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Feather River line designated as main nuclear waste route

SHERRY MAYS Sierra Sun

Donner Summit definitely will be the secondary route used to transport spent nuclear waste from the Concord Naval Base to a storage facility in Idaho, according to a decision made by federal officials last week.

The Feather River Canyon was boosted from preferred to primary route, with Donner Summit not out of mind.

Formal approval came from the U.S. Department of Energy, after a Contra Costa County and City of Concord law suit to block transport along the Feather River route was settled.

Although Truckee is not completely free from the passage of the nuclear waste, county officials are breathing a sigh of relief for now.

“Donner Summit is definitely a more dangerous route (than Feather River),” said Nevada County Supervisor Sam Dardick, who represents eastern Nevada County.

Dardick expressed concern about the Truckee’s exposure to the shipments because if anything happens to the Feather River route, Truckee is the next choice, according to California Energy Commission officials.

Past shipments

“Nuclear shipments would not be something new for Truckee,” he said. “I’ve been told about six shipments have gone through (Truckee) in the past 10 years.”

He said state and local governments were not informed before about the shipments, but over the last year local government has had the opportunity to voice concern directly with the agencies controlling the shipments.

“This is a step in the right direction,” Dardick said. “At least there is communication and cooperation. The supes (Board of Supervisors) decided that there really isn’t much they can do to stop them (shipments).”

Dardick said Truckee may have had the chance to deny any nuclear

shipments through town with its two-year nuclear free zoning. Voters elected to repeal the zoning several years ago.

“I’ve also heard from the the feds that they might alternate shipments – some will go through the canyon and others will go over the summit,” he said. “They understand our concerns and I think the lines of communication are open.”

The radioactive Asian fuel rods are returning to the United States as part of the Atoms for Peace program aimed at preventing nuclear products from getting into the hands of terrorists.

The program was administered under President Dwight D. Eisenhower. It allowed Asian countries to use W.S.-produced uranium for research purposes. In exchange, the countries agreed they would not produce nuclear weapons and would return the nuclear waste to the United States for storage.

Daniel Nix of the California Energy Commission Nix said terrorism is still a major concern. If for any reason there was a threat on the Feather River route, Donner Summit would be used.

“We will not be publicizing any shipment dates,” Nix said. “If someone purposely releases the date, they will be face up to $20,000 in fines and jail time. It’s important the dates stay secure.”

Nix said keeping the arrival of the shipments into the naval base will be difficult because the ships will be escorted by U.S. Coast Guard boats and a California Highway Patrol helicopter.

Once on the railroad, the shipments will be “shadowed” by a CHP patrol car, carrying high-tech radio equipment and a physicist, in the event of an incident.

“There will also be a physicist on the train in case anything happens,” Nix said.

Nix said it is virtually impossible to extract the material, but terrorism hasn’t been ruled out.

The primary route includes 1,100 miles of Union Pacific Railroad lines. It passes through or near the Northern California communities of Martinez, Benicia, Fairfield, Vacaville, Davis, Sacramento, Marysville, Oroville, Quincy, Portola and Doyle.

The shipments will begin no earlier than this July. DOE spokesman John Belluardo said more than five shipments will pass through Concord until 2009, when the program is expected to end.

The DOE plans to accept about 20 metric tons of research reactor spent fuel from 41 foreign countries. About 98 percent will enter the country through the Naval Weapons Station at Charleston, S.C. The remaining 2 percent will pass through Concord to the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

Robert Alcock, DOE deputy assistant secretary, said the contract with Union Pacific Railroad still needs to be signed and the 26-ton lead and steel casks still need to be approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

He said he expects any problems to be settled well in advance of the shipments.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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