A judge ruled Thursday in a lawsuit aimed to halt U.S. Department of Energy shipments of high-level liquid nuclear waste from Canada to the Savannah River Site, opening a gate that could send those shipments across hundreds of miles of U.S. roadways.
The radioactive material is left over from the production of molybdenum, a radioactive medical isotope, in Chalk River, Ontaria, Canada. The lawsuit was filed by an international coalition of nuclear watchdog and environmental groups in late summer . The coalition wanted the Energy Department to conduct an environmental assessment on the shipments because liquid nuclear waste shipments weren’t part of any previous assessments.
The DOE disagreed, and so did the judge. According to court documents, the judge ruled the potential impacts of transportation must be significantly different than for solid material, requiring a supplemental [Environmental Impact Statement].
However, DOE has clarified that the ‘solid’ target material evaluated in 1995, 1996 and 2000 was in the form of calcine or oxide powder, diminishing any “obvious” difference due to their similar risks of dispersal, according the judge.
Previous agreements between parties in the case put the shipments on hold until Feb. 17. With this week’s ruling, shipments could begin immediately. But legislation passed by the House on Wednesday could create a new obstacle for the Energy Department shipments.
The Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear Intelligence and Information Sharing Act contains specific language added by Rep. Brian Higgins, D-NY, targeting the American-Canadian border crossing to be used for the shipments.
The crossing is at the Peace Bridge in Buffalo , spanning the Niagara River along the Canadian border. That bridge and Niagara River corridor are on the list of high-impact terrorist targets as considered by the House Committee on Homeland Security.
The bill, if passed by the Senate, would require a threat assessment by the Department of Homeland Security before the shipments could cross that bridge into the U.S.
SRS Watch Director Tom Clements had a stake in the lawsuit and issued a statement after the ruling. calling it “disappointing.”
“Plaintiffs had urged the court to either suspend the shipments, or to require a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement in compliance with U.S. environmental law, because such highly radioactive material has never before been transported over public roads in liquid form.”
According to Clements, the material is an acidic solution of radiotoxic materials such as cesium-137, strontium-90 and plutonium-239.
“Citizens here don’t want to be a dumping ground for Canada’s nuclear waste. Last year, Indonesia demonstrated a method called ‘down-blending’, carried out with DOE approval that eradicates any need for shipping highly radioactive liquid.
The same technique can be utilized at Chalk River. Down-blending and solidifying the waste in Canada would be cheaper, faster and safer than moving this dangerous liquid cargo through dozens of communities, then processing and dumping it into aging waste tanks at SRS,” Clements said.
The shipments will come to about 6,000 total gallons and require 100-150 deliveries that will each travel about 800 miles of U.S. roadway and cross a half dozen states before landing in South Carolina.
Thomas Gardiner can be reached at (706)823-3339 or at firstname.lastname@example.org