Originally created 05/04/01

Columbia County readies for nuclear waste transfer



Columbia County emergency officials are gearing up for the first delivery of radioactive materials from Savannah River Site through the county.

Speaking at a Columbia County Local Emergency Planning Committee meeting, Pam Tucker, the county's Emergency Management Agency director, told ambulance, fire and police officials that although the shipment day - Tuesday- is still tentative, they should be on alert just in case.

"What we would really like is for the law enforcement, when we know it's coming through, to help us keep traffic moving smoothly," Mrs. Tucker said, adding that the shipment will travel along Interstate 20 through 17 miles of the county. "We want to get it in and out of our county as quick as possible."

The first delivery of the hazardous materials - which includes tools, rags, clothing and debris exposed to plutonium through years of Cold War preparation - will be loaded on one truck in route to Carlsbad, N.M., to be buried in a salt mine at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. The plan is designed to cleanup nuclear waste at SRS. It has been in the making for 10 years and has had several delays because of protests concerning safety, said Mrs. Tucker.

However, Mrs. Tucker said that the shipments - which would take place for the next several years - would be conducted at the highest level of safety.

"This is probably going to be one of the safest transports of hazardous materials in the history of the country," she said. "I'm a lot more concerned about these chemical tankers and rail cars carrying hazardous materials that don't have the regulations on them that these trucks will."

Each truck will be tracked by a satellite system and have highly trained drivers. Chuck Ray, a field coordinator for the Georgia Emergency Management Agency who attended the meeting, said the May 8 shipment date could be delayed only if WIPP officials decide to give a different directive. No specific time of day for the delivery has been set.

"Now that all of (the environmental groups) have pretty much been satisfied, it all hinges on Carlsbad," he said.

Mr. Ray estimated that once the deliveries begin, there will be one approximately every month by truck. Also, two to three times a year, the waste will be transported through the county by train. Mr. Ray said his department is currently looking at using Bobby Jones Expressway as a second delivery route as well.

In preparation for the upcoming transports, Columbia County emergency officials will be attending a WIPP first responder course July 12 and a WIPP radiological instrument training class July 19.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 110.