Archive for Wednesday, June 6, 2001

Nuclear cargo on track for city

Train carrying radioactive waste from New York to head through Lawrence

June 6, 2001


Sometime this summer, about 45 tons of highly radioactive cargo will be hauled by train through northeastern Kansas, and right through Lawrence, officials said Tuesday.

The shipment is from western New York, where the U.S. Department of Energy is shutting down and cleaning up the country's first commercial nuclear fuel reprocessing plant.

The cost of the cleanup is pegged at $1.6 billion.

Plans are to transport 125 used fuel assemblies in gigantic steel casks by train through 10 states, bound for the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.

Plans for the trip have been more than two years in the making and state and Lawrence-area officials say there is little danger.

"The risk is so minimal it's virtually nonexistent," said Paula Phillips, director of Douglas County Emergency Management.

The fuel assemblies already have been loaded onto the train, but officials refuse to say when the train will start on what is expected to be a four-day journey.

Once it starts, officials say they will keep secret dates and times of when the train will pass.

Phillips said that the train will go through North Lawrence on the Union Pacific track. It probably will be in Douglas County no longer than 30 minutes and in the state for about three hours.

Emergency management and law enforcement crews have been briefed and trained on the trip, she said.

"The shipment is absolutely safe," said John Chamberlain, a spokesman for West Valley Nuclear Services, which is coordinating the shipment.

Chamberlain said the material is highly radioactive and will be for thousands of years. Eventually, the fuel will be moved from Idaho to a permanent facility that has yet to be built, he said.

The nuclear fuel assembles are bundles of rods that contain fuel pellets and were used to make electricity in plants in Michigan and New York, Chamberlain said.

The fuel has been placed into two steel casks with walls more than 9 inches thick, according to the federal Energy Department. The casks are approximately 20 feet long, 7 feet in diameter and weigh 75 tons each when empty. The casks also will be used to store the fuel at the Idaho facility.

The train will consist of a locomotive, two flatbed cars carrying the casks, several spacer or buffer cars, and a personnel car.

The route was chosen after evaluating 12 different routes and ranking them on the basis of distance, track quality and population, the Energy Department said.

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