Congressman says risks are too great given recent container flaws and lack of environmental or threat assessment
Congressman Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, is asking the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to take its shipments of highly enriched uranium elsewhere. The request comes as the agency plans up to 150 shipments of the hazardous material over the northern border from Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario, Canada, to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
"Recent equipment failings and the lack of current environmental or threat assessments raise very serious concerns about the risks associated with the transport of this hazardous material," Higgins said. "With too many unanswered questions, the risks are just too great for this community, and we are asking the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to keep these shipments out of Western New York."
In recent months, the U.S. Department of Energy released a report that details plans for the shipment of 6,000 gallons of highly enriched liquid uranium across the northern border. The Peace Bridge and Western New York has been identified as one potential shipment route.
Expressing great concern of the impact a terrorism-driven or accidental disaster could have on the Peace Bridge, Great Lakes and the entire Buffalo-Niagara community, Higgins has called for a full and formal environmental review. Instead, the DOE insists it will move forward, relying on data from a 1995 report Higgins said pre-dates today's realities in a post 9/11 world.
Higgins also said an incident occurring on Oct. 28 at Chalk River Laboratories contributes to the alarming nature of the impending shipments. Documented in the transcript of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission public meeting held on Jan. 28 was an account of the incident that includes: failure of a fuel caddy, cracks in the weld of end plates on several fuel caddies, and failure to properly report the incident to Canadian and U.S. oversight agencies in a timely manner.
The company found to have inadequate welds is the same company responsible for casks that will be transported, potentially through Western New York, later this year.
Higgins outlined his concerns in a letter to Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Stephen Burns. He wrote: "The liquid nuclear waste that DOE plans to begin shipping is highly radioactive, and complicating matters, it has never before been shipped by truck or in the transport cask that your agency recently approved. Furthermore, in contrast to solidified spent nuclear fuel, the material's liquid form could vastly exacerbate the consequences of a spill and the ability to contain it. A recent component failure during preparation of another spent fuel shipment at Chalk River, reportedly due to faulty welding, demonstrates that the risks of an accident are far from remote."