohio.

But Todd Schneider, manager of communications for the FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co., says the resolution was unnecessary.

Spent fuel is not going to be transported through cities or highly populated suburbs, he said. The Department of Transportation is responsible for designing the route, which they have not done yet. And, when the time comes, the state and communities will have input.

During council's discussion of the resolution, however, Earth Day Coalition executive director Chris Trepal showed maps from a Department of Energy study that traced possible routes. The maps showed that routes serving nuclear power plants along the eastern seaboard converged as they passed through Cleveland.

Those are only possible routes, Schneider said. They were certainly not the final routes. There are tracks and highways in less populated areas that can be used.

Councilman Michael Skindell, D-at large, who worked with Dunn on the resolution, was critical of both the idea and the plan for transporting waste.

Skindell brought a similar resolution to council in January 2000, opposing the transport of high level waste. He faulted the Bush administration for allowing the plan to go forward. He also was critical of the containers used to transport the waste, saying they have not been tested in practical circumstances. Skindell noted that, a week after his 2000 resolution, an accident in Tiffin involving a truck carrying low-level nuclear waste caused a major incident.

Schneider, however, expressed confidence in the containers.

Those canisters are made of stainless steel and lead. They weigh 25 tons apiece, and they are designed to protect fuel in event of a traffic accident, he said. They have built canisters and tried to destroy them. The canisters have been hit with a train. They have put canisters on a truck and ran the truck into a wall. They've been built, tested, and are nearly indestructible.

Dunn said terrorist activity is an additional concern.

In the wake of 9-11, he said, you've got to think that these convoys are likely targets.

Schneider doesn't dispute that likelihood, but says planned protective measures would be sufficient to ensure safety.

There have been 3,000 shipments of nuclear waste in the country in the last 15 years, and there have been seven traffic or rail accidents. The canisters have not been damaged in any of these, he said. Also, the routes will be kept confidential. The vehicles transporting spent fuel will be escorted. The workers will be highly trained.

No one disagrees that disposal of nuclear waste is expensive, but they do differ on how the bill would be paid.

Skindell says the project is a tax-funded bail-out for the energy companies.

Schneider, however, retaliates that the idea is not new and will not be funded by tax dollars, anyway.

Back when the first plants were being planned, the Department of Energy said to companies, "We will take spent fuel off your hands. That will be our responsibility.' They have not lived up to that obligation yet, he said.

Whether it is a federal obligation or not, Schneider says, the clean-up will be funded by user fees built into bills and tied to usage of electricity produced at nuclear facilities.

Consumers are billed for nuclear waste cleanup at a rate of one-tenth of a cent per nuclear generated kilowat hour. Schneider says the charge has been in place since 1982, and has amassed $17 billion nationally and $350 million in Ohio. The money is to be used to pay disposal costs.

Ultimately, Skindell and Dunn said they'd like to see the waste stay put and the country pursue alternative power sources.

Schneider, however, says current locations are not adequate. He says waste is being stored at the plants now, but that Davis Bessie has had to take measures to create additional storage space.