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Nuclear Waste May Go Through Missouri

January 20, 2000

The U.S. Department of Energy may spend nearly 40 years shipping thousands of tons of radioactive waste -- including weapons grade plutonium -- through Missouri.

The state will voice "strong opposition" to any such proposal during a public hearing to be held today in St. Louis, said Jerry Nachtigal, a spokesman for Gov. Mel Carnahan.

Under a possible plan, the radioactive waste would be moved to a permanent repository in Nevada via truck and rail from five government and 72 commercial facilities, including the nuclear power plant in Callaway.

A map included with the draft proposal shows the material being transported along Interstate 70 in Columbia and the Union-Pacific rail line near Jefferson City.

The DOE reported no level of Missouri government has expressed an opinion on the draft environmental impact statement, which includes possible transportation routes. The comment period closes Feb. 9. A final environmental impact statement is expected at the end of the year.

The Yucca Mountain repository has not been built, and the plan is little more than a draft, said Allen Benson, a DOE spokesman. The U.S. House, however, is considering a bill that would start nuclear waste transportation by July 2003.

The Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects, which opposes the draft, has concluded there are two likely transportation scenarios.

Under one, between 18,600 and 27,600 shipments would be trucked through Missouri -- an average of two shipments each day for up to 39 years.

Another would include three rail shipments a week for 25 years, or more than 5,000 train loads of radioactive waste cutting across the state from St. Louis to Kansas City. An additional 670 to 4,600 shipments would travel by truck.

The waste falls into three categories: spent nuclear fuel, weapons-grade plutonium and high-level radioactive waste.

The military transfers ownserhip of the waste to the DOE before shipment.

Overall, the Nevada agency claims between 30 and 38 percent of all shipments to Yucca would travel through the Show Me State.

The chosen routes, along with federal complacency, could pose a threat, one opponent said.

"Their definitions of optimal routes are not necessarily the safest, but the cheapest," said Robert Halstead, an expert in nuclear waste transportation who is employed by Nevada.

DOE discounts such concerns.

"We've been shipping nuclear materials around this country for years with an excellent safety record," Benson said. "Congress has determined that we try to do it now."

Radioactive material has been succesfully shipped more than 2,500 times since 1965, according to the energy department.

The nuclear industry has a rate of 0.7 accidents per million miles travelled, Halstead said. He has concluded DOE would accumulate about 7.3 million shipment miles along Missouri's rails and roads.

"You would expect four, five or six accidents in Missouri based on those numbers," Halstead said.

Accidents may occur, but don't expect a catastrophe, said Mark Davis, a spokesman for Union-Pacific Railroad based in Omaha, Neb.

"The rail cars are so well designed that even if one did derail it wouldn't split open," he said.

Benson echoed that sentiment, explaining no radiation was released in the handful of past accidents involving nuclear material and the casks, or heavily shielded containers, certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to transport nuclear waste.

The Nevada agency also claims the trucks would be traveling at up to 70 mph without an security escort.

The DOE said the transports would reach a maximum speed of 45 mph.

Columbia Police officials said they had no knowledge of the proposed study and have no officers specifically trained to handle an accident involving radioactive material.

Federal law requires the DOE to fund hazardous material training for emergency personnel in the jurisdictions through which the convoys would travel.

"If you knew what was traveling out there as hazardous materials on the roads, you would be more scared than with this nuclear stuff," said Capt. E. Dwight Hartung, head of the Missouri Highway Patrol's commercial vehicle enforcement division.

For full text of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, and an online comment form, please visit

Comments will be accepted through Feb. 9, 2000.