Nuclear Industry Stiffs America For The Next 10,000 Years

Paul Goettlich / OPINION / The South Bend Tribune 9 March 1997

            If Senate Bill 104 becomes law, thousands of tons of highly radioactive waste from nuclear reactors across the country would travel by rail and highway to be dumped at the Nevada Test Site which is located on land that rightfully belongs to the Shoshone Nation by the Treaty of Ruby Valley. This could happen as early as July 31, 1998.

            This legislation, promoted by the nuclear power industry, calls for the federal government (and henceforth the taxpayers) to take title, liability, and financial responsibility for the highly radioactive waste generated by the commercial nuclear power industry. It calls for the establishment of a so-called “centralized temporary” storage facility, to which the federal government would be responsible for transporting the nuclear power industry’s build-up of nuclear waste. If this legislation is allowed to stand unchallenged, an unprecedented program of transporting waste across the USA to Nevada would begin. As nuclear power generators are heavily grouped in the east and Nevada is near California, this can hardly be called a centralized location. There is not much logic to be found in this project except from the viewpoint of the nuclear power companies.

            Once the government takes ownership of the spent fuel, the liability of the nuclear power industry ends. Not a bad deal for them considering they will continue to generate more of this lethal waste while having no concerns about the long-term liability of storing the waste they produced. The taxpayers must foot the bill for storage during tens of thousands of years while the industry reaps all the financial gains.

            Over a 30 year period, 6,076 shipments or roughly 39% of all waste shipments would go through St. Joseph Co. One shipment every other day for 30 years. In 1993 Indiana had one of the highest rail crossing accident rates in the nation. Indiana has generated none of this radioactive waste.

            Even the Department of Energy has reservations about this project. Meanwhile, the nuclear power industry hires paid “experts” to backup their claims of the project’s safety. Paid “experts” will backup any nuclear safety claim imaginable. The paid “experts” tell us, “Don’t worry, no radioactive accidents have occurred.” But accidents have occurred. Between 1957 and 1964, there were 11 transportation incidents and accidents involving spent fuel shipments by the US Atomic Energy Commission and its contractors. Several of these incidents resulted in radioactive releases requiring cleanup, including leakage from a rail cask in 1960 and leakage from a truck cask in 1962. Between 1971 and 1990, there were 6 accidents and 47 incidents involving spent fuel cask shipments.

            There is no benefit in creating yet another “interim” storage dump for radioactive waste. All it means is that the power companies will be allowed to get rid of their old nuclear waste so they can create more. In creating and shipping to an additional storage site, the hazards to the public are increased as its transportation across the country spreads the risks throughout the corridor of the 43 states through which it could pass.

            No matter how slim the odds, the potential consequences are disastrous. A person standing one yard away from an unshielded spent fuel assembly could receive a lethal dose of radiation in less than three minutes. How will the South Bend Fire Department’s HazMat team deal with a nuclear spill? Can they? Will they?

            Think ahead 7 generations in an attempt to leave this heaven called Earth to our descendants in better condition than it is now. Nobody wants this waste. The government has surely not asked the Shoshone Indians if they want this waste dumped on them. This “Mobile Chernobyl” should be stopped before it begins and all nuclear power generation should be halted immediately.

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