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Risks in nuclear wastes being transported through Texas cities

“You’ve got this stuff going out in the middle of the desert with temperature extremes,” Hadden said. “You’ve got intense storms and flooding, lightning, wildfires. … I don’t think the casks are at all robust enough.”

Unexpected accidents are not unheard of in the nuclear waste field.

radiation-truckNuclear waste could pass through Texas cities en route to Andrews disposal site,   Brendan Gibbons, San Antonio Express-News   February 4, 2017 In the high, dry plains of West Texas sits a hazardous waste site operated by Waste Control Specialists, a company that wants to begin storing high-level nuclear waste from dozens of nuclear power plants across the country.

For that waste to get to the facility in Andrews County on the Texas-New Mexico border, it would first travel on thousands of miles of railroad tracks, according to a WCS spokesman and a Federal Railroad Administration document. That could include rail lines that pass through Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, though the specifics so far are hard to come by.

WCS site is already one of eight in the U.S. permitted to take low-level radioactive waste, mostly from hospitals and laboratories. High-level waste, which only comes from nuclear reactor fuel or reprocesssed fuel, is radioactive enough to kill a person directly exposed to it so it’s stored in metal canisters inside of concrete casks that can weigh more than 100 tons.

WCS wants to begin accepting high-level waste by 2021. On Jan. 27, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent agency, declared WCS’ application complete, starting the clock on period for public input that ends March 13. The NRC will hold public hearings in Andrews on Feb. 15 and in Hobbs, New Mexico, on Feb. 13.

Trying to build grassroots opposition to the new permit, husband-and-wife clean energy activists Tom “Smitty” Smith, who recently retired from running Public Citizen, and Karen Hadden of the SEED Coalition have been visiting Texas cities telling local politicians and news media that the waste could travel through their communities on its way to Andrews. Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert added his voice to theirs in a statement last April.

 Officials with WCS and federal agencies that regulate the waste shipments are not giving out details about the exact routes, most likely because of security concerns. The waste would have to be shipped under an agreement between WCS and the Department of Energy, which technically owns the waste………

“You’ve got this stuff going out in the middle of the desert with temperature extremes,” Hadden said. “You’ve got intense storms and flooding, lightning, wildfires. … I don’t think the casks are at all robust enough.”

Unexpected accidents are not unheard of in the nuclear waste field. The wrong brand of cat litter caused a two-year shutdown of the DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, an underground storage site for defense-related radioactive waste outside of Carlsbad only 43 miles from WCS, in an area sometimes referred to as New Mexico’s nuclear corridor.

In 2014, a barrel of waste at that site burst, releasing radioactive materials, after someone packed it with organic cat litter instead of the inorganic brand they usually use, according to a DOE investigation. The site reopened Jan. 9……..

WCS’ site has now become part of the debate over what to do with spent nuclear material being stored at 67 sites in 34 states, including the South Texas Project in Bay City, the nuclear power plant partly owned by CPS Energy. The fuel is kept in concrete-lined pools of water 40 feet deep or in above-ground casks. Spent fuel only 10 years out of the reactor still emits 20 times the amount of radiation per hour it would take to kill a person all at once, according to the NRC.

So far, the U.S. has no viable permanent disposal site for this waste, which continues to emit unsafe levels of radiation for hundreds of thousands of years after it has grown too thermally cool to efficiently generate electricity.

Hadden thinks the real priority should be on finding a permanent site.

“We don’t think it should be moved until that site is found and developed because it’s a huge risk to transport this, and it should only get transported once,” she said……..

In the coming weeks, the Senate will vote whether to confirm former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has supported WCS in the past, to lead the DOE.

From 2000 to 2011, Perry’s campaigns took in at least $1.1 million from Dallas billionaire and WCS owner Harold Simmons, who died in 2013. As governor, Perry wrote a letter in 2014supporting WCS’ permit application for high-level waste storage.

At Perry’s recent confirmation hearing, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, asked him if he supported a requirement that the DOE, if it does decide to use Yucca Mountain, get Nevada’s consent………bgibbons@express-news.net  Twitter: @bgibbs  http://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Waste-Control-Specialists-is-under-review-to-10908883.php

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February 6, 2017 - Posted by | safety, USA

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