Nuclear waste shipments ‘Truckee still not 100% free from the process’
The Department of Energy’s recent decision designating the Feather River railroad route the first choice for nuclear waste transport does not exclude Donner Summit and Truckee.
The summit route remains second on the priority list.
“The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires a primary and secondary route for shipping nuclear waste,” said Dan Nix of the California Energy Commission. “Truckee is still not 100 percent free from the process. It is No. 2.”
U.S. District Judge Fern Smith ruled last month the safest route to ship spent nuclear fuel from abroad was through the Feather River Canyon from San Francisco to a temporary facility in Idaho. Although downtown Truckee and Reno seemed spared, Sacramento and Oroville will still see the shipments.
Opponents of the decision to use the Concord Naval Weapons Station to Idaho route are claiming the Feather River route has a history of accidents and track failure.
“This just isn’t true,” said Mike Furtney, Union Pacific spokesman. “They are using outdated information.”
Furtney said problems along the canyon route were occurring when Western Pacific ran trains through there more than 20 years ago.
“For the past 15 to 16 years, Union Pacific has spent enormous amounts of money to upgrade to tracks,” he said. “After last year’s flood, the Feather River (route) was shut down for three months for repairs. The tracks are as good as anything in the U.S. now. The tracks were restored to the best condition.”
The first load of fuel from Asian nuclear reactors could reach the station just east of San Francisco as early as June. Once on track, the shipments will travel 60 miles north of Reno, then pass between between the city and Winnemucca on its way to Idaho.
Overall, the casks would be hauled on freight cars more than 915 miles to a site at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory. Four more shipments are planned over the next 12 years.
Where to permanently store the spent fuel is the question still left open. Nix said Yucca Mountain in southern Nevada may be an option or a native American reservation in Utah could hold the place.
“We are seeing more offers from native Americans to permanently store wastes on their lands,” he said. “It’s an option we are looking into.”
Beginning in the 1950s, the United States sent nuclear fuel abroad for research and medical use in the Atoms for Peace Program. Nearly 20 tons of used, highly radioactive uranium and other materials are being returned to the U.S. from Europe and Asia. The first shipment of a half-ton is scheduled from Asia.
According to the government, the spent fuel poses a risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and terrorism if it is left overseas. Anti-nuclear proponents claim leaving the fuel overseas may be safer than transporting it through the U.S.
“If we had our druthers, we wouldn’t transport any nuclear materials at all,” Furtney said. “Whether we like it or not, the DOE requires that we ship it (nuclear fuel).”
Furtney said Union Pacific has been doing all it can to comply with the energy department’s requirements and recommendations.
“We have no choice,” he said.
Steve Wright, Truckee town manager, said the decision is OK with him.
“Of course I think the judge’s decision was the right one,” he said. “Hopefully the summit route won’t be needed.”
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