Critics worry about the dangers of transporting nuclear waste from local sites to Yucca Mountain. They seem to overlook an important fact. During the past 30 years, more than 3000 shipments have traveled across the United States over 1.6 million highway and rail miles without a single radioactive episode. Used nuclear fuel has been safely shipped tens of thousands of times outside the United States. Environmentalists would have already pounced had there been an accident involving radioactive releases.
The DOE estimates about 175 used fuel shipments will travel to Yucca Mountain each year for 24 years, transporting between 300 and 500 containers. Numerous tests performed by Sandia National Laboratories to “destroy” the canisters demonstrated the ruggedness of the containers. Crashing trucks into concrete barriers at 65 mph, trains broadsiding the trucks at 80 mph and engulfing the trucks and canisters at crispy temperatures failed to destroy the canisters. “To get a certificate from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), they have to pass very severe accident tests,” Kraft explained. “My guess is that, at this point, it will be fundamentally rail shipments with limited trucking, but we had to analyze both.”
Fear of terrorists? “Before September 11, 2001, these (nuclear storage facilities) were the most secure, heavily guarded industrial sites there were,” Kraft told us. “And they have only gotten even more protected. We have increased the number of guards, the stand-off distance from the gate, and other things I can’t talk about because of the nature of the information. We do have very good terrorist protection.”
But what about on the open road? The DOE hope to construct a 300-mile railroad spur to connect the nation’s existing rail system to Yucca Mountain. In an August 2006 Fact Sheet, the NEI writes, “The shipments are heavily guarded. Travel routes and times for shipment are not publicly available; transport vehicles are equipped with devices to prevent unauthorized movement; and satellites track shipments constantly.” Sandia National Laboratories also simulated a terrorist attack using a weapon 30 times more powerful than a shoulder-fired, anti-tank missile. The result? The weapon made only a quarter-inch hole, which the NRC estimated would release only about one-third of an ounce of radioactive material, a minute amount of radiation posing no risk beyond the immediate vicinity, and would be easy to clean up.
U.S. Left Behind in the Nuclear Renaissance?