WASHINGTON – Congressional plans to ship the nation’s commercial nuclear waste to Nevada, potentially exposing residents along the routes to radioactivity from accidents, drew protests Tuesday from municipalities and environmentalists in Maryland.
Daniel Pontious, a spokesman for the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, said “a tremendous number of people” could be affected by nuclear accidents because the transports would be moving through areas with large populations, such as Baltimore and Washington.
“We feel there should be a thorough study of the impact on the health of citizens before they decide to ship the waste,” he said.
Officials in Takoma Park and Mount Rainier have passed resolutions opposing the transportation of radioactive materials through their communities. Officials from a third city, Greenbelt, have sent letters to Maryland members of Congress opposing the plan.
Under the congressional proposal, almost 3,000 tons of radioactive waste from power plants in Maryland and Virginia would travel by railroad and barge through Maryland on its way to an interim facility near Yucca Mountain in Nevada.
The shipments would begin in 1998 and last at least 30 years.
The House bill has already passed the Energy and Commerce Committee, but is awaiting a vote in three others.
The Senate bill is not scheduled for a committee vote yet. However, riders providing funds for the project have been attached to an appropriations bill, which could be voted on by the Senate as early as next week.
In a revised report released Tuesday, the Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects identified two likely routes for nuclear cargo passing through Maryland. Waste from the Calvert Cliffs plant in Calvert County would travel from Upper Marlboro to Baltimore and then to Harrisburg, Pa.
The second route would move radioactive materials from the North Anna plant in Virginia through Washington’s Union Station and along the Potomac River to Cumberland and Pennsylvania.
The proposed bills would designate the Yucca Mountain facility an interim storage facility for all nuclear waste generated by power plants in the United States. The site is also being studied for its potential as a permanent storage facility.
The Takoma Park and Mount Rainier councils expressed safety concerns and worried about business climates.
The Takoma resolution suggests that “the health and safety of city residents could be imperiled, property values likely could fall, and attraction of new businesses and retention of existing businesses could be made more difficult, should radioactive waste be transported through Takoma Park.”
Officials from Takoma Park, Mount Rainier and Greenbelt have called for the establishment of an independent presidential commission to reexamine the nation’s radioactive waste policy.
Spokesmen for the Nuclear Energy Institute, which serves as a trade organization for nuclear energy industries, said moving nuclear waste to a centralized storage and disposal facility is the “most environmentally responsible thing to do.” So far, power plants have to store waste on plant property.
“We had more than 2,000 shipments of nuclear material in the past 30 years, and never was radioactivity released in an accident,” said Leigh Ann Marshall, manager of media relations for the institute.
But Fred Millar, a member of the Nuclear Waste Citizens Coalition, said fewer shipments have been made so far than the amount that would be moved under the proposed law in the first year alone. Previous shipments were mainly military materials and shipments between two plants, he said.
Millar said mid-sized states would need an emergency response system with 100 employees to limit the dangers of accidents as much as possible. Such a system would require an annual operating budget of at least $5.6 million, he said.
While environmentalist questioned the safety of containers used to transport the waste, a Department of Energy spokeswoman at Yucca Mountain said they are safe.
“They are certified and licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission,” said spokeswoman Samantha Richardson. “They are tested under extreme conditions.”