by Kevin Emerich -- A Friendly Visit by Local
DOE Employees and Some Disturbing Answers
As many of you know, the US Department of Energy has chosen the Caliente Corridor in central and eastern Nevada to transport nuclear waste by railroad. This happens to be about three miles from our house which is not too far from Beatty, Nevada.
On January 24th, 2005, employees from the Department of Energy (DOE), Nye County, Nevada and Bechtel SAIC Co (the contractor that will get most of the work) came to our residence to "answer" questions and concerns we may have.
Questions were asked by Kevin Emmerich (KE) and Laura Cunningham (LC), and most
answers were given by Robin Sweeney of D.O.E. Two D.O.E employees were present, three Bechtel employees, and two Nye County representatives.
They showed us a map indicating that the train tracks carrying high-level
nuclear waste to the Yucca Mountain storage facility will be located three
miles to the east of our house. We expected the usual apathy you get when a large area of desert is developed. None of them seemed to care to much about the environmental damage. We were very surprised that issues involving safety and "the War on Terror" were underplayed. They have no evacuation plan if there is an accident and they acted as if there is nothing to worry about concerning the possibility of terrorists trying to disrupt their operation. Is it all propaganda? The federal government is giving a gigantic subsidy to the nuclear industry, payed for by us, instead of giving this massive subsidy to the solar industry, fuel cell technology, research into improved batteries, wind-power infrastructure, and other safer sources of power. And when the president says Yucca Mountain is for national security, it seems it is
really only about space and throwing it out into out backyard. The bottom line is, we are moving before they build this thing!
Below is a list of our questions:
KE, LC: What will the speed of the trains be?
D.O.E: 59 mph
KE, LC: How often will shipments be made?
D.O.E.: Three to four times a week.
KE, LC: How wide will the rail bed and access road be?
DOE: Not known yet
KE, LC: How high off the ground will the rail be?
D.O.E.: Not known yet.
KE, LC: Will there be passage ways for wildlife to cross?
DOE: Those issues will have to be addressed.
KE, LC: How frequent will overpasses or underpasses be along the railway?
D.O.E.: There will probably be overpasses going over Highway 95. (on the map, there are areas near Scotty's Junction where it looks like it crosses) It is not
yet known how many dirt roads will be made accessible - they may or may not
have passes. Some local people have asked for cattle access routes, which
will be considered.
[L.C. and K.E. later thoughts: Wow! Mere 15-foot overpasses on busy Interstate
Highway 95? Further questions: Will the overpasses be strengthened to withstand 8-scale earthqaukes and 100-year flash floods? What if a truck
crashes into the base of the overpass and catches fire? What is the safety
protocol if the track is damaged and the train falls onto the highway?]
KE, LC: Will the section near us be fenced?
D.O.E.: We are asking locals. - Some want fences, others do not. This will
depend on specific circumstances.
KE, LC: Will commercial shippers use the railroad also?
D.O.E.: "Shared use" will be considered, but there is no decision yet. This
is potential. One train carrying construction material for Yucca Mountain
per week will use the railway.
NYE County: The county may want to ask for shared use of the railway to
economic development for local communities. Bechtel personnel joined in and
told us many potential jobs may spin off Yucca Mountain, including train
maintenance, casque maintenance, tracking, communication, etc. Support
facilites would also be built along the route. Nye County would organize
this, and it might "benefit the local economy."
KE, LC: Will there be continuous remote security surveillance of the trains?
D.O.E.: Yes, satellite tracking.
KE, LC: Is there a bad weather protocol, in case of storms or flooding?
D.O.E.: Yes, a protocol will be developed, using satellite tracking and safe
parking areas for the trains to back up into in case a section of track is
"blown out." (but there is no protocol yet)
KE, LC: Will there be a safety escort?
DOE: An escort car (like a passenger car) will be on the last car of the train.
KE, LC: What will be the hours of operation?
D.O.E.: Any time of day or night, just like commercial railways.
KE, LC: Will there be truck transport on the highway in addition?
Nye County: It is politics - people would not stand for shipments on the
highway. But numerous low-level nuclear waste shipments are trucked through
downtown Tonopah without problem. Plus the Federal Government determined it
was cheaper to construct a rail than to fund a truck highway shipment sytem.
Bechtel: Only 3,000 train shipments would be needed to equal 53,000 truck
[K.E. and L.C. thoughts: That is somehow supposed to make us feel safer?]
KE, LC: Why does the railway route not go through the Nellis Air Range?
D.O.E.: The Air Force has said that this would interfere with their bombing
practice, and they have the say on this matter, so we cannot go through the
KE, LC: Will part of the railway use old existing train beds?
D.O.E.: Yes, parts of the old Tonopah route may be incorporated, with new
beds also built. [We were given a copy of the map.]
KE, LC: When will construction begin on the railway?
D.O.E.: This is not known yet. Construction will begin when Yucca Mountain
receives licensing, and this has been delayed by the lawsuit by State of
Nevada concerning the 10,000 year ruling [in which D.O.E must develop storage material that will last more than 10,000 years].
KE, LC: Is D.O.E. working on better storage material for Yucca Mountain?
D.O.E.: " We don't know. That's E.P.A.'s (Environmental Protection Agency) job."
KE, LC: Will local residents be informed when shipments are passing by?
D.O.E.: That will be up to the state Governor and his designees.
KE, LC: What happens if the train crashes and the casques break? Is there an
D.O.E.: The casques weigh 150 tons each, made of one-foot
thick steel with neutron-absorbers. Bechtel employees joined in, saying that
the casques are designed to hold 16-foot long rods of spent fuel, each being
"less than your pinky finger in diameter." The maximum number of rods a
casque can carry is 44, depending on the fuel type, as different types of
fuel will be carried. (Robin Sweeney assured us that the train casques carrying the nuclear
waste are very safe, and have been tested by dropping them off airplanes.)
KE, LC: That is not what we asked. - What will D.O.E. do if a casque breaks? What is your evacuation plan?
D.O.E.: "I can't see how they would break here." There is a only 99.9%
chance of this happening.
KE, LC: How long will it take DOE to notify us if there is an accident?
D.O.E.: "We'll clean it up."
[L.C. and K.E thoughts: So there is no protocol to help local communities
escape radiation exposure. You'll clean it up?]
KE, LC: What if terrorists use a rocket-launcher on the casque?
D.O.E.: "Why would they want to do that?" Rural people are not enough of a
target; terrorists would go after a place with millions of people.
Nye County: "Who would want to blow this rural place up?"
[K.E. and L.C. comments: No explanation given about the integrity of casques
KE, LC: But what about terrorists wanting to steal nuclear material to make dirty
D.O.E.: We do not think that will happen.
Bechtel: Terrorists would not be able to transport the 150-ton train
[L.C. and K.E. comments: This ironically implies that all the "War on Terrorism" we have been hearing about constantly on the news and from the
present administration is just propaganda, and is not actually important at
all in this case.]
KE, LC: This may sound a little paranoid, but will the Patriot Act be used on
us and other residents along the corridor to check security?
D.O.E.: "Boy you are paranoid!" Robin Sweeney says she "does not think
so." The government would have to investigate millions of people along the
corridor through the entire country, and this would not be feasible.
KE,LC: Why do we need nuclear waste storage here in the first place? New
D.O.E. Secretary Bodman said the country needs to get more nuclear power
plants operational by 2010.
DOE: It was decided that the federal government will take
responsibility for the spent nuclear waste storage, because the commercial
companies are running out of space at their sites. They are having to ship
waste between sites to find storage. They cannot handle it. Currently there
is 45,000 metric tons of high level nuclear waste stored that needs to be
KE, LC: There are reports that say there is enough storage space to keep
the nuclear waste where it is for the next 100 years.
DOE: I have not heard that.
KE, LC: Why is there not a push to research and use solar/other alternative
forms of energy?
D.O.E. and Bechtel: We were just wondering about that ourselves.
After more comments by DOE about the safety of the containers, KE asked:
If it is so safe, why not just ship it on Highway 95?
Nye County: Kevin, you are a savvy guy! It's about politics. People would
never allow nuclear waste to be transported on highway 95!" Numerous low-level nuclear waste shipments and hazardous mining waste shipments
are trucked through downtown Tonopah without problem. Plus the Federal Government determined it was cheaper to construct a rail than to fund a
truck highway shipment sytem. She told us that for every one negative comment she
hears about the Caliente route, she gets 10 positive letters in support from Nye County folks. (This is a distortion of the truth. The local
people in our area are divided 50 percent approve and 50 percent do not approve)
KE: So now its more about politics than safety!
DOE: (no comment)
They were friendly enough, but if that is the extent of their knowledge on
this transportation route, their work is clearly not finished...
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