|The Nuclear Waste Debate|
Senators Murkowski and Bryan
March 28, 1997
in this forum:
Why Nevada? Aren't communities who produce nuclear waste responsible? Does the nation need an interim site? Why can't the waste stay at the nuclear plant? Are you concerned about possible protests? How safe is it to transport waste across the country? How long should they plan on storing waste safely? SENATOR BRYAN: How would this bill impact the Nevada population? Additional Viewer Comments...
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A question from David Merrill of Sherman, TX:
1) What kind of research has been conducted into the safety issues associated with transporting the waste across the country?
2) How many people would be at risk during the shipments?
3) How could the government possibly provide every city, town, and county with the resources, manpower, and equipment that would be needed in case of an accident that resulted in the release of radioactive material into the environment?
4) Has an environmental impact study been conducted regarding this plan?
5) What about the tests conducted on the containers used in the transportation?
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Senator Bryan responds:
The disposal of high level nuclear waste is often considered to be just a Nevada issue. What is not widely known is that 43 states would be affected if the Murkowski nuclear waste bill passes. These 43 states are along the transportation routes that will bring the dangerous waste to Nevada. Over 51 million people live within a mile of the proposed rail and highway corridors.
Nearly 18,000 shipments would be required to carry the tens of thousands of tons of waste to the West. While the nuclear energy industry likes to claim that hundreds of safety tests have been conducted on the casks that will transport nuclear waste, these current cask models will likely not be used for the majority of shipments of waste to a repository or interim storage site. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) does not require full-scale physical testing of casks. The NRC cask tests do not even address types of accidents that have occurred on our roads or rail lines let alone potential accidents that could occur. For example, the NRC only requires that a canister survive a 30 mph collision with a rigid flat surface. In reality, many accidents occur at a speed far higher than 30 mph.
Senator Murkowski responds:
Thanks to David for the longest question! Some of my answer can be found in my response to Sherry.
Again, this nation already has regular shipments of waste materials. If they were going to become a big issue, they would have become one before now. Let me assure you that the 63 senators who voted for centralized storage -- including liberals, conservatives and environmentalists -- did so only after extensive studies and hearings looking into transportation safety and other important issues. They concur that the real, potential hazard of leaving materials at 80 locations in 41 states far outweighs the perceived risk of transportation.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) has established tests to certify that transport casks will withstand the range of possibilities for real life accidents. The NRC requires sequential testing: a free drop on an unyielding surface (even though the containers will never again come into contact with an unyielding surface); a puncture test on a hardened steel spike; an engulfment by fire at 1475 degrees for half an hour; and an immersion in water for eight hours.
Sandia National Laboratory verified safety by using scale model testing and computer-based analysis. The Sandia scenarios were designed to represent conditions much worse than actual containers would confront. Lawrence Livermore National Engineering Laboratory analyzed the most severe train accidents ever in the U.S., concluding the containers would prevent a radiological hazard. Other tests also occurred. In short, engineers can assure that current and future generations of containers maintain their integrity, even in a serious accident.
Yes, the bill calls upon the NRC to complete an environmental impact statement on both the interim and permanent sites and on transportation. Despite some overheated claims to the contrary, no one is currently or will later be in any real danger from transportation. The Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board, a scientific panel entrusted with the oversight of the nuclear waste program, has concluded the transportation of nuclear waste is safe and not a factor to be considered when assessing the need for centralized storage. Millions of people in 41 states are in far greater danger if the materials are allowed to accumulate over the long term in their current locations -- this is the fact Senator Bryan tries to avoid talking about.