September 2001

Nuclear waste cargo halted

Des Moines Register, September 25, 2001

[Posted 26/09/2001]

Shipments of nuclear waste across the nation have been halted in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, state and federal officials said Monday.

Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham ordered a temporary suspension of all nuclear waste shipments, said Tom Welch, a spokesman for the Department of Energy in Washington, D.C.

Abraham said in a statement that his agency had heightened its security in response to the attacks. "We will consider releasing the hold on transportation of nuclear materials, but until we make an announcement to that effect, the shipment of nuclear materials remains halted," he said.

About 150 shipments of nuclear waste have passed through Iowa over the past decade en route to storage facilities in other states, said Tom Sever, hazardous materials coordinator for the Iowa Department of Transportation. Some of the convoys have moved through the Des Moines area on Interstate Highway 80, he said.

Critics of nuclear power plants claim the government's action is further evidence against a proposal pending in Congress to develop a permanent nuclear waste storage facility at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. Once the Yucca repository is opened, spent nuclear fuel would be shipped through Iowa on rail lines and interstate highways.

"Every shipment is a potential terrorist target," said Kevin Kamps, a spokesman for the Nuclear Information and Resource Service, a watchdog group in Washington, D.C. He said such shipments passing through Iowa are potential "mobile Chernobyls" with many times the radiation released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb.

Jim Johnson of Des Moines, an anti-nuclear activist, said he has repeatedly taken photos of nuclear waste trains as they have passed through Creston on the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railway line, even though specific travel times are not disclosed in advance.

"My big problem is that there are people loose out there who can shoot holes in these things" with anti-tank weapons, Johnson said.

U.S. Rep. Greg Ganske, a Des Moines Republican and a member of the U.S. House Energy Committee, said the criticism is unfair. The suggestion that every nuclear waste shipment is a potential terrorist target is no more true than the idea that every airline flight is a potential terrorist target, he said.

"The question is, "Is the transport safe under normal circumstances?" The answer is yes," Ganske said.

He said having a heavily guarded, centralized storage site in Nevada poses less of a threat than storing nuclear waste at many sites around the country.

John Ruff, a spokesman for Alliant Energy, which operates a nuclear power plant near Cedar Rapids, said Alliant still favors establishing the Nevada storage facility. "But given the climate right now, we do support the government's decision" to temporarily halt nuclear waste shipments, Ruff said.

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