DOE estimates shipping 3,000 tons of spent
nuclear fuel annually for 24 years
By Steve Tetreault
Las Vegas Review-Journal
WASHINGTON Over three decades, 2,500 tons of spent
nuclear fuel was shipped in the United States, an amount that
would be eclipsed in only a single year of operations for
the Yucca Mountain Project, an expert science panel was told
Kevin Crowley, director of a study being conducted by National
Academy of Sciences, said research is showing between 1,923
and 2,746 reported cask shipments of nuclear waste were moved
by truck among U.S. sites between 1964 and 1997.
Railroads transported between 279 and 511 cask shipments,
In terms of tonnage, Crowley said, "the total U.S. experience
is slightly less than what we would expect to see shipped
during one year of a Yucca Mountain transportation program."
Crowley made his presentation to a 16-member expert committee
assembled by the academy. The board is developing recommendations
on how the government might manage an ambitious campaign to
move highly radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel from
39 states to Nevada.
When it is fully operational, the Energy Department estimates
shipping 3,000 tons of nuclear waste annually for about 24
years to a repository being planned to hold 77,000 tons of
highly radioactive waste.
The department is forming a blueprint calling for 3,000 to
3,300 railroad shipments from government weapons plants and
commercial nuclear utilities to the Yucca site.
Another 1,000 shipments would travel by truck.
Crowley said that from 1949 to 1998 there were eight incidents
where coolant or other liquid leaked from casks. On 49 occasions,
contamination was found on shipping cask surfaces.
"There have been no reported accidents involving breach
of the casks and a leak of the (waste) contents," he
Panel members sought comment on whether the record of shipments
might be a safety indicator for the much larger Yucca Mountain
Michele Boyd, a legislative representative for the Public
Citizen advocacy group, said the past is not a good predictor.
"Simply extrapolating from past experience, the statistics
of which are disputable, will not be sufficient to ensure
that these shipments will be safe, and certainly will not
convince the public that they are," she said.
Boyd said statistics do not tell the entire story. For example,
she said, from 1986 to 1990 the Energy Department transported
two dozen train shipments of nuclear fuel debris from the
Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania to Idaho.
Along the way, she said, DOE violated speed limits and rush-hour
rules through St. Louis. One shipment collided with a car
stalled on the tracks, while another carried inaccurate placarding.
"These type of errors need to be evaluated in the context
of a massive transportation program involving multiple truck
casks per day or multiple train casks per week over a period
of at least 24 years," she said.
Steve Kraft, waste management director for the Nuclear Energy
Institute, gave a different view. "We believe experience
to date is a valid indicator of the future," he said.
Kraft said nuclear waste cask designs and transportation
safety plans have remained consistent.
"The quality assurance of the cask, the certification
of the cask, the transportation plan, the first responder
plan, the security plan, are shipment-independent," Kraft
said. "Each shipment is the same."