Groups Aim to Derail Nuclear Waste Shipments

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By Brian Dabbs

Aug. 16 — A nuclear safety advocate alleged that the Energy Department is aiming to profit off liquid nuclear waste shipments heading from Canada to Savannah, Ga., at the expense of public and environmental risk as he announced litigation Aug. 16 to enjoin the project.

The department could begin shipping nuclear waste from Chalk River, Ontario, to the Savannah River Site by September as part of a years-long bid to secure authorization, Savannah River Site Watch and Friends of the Earth official Tom Clements told reporters.

The project, however, is moving forward without an environmental impact statement and sufficient exploration of alternatives, which necessitates an injunction, Clements and other environmentalists said.

The department is set to generate $60 million on the project, Clements said. The complaint says that sum will be used to operate the H-Canyon plant at the Energy Department-owned Savannah River Site, which stabilizes the waste for eventual disposal in a federal facility.

Energy officials are aiming to transport the highly-enriched waste as part of a nuclear non-proliferation campaign.

The nonprofit Savannah River Site Watch group is seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction alongside Beyond Nuclear, the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Lone Tree Council and the Sierra Club Beyond Nuclear v. Dep't of Energy, D.D.C., No. 16-cv-1641, 8/12/16 .

The Energy Department declined to comment. “We don’t comment on ongoing litigation,” department spokeswoman Joshunda Sanders told Bloomberg BNA.

Potential Risks

The project would involve the transfer of 6,000 gallons of liquid highly enriched uranium from Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario to Savannah in 15.35-gallon containers, the department said in its most recently publicly available analysis of the project.

NAC International Inc. is expected to conduct the transfer. The project wouldn't pose significant environmental risks, the Energy Department analysis said.

The environmental litigants, however, fiercely contested that position, pointing to the planned use of public roads for transportation.

“This is absolutely unprecedented; never in the history of the nuclear age in the United States, never in the 75 years since they started have they ever shipped this material over public roads,” Gordon Edwards, of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, told reporters. “This is very dangerous material.”

The waste contains a range of isotopes, such as cesium, niobium, zirconium, rhodium, rubidium, iodine, xenon, tellurium, barium, lanthanum, cerium, strontium, praseodymium, neodymium, europium, neptunium and plutonium, the complaint said.

‘Unprecedented' Radioactive Disaster

“Even a small fraction of the cargo of just one of these 150 proposed truck shipments of highly radioactive liquid waste, escaping into the environment in a crash or fire, would spell unprecedented radioactive disaster for a population center,” said Kevin Kamps with Beyond Nuclear. “A spill into Lake Ontario could ruin the drinking water supply for nine million people in the U.S., Canada, and a large number of Native American First Nations downstream.”

The Energy Department says there are currently no public comment opportunities.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Dabbs in Washington at bdabbs@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

For More Information

The filing is available at http://src.bna.com/hLO.

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