Op-ed: Thanks to U.S. Senator Casey for protecting the Great Lakes from radioactive waste shipping risks

Dear Erie Times-News Editorial Department,

U.S. Senator Robert Casey, Jr. deserves the thanks of those who love and cherish Lake Erie and the rest of the Great Lakes. He recently joined an effort, along with six other U.S. Senators from around the Great Lakes, to put the brakes on a risky radioactive waste shipment that would traverse Lake Huron, Lake Erie, and Lake Ontario, and the rivers and waterways that connect them. By doing so, Sen. Casey has challenged this precedent-setting shipment that could lead to even more risky high-level radioactive waste shipments on the Great Lakes.

Sen. Casey, joined by Sens. Feingold (D-WI), Durbin (D-IL), Levin (D-MI), Stabenow (D-MI), Schumer (D-NY), and Gillibrand (D-NY), has challenged the proposal by Bruce nuclear power plant on Lake Huron in Ontario, Canada to ship 16 school bus-sized, 100 ton radioactive steam generators on a single boat across the Atlantic to Sweden for so-called “recycling.” The seven Senators fired off letters last month to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), urging that the highest level environmental assessments be performed before this shipment is allowed to enter U.S. territorial waters.

The Senators’ concerns are well founded. Bruce Nuclear’s CEO has admitted that there is no emergency plan in place if the ship were to sink, flippantly adding that there would be plenty of time to figure out what to do once the ship sank. CNSC’s staff has done a shoddy job analyzing the risks, initially excluding consideration of Plutonium-241, an ultra-hazardous isotope whose inclusion nearly doubled the radioactivity content of the shipment. CNSC has even admitted that the welds sealing shut the radioactive steam generators are only good to a depth of 800 feet below water, the very depth of Lake Ontario, meaning there is no safety margin.

It is important Sen. Casey hold PHMSA’s feet to the fire. Recent U.S. House hearings shined a spotlight on PHMSA’s incompetence in light of the recent, disastrous oil pipeline leaks into rivers in Illinois and Michigan – threatening the Great Lakes downstream – as well as deadly natural gas pipeline explosions, and the agency’s cozy connections to the very companies it is supposed to regulate.

Sen. Casey has also questioned the risks of “recycling” radioactive metal. Radioactive consumer products could be re-imported to the U.S., exposing unsuspecting American families to radiation hazards.

This radioactive waste shipment could set a bad precedent for worse to come on the Great Lakes. In 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy proposed 453 barge shipments of high-level radioactive waste on Lake Michigan as part of the plan for moving irradiated nuclear fuel to Yucca Mountain, Nevada for burial. This raises serious safety and security concerns. If such a shipment sank, there is enough fissile Uranium-235 and Plutonium-239 in the irradiated nuclear fuel that a chain reaction could be sparked on the bottom of the Great Lakes. This would make emergency response a suicide mission, and result in catastrophic radioactivity releases. President Obama, to his credit, has cancelled the Yucca dump and such risky shipment plans. But any away-from-reactor proposals, such as reprocessing or centralized interim storage, could again raise the specter of radioactive waste shipments on the Great Lakes.

The Great Lakes represent 20% of the surface fresh water on the planet. They supply drinking water to 40 million people, and are the engine for one of the world’s biggest regional economies. Sen. Casey deserves our thanks for protecting them from the risks of radioactive waste transport.

Sincerely,
 
Kevin Kamps
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Kevin Kamps
Radioactive Waste Watchdog
Beyond Nuclear
6930 Carroll Avenue, Suite 400
Takoma Park, Maryland 20912
Office: (301) 270-2209 ext. 1
Cell: (240) 462-3216
Fax: (301) 270-4000
kevin@beyondnuclear.org
www.beyondnuclear.org