Nukewatch Quarterly Winter 2020-2021
The risks of accidents and fires with cross-country shipments of high-level radioactive waste have been “underestimated” by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), according to an independent analysis. Freight train accidents per mile are some “36 times the NRC/DOT estimate” says the author, Dr. Marvin Resnikoff, a physicist with Radioactive Waste Management Associates. Resnikoff reviewed the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) written by Interim Storage Partners and Waste Control Specialists—firms seeking a license for a dump site in Texas. Resnikoff concluded that the likelihood of transportation accidents involving fires was “underestimated,” because the DEIS fails to consider blazes lasting longer than 11 hours, a cap set by the NRC. Resnikoff points to the 2013 Lac-Megantic, Quebec, rail disaster that resulted in a 48-hour-long fire, killed 47 people, and destroyed half the downtown buildings. Had the train been carrying fissionable materials instead of crude oil, the damages and death toll would have been worse.
Further, the DEIS overlooks the inability of transport casks to withstand temperatures created by fires—particularly high temperatures typically found near the tops and bottoms of casks—which cause seals to degrade faster than the NRC model suggests, resulting in the release of radioactive gases and particles.
Resnikoff also faulted the DEIS’s analysis for only reviewing “mid-burnup” fuels (uranium that’s been moderately burned in a reactor), while ignoring “high-burnup” fuels which hold increased amounts of highly radioactive fission products, produced inside power reactors. The NRC must “more carefully review the impact of transporting high burnup fuel to the proposed … facility,” he said.