The Midland Reporter Telegram published my guest commentary on Sunday April 9.
Not long ago, after I had made a presentation about our license application to construct and operate a Consolidated Interim Storage Facility (CISF) for Spent Nuclear Fuel (SNF) at our 14,000-acre facility in Andrews, I was approached by a gentleman who had some follow-up questions. Keep in mind, that SNF refers to used fuel rods from nuclear power plants – it’s high level radioactive waste. And the WCS proposal is to store it for 40 years or longer, until a permanent geological repository is available.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is required by law to take title to these spent fuels rods once the nuclear generator is ready to move them offsite. In fact, DOE was supposed to begin taking the waste in 1998. When it failed to do so, generators sued, won and began filing judgement claims against the government. Those claims are being paid by you and I — all U.S. taxpayers — and DOE now estimates that liability to be over $20 billion. That’s 20 billion good reasons why we need to solve this problem.
My questioner, however, didn’t want to talk about the costs taxpayers were incurring. He wanted to discuss the transportation of this material. He didn’t live in Andrews, and DOE hasn’t made any pronouncements about potential routes yet, but he could look at map and see that it was logical to assume that these rail shipments could potentially come through his county.
So he had transportation questions. That’s not unusual at all as most of the questions I get are transportation-related. So I rattled off the usual responses:
– There have been 20 million shipments of radioactive materials worldwide by truck, rail and ship.
– Radioactive materials transportation is highly regulated by DOE, DOT and Homeland Security in transportation casks that must be inspected and licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
– In the United States there has never, EVER, been a transportation accident that resulted in a radioactive release that resulted in injury or death.
– In the U.S. this material has been safely transported without incident since the 1950s – accidents on occasion, but nothing that resulted in any radioactive exposure or release.
– At WCS, we will be receiving the Spent Nuclear Fuel, exclusively by rail.
That’s when he stopped me.
“What would happen, though,” he said, “if a terrorist fired a rocket launcher into that cask right in the middle of town?”
“Nothing would happen,” I replied, “other than it would probably mess up the train and the tracks. There wouldn’t be any radioactive release.”
The look on his face made it pretty clear he didn’t believe me.
So I explained to him that U.S. and European governments have been conducting tests on these transportation casks for decades. They’ve fired missiles at them, run trains into them, dropped them into flaming infernos, dropped them from heights into rock and submersed them in water. The good news is that it’s all online now and publicly available
He still was skeptical, so I pulled out my phone, called up Google and I entered this search term:
“Test of shipping containers for spent nuclear fuel”
Instantly, there were dozens of videos at my disposal of various tests. Extreme tests. Trains. Planes. Trucks. Walls … all colliding violently with transportation casks. Some go back to the 1970s, some even older. Some are narrated. Some are news reports. But the rocket-powered train crashing into the cask is still my favorite. That thing is much more destructive than any shoulder mounted rocket-launcher.
Every video ends the same. The cask survives intact.
That’s not by accident either. The transportation of radioactive materials is a very serious matter. And to do it, you have to meet exact and demanding standards. There are all kinds of protocols that will have to be put in place before any SNF arrives at Andrews. But when it does arrive, you can rest assured that it will have been transported safely and securely to its interim destination.
If you have questions about exactly what the WCS proposal looks like, I encourage you to go to our dedicated website: www.WCSstorage.com
We’ve got all kinds of information on that site including all our filings and communications with the NRC. I try to keep it updated and have regular blog updates.
We’ve also got a link to that rocket-train video, if you didn’t find it on Google.