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A new destination for Oak Ridge nuclear waste may require far shipment

By Stephanie Carson • Updated Jul 12, 2017 at 2:00 PM

OAK RIDGE – Nuclear waste from Oak Ridge could have a new destination. 

A bill may come up for a U.S. House vote this month that revives plans to ship thousands of tons of highly-radioactive waste thousands of miles by road, rail and barge. 

House Resolution 3053 passed the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee last month, breathing new life into canceled plans for a controversial nuclear-waste repository inside Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. 

Kevin Kamps, radioactive waste specialist for the group Beyond Nuclear, said the plan would send spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors through 100 major cities in 44 states and 370 congressional districts.

“Many of them served by members who voted in favor of this thing,” he said. “And the risks are great for accidents or attacks, releasing catastrophic amounts of hazardous radioactivity in an urban area.”

The federal government is legally responsible for finding permanent storage for nuclear waste. Environmental cleanup is an ongoing issue for the Department of Energy in Oak Ridge. The Y-12 plant was listed as an EPA Superfund site in the 1990s for groundwater and soil contamination.

Besides the hazards of transporting the waste, Kamps said the Yucca Mountain site violates treaties with Native Americans and is prone to earthquakes. He said initially, the EPA had wanted to end safety regulations on the site after 10,000 years.

“In 2008, EPA came out with new standards for Yucca that recognize a million years of hazard,” he said. “It’s still a huge downplaying of the longevity of these wastes, but it’s better than 10,000 years.”

A coalition of 50 environmental groups sent a letter to the House Energy Committee in opposition to the resolution.

Kamps said they recommend moving spent nuclear fuel out of dangerous storage pools and into hardened dry-storage casks at or close to reactor sites.

“We’ve got to do that anyway because the Department of Energy has predicted that they can’t open a repository in this country until mid-century,” he said. “So, that’s decades of on-site storage continuing.”

He said a critical step would be to shut down the nuclear reactors and stop making more waste.

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