Tuesday, June 11, 2002

Nuclear shipments tracked via 'Net

Web site will tell you how close they'll be to home

By Faith Bremner
Gannett News Service

        WASHINGTON — A national environmental group today is launching a Web site the public can use to see how close their homes, schools and jobs could be from proposed transportation routes for high-level radioactive waste.

        The Web site, www.mapscience.org, shows highway and rail routes the Energy Department will likely use starting in 2012 to move spent fuel from 72 commercial nuclear power plants and five federal facilities to the proposed underground storage site at Yucca Mountain, Nev.

   www.mapscience.org, Environmental Working Group's nuclear waste route maps.
   www.ewg.org, Environmental Working Group.
   www.ymp.gov, Department of Energy's Yucca Mountain project.
   www.nei.org, Nuclear Energy Institute.
        The Washington-based Environmental Working Group estimates 109 million people — or more than 1 out of every 3 Americans — lives within five miles of one of the proposed transportation routes.

        The routes won't be finalized for years, but the group's president said the public must be involved in the debate over moving high-level radioactive waste before any more decisions are made on opening Yucca Mountain. He said the waste could be targeted by terrorists or become involved in a catastrophic accident.

        “We are absolutely hoping to influence the debate and to actually have a debate instead of an inside-the-beltway spinfest,” said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group. “This (Web site) is the only tool the public will have to find out what this decision means to them.”


Vote slated

        The Senate will vote soon on whether to uphold President Bush's decision to designate Yucca Mountain the nation's nuclear waste repository and to override the Nevada governor's veto. A Senate committee voted 13-10 Wednesday in favor of the designation. The House already has approved it.

        Web users will be able to type in an address, prompting a map to pop up showing the nearest nuclear waste transportation route, be it highway or rail. Shaded bands on either side of the routes show one-, two- and five-mile distances. The shaded areas show all schools and hospitals. According to the site, the route closest to Cincinnati passes through the Louisville area.


Path to Yucca Mountain

        If the Yucca Mountain repository opens, there could be as many as 2,856 truckloads of spent nuclear fuel on the nation's highways every year for 38 years. The Energy Department estimates there would be a minimum of 245 train, barge and truck nuclear fuel shipments every year for 24 years.

        Since 1964, the nuclear power industry has made more than 3,000 spent fuel shipments without major incident. The Energy Department prefers to use trains, because they can carry more waste and are safer than trucks. However, 24 power plants and Yucca Mountain are nowhere near rail lines.

        Steve Kerekes of the Nuclear Energy Institute said the environmental group's Web site also should provide information about all hazardous materials shipments, which exceed 1 million annually. Nuclear waste shipments are much better protected than other hazardous materials shipments and are safer, he said.

        The Energy Department projects 10 accidents over a 24-year span if the nuclear waste is moved to Yucca Mountain mostly by train and 66 if it's moved mostly by truck.

        A worst-case accident would result in five cancer deaths caused by radioactive materials leaking out with a cleanup cost ranging from $300,000 to $10 billion depending on location, weather conditions and other variables, the department says.

        Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said the debate should be over whether nuclear waste should be stored in a safe and highly regulated repository or scattered among 39 states, above ground, near towns and, in some cases, on the shores of rivers and lakes.

        “For every environmentalist that is opposed to the shipment of nuclear waste, I can probably find 100 people who live next to it that support shipping it out of their town,” Davis said.

        The Nuclear Energy Institute estimates there are 865,000 people who live within five miles of commercial nuclear power plants.

        The environmental group developed the Web site from “representative” rail and highway routes the Energy Department published in March in its final environmental impact statement for the Yucca Mountain project.

        The department has said it will begin working with the states on a transportation plan four years before the dump opens. Commercial power plants have been already using some of these routes for radioactive shipments.


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