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writing for godot

The California - New Mexico Nuclear Connection - Pt. 3 of 3

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Written by James Heddle   
Saturday, 02 June 2018 14:13

Citizen Solidarity at Both Ends of a Proposed U.S. “Fukushima Freeway”

By James Heddle - EON

Holtec International and the Eddy-Lea Alliance have applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a license to open a ’temporary’ consolidated interim storage (CIS) site for high level radioactive waste near Hobbs, New Mexico. If build it could become America’s de facto national nuclear dump for radioactive waste from all the lower 48 states, including California. This segment looks at the transport risks involved.

A Shell Game of Nuclear Russian Roulette on Wheels

Eddy-Lea/Holtec project proponents are fond of citing the transport record claimed by the Navy, which proudly states that it has been shipping both new and used nuclear fuel cross-country by rail for over 60 years without mishap.

However the Navy admits that, “All shipments [are] classified (security) and invoke the Department of Transportation (DOT) National Security Exemption (49CFR173.7b).”  It claims that 850 spent fuel containers have been safely shipped from March, 1957 to the present.

However, no radioactive labels and placards are ever used in these boxcar and flatcar shipments, and there is no advance notification given to authorities along the route, so reports of any incidents that may have occurred would also be classified – secret for ‘security reasons.’

Those 850 shipments over 6 decades are far fewer than the estimated 17,000 shipments it would take to move the projected 173,000 metric tons of radioactive SNF from US nuclear plants to the Eddy-Lea/Holtec site across the entire lower 48 states in the coming years.

Government documents show that other details of Navy shipping methods make them significantly different than those anticipated for the Shimkus Bill’s proposed nation-wide rail, highway and barge transport network:

·      Transport has been along only one specific rail route;

·      The Navy uses a different containment system than the Holtec transport cask;

·      Each Navy transport cask holds just 1/10th of what is planned for each Holtec spent fuel canister.

Itemizing Nuclear Transport Risks

Kevin Kamps from the Washington DC-based group Beyond Nuclear traveled to New Mexico to show his organization’s solidarity with the Halt Holtec movement and to share knowledge gained from a professional life spent campaigning for nuclear safety.

His hand-out list of the documented high risks involved in transporting highly radioactive irradiated nuclear fuel, whether by train, truck, or barge, on rails, roads, or waterways included “high-speed crashes into immovable objects, like bridge abutments, or high-temperature long-duration fires, or long-duration underwater submergence.”

“Intentional attacks,” he warned, “such as by anti-tank missiles or shaped charges, could also breach shipping containers and release their contents into the environment.”

Since Holtec has claimed in its license application that any and all NRC certified canisters can be accommodated at this facility, Kamps explained, not only rail-sized shipping containers must be worried about, but also legal weight limits for the truck casks which would travel on interstate highways throughout the country.

“X-Ray Machines that can’t be Turned Off”

Contrary to Holtec VP Joy Russell’s reassurance that, since spent fuel shipments aren’t liquid, “they can’t leak,” all shipments would emit dangerous gamma and neutron radiation for several yards in every direction, dissipating with distance.  Because of the large expense and added weight necessary to provide shielding against these gamma and neutron emissions, the NRC has set ‘allowable’ limits.

“But,” Kamps reminded the meeting, “Allowable does not mean safe. Any exposure to ionizing radioactivity carries a health risk, and these risks accumulate over a lifetime.”

According to NRC guidelines, at six feet away from the container's exterior surface, a dose rate of 10 millirem per hour is allowed – about one to two chest x-rays' worth per hour.

At the exterior surface of the container, the allowable dose rate increases dramatically to 200 millirem per hour. That's 20 to 40 chest x-rays' worth.

But workers, such as truck drivers, locomotive engineers, inspectors, security guards, and the like, who come in very close physical proximity into the shipping container would be exposed to the highest radiation dose rates.

Even innocent passersby and bystanders in the general public would also be

exposed, including those who live close to transport routes exposed to large numbers of shipments going by over time.

Some people, Kamps noted, such as pregnant women, should not be exposed to any radiation dose that can be avoided due to the high risk of harm caused to the fetus in the womb.

He reported that the state of Nevada, based on federal government data, has documented 49 incidents of accidental surface contamination on these highly

radioactive waste shipments between the years of 1949 and 1996.

And in France, Areva Corporation has had many hundreds of externally contaminated shipments, a full one-quarter to one-third of all shipments bound for the La Hague reprocessing facility. On average, these French contamination incidents emitted 500 times the allowable radiation dose rates. One even emitted 3,300 times the allowable dose rate.

De Facto National Dump in Disguise?

But, perhaps the greatest danger to be considered by New Mexicans, Kamps, warned, is the “question of temporary versus permanent.”

This is the danger, Kemps says, of so-called centralized or consolidated interim storage facilities becoming actually de facto permanent surface storage parking lot dumps.

Holtec-ELEA have applied for a permit to NRC to store irradiated nuclear fuel here for 40 years.  But this time period could, as they admit, be extended to 120 years.

But, Kamps’ research shows that, on page 12 of a January 27th, 2017 report that Holtec prepared and submitted to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Andrew Griffith over company Vice President Joy Russell’s signature, Holtec’s  response to the DOE request for proposal on centralized interim storage, stated that “the CIS should have a minimum service life of 300 years.”

“How can 40 years be called temporary, let alone 300?” Kemps asked the gathering.  “That's longer than the United States has been a country.”

“So, just to end with some political reality,” he said, “If this waste comes out here, it would turn out to be one New Mexico member of the United States House of Representatives versus 434 others for it to ever move again.   And in the U.S. Senate it would be a vote of 98 against 2.”

“So,” Kemps concluded, “folks had better think about this deeply before it's allowed to come out here.”

‘Chernobyl in a Can’

Expanding on the theme of transportation risks, EON producer, Mary Beth Brangan pointed out that “Every one of these canisters that would be coming would contain roughly as much cesium alone, as was released in the Chernobyl accident.  Every canister.

“And so just keeping that in mind,” she continued, “I was looking at just three years from 2013 to 2016 of oil train accidents which might give us an idea about how heavy loads fare on our nation's railways.

“In 2013, there were 11,636 accidents, 8740 injuries, and 700 fatalities. In 2014, 12,226 accidents, 8788 injuries, and 765 fatalities.  In 2015, 11,814 accidents, 9087 injuries, 749 fatalities.  And, in 2016. 10,927 accidents, 8050 injuries, and 805 fatalities.

“And those were trains carrying oil, not Chernobyl in a can.

“My partner and I are here,” Brangan told the meeting,  “because we're very, very concerned about this. And I want to assure you there are other Californians  who do not want to send their radioactive waste here.

“We don't want to do that for a great many reasons but the first one is its environmental racism, and we really object to the concept of putting anymore of the burden of the nation's radioactivity on your communities,” she said to appreciative applause.

We were not the only concerned Californians who came to the NRC’s New Mexico scoping meetings to say, "We don't want our radioactive waste dumped on you."

Another was Southern California urban planner and community organizer Torgen Johnson, whose efforts helped shut down San Onofre’s reactors.  He flew in to the Albuquerque meeting to show support for the Halt Holtec Campaign and network with regional organizers.

“The New Mexico people hammered Holtec and the NRC,” he reported. “They didn’t need our help, but they welcomed our solidarity.  It was so great and encouraging to hear these well-informed, passionate and articulate people expressing the same concerns we have at the other end of the potential rail line.”

Johnson says he heard testimonies from down-winders of the 1945 Trinity test with long, tragic family histories of cancer and health impacts.  Being among them, he says, deepened his understanding of the human rights, social justice and environmental issues at stake, and his commitment to continued public education about them.

What impressed him, he says, is the realization of the “Link between the low income, red and brown people in New Mexico and wealthy white people in Southern California - both being victimized by the plans and decisions of Holtec and the NRC.”

“Its a representative cross-section of America” he says, “united against the onslaught of the nuclear waste disposal industry.”

Sharon and Ace Hoffman, whose efforts had also contributed to the shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant, attended several of the meetings to share their experience and voice their solidarity with the Halt Holtec movement.

“We are very happy that San Onofre is closed,” Sharon Hoffman said.  “It is a really bad place for the waste. But that doesn't mean that we solve the problem by moving it to a different place. We have to look at the transportation. We are talking about moving the most dangerous stuff on the planet all over the country. And if we moved it all today, we would have more tomorrow.

“So the real question here is, when are we going to shut down all these plants and stop making more waste? That's really the problem.

“This is a beautiful place, “ she concluded. “And it might be contaminated forever. This is not something that you want to take on for the rest of the country. Yes, you can help the rest of the country. You can say, stop making this, and then let's figure out together the best thing to do with what is left.”

“I am a stakeholder,” Ace Hoffman told the assembly.  “I am from Carlsbad. Not Carlsbad, New Mexico; Carlsbad, California, which is about 15 miles as the crow flies, or the plutonium flies, from San Onofre. So it was very important to me that we do something about this waste.”

Based on his experience of the NRC’s actions during the controversy about shutting down San Onofre, Hoffman warned his New Mexico counerparts, “don't expect anyone to be telling you the truth about what is possible or what is going to happen. And I strongly advise -- even though I would love to get rid of the waste, and I would love to find a sucker that will take it -- don't be that sucker.”

From the Mouths of Babes…

But it was the little daughter of artist and prominent Halt Holtec campaigner Noel Marquez who perhaps best summarized New Mexico’s majority view that emerged from the 5 meetings held around the state on the Elea-Holtec proposed dump site.

When the moderator, Chip Cameron offered to hold the mike for her, she responded, “I can hold it myself. Thank you.”

Handling the mike with confident ease, she continued,  “My name is Pakeia Marquez and I am 11 years old. I'm here on behalf of unborn kids and born kids like me. I think this whole situation is very important because it affects everything and everybody. It affects the plants and wildlife around here.

“I have recently been writing an essay about ecosystems. I read that ecosystems can be very easily poisoned through water, air, and soil. Water, if all this radiation leaks into the water, everything that's living needs water. It's going to suck up all of that, and it's going to get poisoned.  Who is going to, like, you know, reimburse us for it?

“You may think you might be solving a problem, but really you're just creating more problems to solve, and they might just be forever, and you might just not be able to solve them.

“Please remember that I cannot vote,” she told the NRC officials. “So please do vote against this horrible mistake. Thank you.”

The applause was loud and long as Pakeia Marquez made her way back to her seat.

=============

James Heddle is a filmmaker and writer who co-directs EON – the Ecological Options Network with Mary Beth Brangan.  Their forthcoming documentary SHUTDOWN: The California-Fukushima Connection is now in post-production.  He can be reached at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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