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Rick Shapiro
Rick Shapiro
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Transport of Nuclear Power Plant Waste By Railroad Still A Thorny Issue

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We still have many nuclear power plants around the United States that are generating nuclear waste, nearly all in the form of spent nuclear fuel rods. Also, the United States has a continuing problem with where to store the low-level nuclear waste in the form of these spent fuel rods. The problem has been for decades that no state in our United States wants to accept the waste from the nuclear power plants around the country.

When I was studying in college, I took a class called Global Eco-Politics and I wrote a paper on the fact that the United States did not have any policy on how to store spent fuel rods from our nation’s power plants. Would you believe that twenty-plus years later, our country still does not have an answer on where to store the spent nuclear fuel rods from our nuclear power plants. The temporary fix is that we are storing them in large water filled tanks at some of the power plants and other temporary locations.

The low-level radioactive waste from nuclear power plants is still primarily transported by rail. There have been new federal regulations enacted relating to the transport of nuclear waste and these are a good thing. However, given that Congress cannot seem to gain a consensus on where low-level nuclear fuel rods will be permanently stored, this political football seems to have no end.

First, Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Dump in Nevada arose as the top supposed choice for the nation’s nuclear waste after many years of study. According to deputy energy secretary Clay Sell, the first permanent federal nuclear waste dump is scheduled to open in 2017, although it was originally supposed to open in 1998. However, Sell, who is with the Bush administration, has stated that the obstacle to the long delayed nuclear repository is insurmountable opposition from Congress, and especially the fact that the Senate majority leader is now Harry Reid, from Nevada. Reid has said he will do everything in his power to stop a nuclear waste dump from ever being approved and built in his State of Nevada.

Supposedly, the nation’s nuclear power plants are running out of room to store spent fuel temporarily at their own plants. So now Congress is talking about having a “temporary repository” in which one hundred fifty ton casks will have to be moved to same. This means that the material will have to be moved two different times, once from the temporary site and then to the permanent site, if one is ever located. The temporary sites are supposedly going to be Hanford, Washington, Idaho National Laboratory near Idaho Falls, Savannah river site near Aiken, South Carolina, or Owl Creek, Wyoming. Of course, these are likely to be transported by our nation’s railroads. According to the Oregon Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen Legislative Chairman, Scott Palmer, both high and low-level radioactive waste is transported by rail daily. Legislative Chairman Palmer points out that the low-level waste shipments may pose a greater health concern because there is lesser shielding permitted on the rail cars transporting these types of low-level waste.

Our nation definitely has some serious unresolved issues relating to the permanent storage of low-level nuclear power plant waste. Our nation also has some major issues about properly protecting the shipments by rail car of these radioactive wastes in the growing age of unpredictable terrorism. It appears that the Homeland Security Administration is paying more attention to the routes over which low-level radioactive waste, and other toxic wastes, are being transported including evidence of stalled and delayed shipment of these dangerous cargoes. Hopefully, our law-makers will pay attention to these issues before any catastrophe or terrorist attack can occur involving radioactive wastes.