Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2015
This fall, Nukewatch staffers will hit the road with our Geiger counter and begin tracking private contractors hauling low-level waste, checking for radiation leaking near our public highways. Nukewatch will use the results of their research to alert the public and inform a campaign against upcoming consolidated waste storage proposals that would require a massive increase in the cross-country transport of decades’ worth of waste or “spent” reactor fuel rods.
We know private haulers are already trucking military and other low-level radioactive waste across the country; currently, it’s going to the only open storage facility in the US, the private waste dump operated by Waste Control Specialists (WCS) in western Texas. But it now seems likely that soon, the Department of Energy will begin moving the 75,000 metric tons, and counting, of spent reactor fuel—that continues to pile up at the country’s 99 operating reactors, at 61 sites spread across 30 states—to a centralized, “interim” storage facility.
This kind of radioactive transport would be on a scale we’ve never seen before—and so would the associated risks. We feel it is time to prepare for action. People need to know about the existing risks of radioactive transports so we can mobilize against a centralized waste storage plan that would move high-level spent fuel rods through our backyards as well. We need to get more information about the private contractors that are hauling radioactive cargo, where they’re traveling, how much radiation is leaking from them, and what else those same contaminated trucks are carrying—so we can alert the public.
The government has plenty of short-term financial incentive to permit a consolidated, high-level storage site for waste reactor fuel. The Nuclear Waste Policy Act requires the Department of Energy to provide long-term disposal of reactor waste from private utilities in a centralized facility that was supposed to be ready in 1998. In 2000, reactor operators began suing the federal government for damages associated with the costs of onsite storage of the waste fuel rods and other high-level waste—that the government promised to handle for them. By the end of the 2014 fiscal year, the government had already paid out some $4.5 billion in these waste storage settlements. Two private companies are now vying for the lucrative privilege of providing “interim” storage for all of this reactor waste, until a more “permanent” solution can be found.
One of these is WCS (in partnership with French nuclear giant AREVA), which plans to submit an application for an independent spent fuel storage installation license by April 2016, for its site in Andrews County, Texas; so far this site is only permitted to manage “low-level” waste disposal. The other waste site, proposed by Holtec International, is just across the border in New Mexico, where the multi-national has partnered with regional economic development moguls on an offer to store waste reactor fuel with “no technical limit on the facility’s storage capacity.” The opening of either facility would not only put these highly radioactive fuel rods on the roads; it would also give the nuclear energy industry a green light to keep rickety old reactors online and keep producing more and more deadly waste.
Nukewatch has a long history of alerting the public to the dangers of radioactive transports. In the 1980s we organized more than a dozen H-bomb Truck Watches with groups from more than 32 states. We taught people how to recognize the nuclear weapons transport trucks in their backyards. Dedicated Nukewatch volunteers followed weapons convoys for days on end, sometimes at high speed and through dangerous weather conditions. In 1987, we compiled reports from our staff and volunteers to publish a map of the weapons truck routes in the United States that helped activists mobilize local resistance to the nuclear bombs in their midst. We also reported on little-known accidents, like the November 16, 1996 crash in Nebraska, where a truck carrying two warheads went off the road around 1:00 a.m. during a blizzard.
We keep track of many issues related to nuclear weapons, power, and waste, and we feel strongly that now is the time for us to focus on alerting the public to the dangerous radioactive waste shipments traveling—sometimes unmarked—through our neighborhoods across the country. With decades of experience identifying, publicizing, and resisting radioactive transports, we are in a unique position to take on this increasingly urgent issue. We hope you will help us by supporting this important campaign, and we look forward to providing updates in our next newsletter. —Nukewatch Staff