Thursday, June 13, 2002

Nuke-waste routes in Ohio protested




By Carrie Spencer
The Associated Press

        COLUMBUS — About 2 million Ohioans live within a mile of highway and rail routes proposed for transporting nuclear waste from power plants to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, if Congress were to approve opening the storage facility.

        The Environmental Working Group, a Washington, D.C., organization, published maps of the preliminary routes on a Web site Monday. The group also reported that in Ohio, 2 million residents, 1,117 schools and 47 hospitals are within a mile of the proposed routes for the radioactive waste.

        “If you look at the northern tier of Ohio, we're very nervous about this proposal,” said Chris Trepal, executive director of the Earth Day Coalition in Cleveland.

        “There's some serious funneling (of nuclear waste) right through Cleveland,” she said.

        Almost all the proposed routes cross northern Ohio — except for a rail route that roughly follows U.S. 30 to just west of Mansfield, then goes south through Columbus to the Ohio River.

        Nuclear waste has been transported through the state an average of five times a year since 1992, said Dick Kimmins, spokesman for the state Emergency Management Agency. The Yucca Mountain project, consolidating 77,000 tons of nuclear waste now in 39 states, could bring hundreds of trucks and rail cars from the east and northeast yearly, he said.

        “Ohio's right in the middle,” Mr. Kimmins said. “The public does not need to learn any precautionary measures, but the public should be concerned.”

        Just how much more nuclear waste will be moving is in dispute, and state agencies say they don't yet know how many shipments would come through Ohio.

        The state trains all local emergency agencies along the route, Mr. Kimmins said.

        The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio inspects all nuclear shipments at state lines. If traffic increased by hundreds of shipments, the agency would need more workers, said Carlisle Smith, supervisor of hazardous materials enforcement.

        There have been eight accidents nationwide with no harmful releases of radiation in more than 30 years of transporting nuclear waste, U.S. Department of Energy spokesman Joe Davis said.

        Despite that safety record, more trips raises the probability of accidents, Mr. Kimmins said.

        It will be more than a decade before any waste leaves Ohio's two nuclear plants, since the oldest plants would ship their waste first, said Todd Schneider, spokesman for FirstEnergy Nuclear Operating Co.

        Both Ohio plants have enough storage, he said, but all on-site storage is meant to be temporary.

        “The fuel will be transported in canisters that are virtually indestructible,” Mr. Schneider said.

        But Ms. Trepal, citing congressional testimony and Energy Department documents, questioned the canister safety.

        “The people carrying out this program are telling us there's going to be accidents,” Ms. Trepal said. “We're especially concerned after September 11. There's an unacceptable ongoing security risk for putting this stuff on the road.”

        Several Ohio cities along the route have passed resolutions opposing the Yucca Mountain plan, Ms. Trepal said, as have Ohio Turnpike toll collectors.

        “They're less than arm's length from this very highly dangerous waste,” she said.

        Five of Worthington's 19 public schools are within a mile of the proposed rail line, district spokesman Greg Viebranz said. If it were approved, the district would need to update its disaster plan, which includes derailments, he said.

        Assurances of container safety would “eliminate much of the fear,” he said.

        Pike Community Hospital near Waverly is within a mile of the proposed rail route, but it also is near the closed Piketon nuclear site, which has been shipping radioactive soil as part of a cleanup.

        “I'm fairly confident the movement of nuclear waste is under fairly secure and safe conditions,” hospital President and Chief Executive Richard Sobota said.

       



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