Waste-hauler takes new container on tour

Jim Blaylock/Staff
Vince Sheats and Mike Rorick look over the transport vehicle that will be carrying low-level radioactive waste on Interstate 20.

Area emergency first responders on Wednesday got to inspect a training model of a new container that will carry radioactive waste along Interstate 20.


The road show debuted a new Transuranic waste shipping container at the Columbia County Emergency Operations Center. The show displayed the TRUPACT-III container at stops on I-20 from Pecos, Texas, to Savannah River Site along the route to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in Carlsbad, N.M.

The facility began accepting radioactive waste in 1999 and the first shipment from SRS was sent in 2001.

"This is the safest shipment on the road, I guarantee it," said Bobby St. John, a WIPP spokesman overseeing the week-long road show. The containers, which are U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission certified, go through numerous drop, burn, puncture and pressure tests.

Six of the new box-style containers will hit the roads beginning in late summer, St. John said. They will be used in addition to previous models using cylindrical and dumbbell-shaped containers. The containers, which transport items like rags, soil and tools contaminated with low-level radiation, were redesigned to accommodate some larger waste boxes at SRS.

"The type of waste that is going to be in these large boxes could be things like drill presses, lathes, large equipment that is contaminated," St. John said.

He said about six shipments a week travel from SRS to the Carlsbad facility, where waste containers are buried in a salt mine nearly a half-mile deep.

Each shipment travels through about five miles of Richmond County and 17 miles of Columbia County on I-20.

"We've got more than 22 million total miles under our belt," St. John said. "We've had no fatalities, no serious traffic accidents and no releases (of radiation)."

Pam Tucker, Columbia County Emergency and Operations director, said WIPP officials page her when a shipment enters the county and again when it leaves.

It was important for first responders to see the container, just in case it is ever involved in an accident on the roads.

"To understand how it is built, what kind of testing they've done on it, how much material it will hold," Tucker said. "They (WIPP) have even provided us meters, so we can monitor if there is an active accident, just to verify there is no radiation leaking."

Reach Valerie Rowell at (706) 868-1222, ext.110 or valerie.rowell@augustachronicle.com.