Nuke Shipments Studied By Panel

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A panel of scientists and academics focused Friday on how the federal government can safely ship radioactive waste across the country to a planned national nuclear waste dump in Nevada.

Nevada officials told a 16-member National Academies panel that the Energy Department's plan for shipping the nation's nuclear waste from 70 sites across the country to Yucca Mountain was too incomplete to assess.

"There is no plan,"said Bob Loux, chief of Nevada's Nuclear Projects Agency that is working to stop the project."No one can do any planning until they know the mode and the route."

Energy Department officials said a new administrator has been put in charge of developing the transportation plan by the end of the year. Gary Lanthrum, a former environmental office manager for the Office of Civilian Radioactive Waste Management in Albuquerque, N.M., will take over Aug. 11, said Robin Sweeney, an official with the Yucca Mountain project in Las Vegas.

Ten members of the National Research Council panel spent Wednesday getting their first look at the site 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas that Congress picked last summer to store 77,000 tons of radioactive waste.

The entire group spent Thursday touring road and rail routes skirting the Las Vegas metropolitan area that could be used to ship casks containing spent nuclear fuel on the final leg.

They were trailed part of the way by protesters towing a trailer with a mock nuclear waste shipment container.

"There are understandable questions here about routes and modes of transportation,"panel Chairman Neal F. Lane, a physics professor at Rice University in Houston, said during a break in Friday's hearing at the Crowne Plaza hotel.

"Our job is to understand and articulate what the risks are of transporting nuclear waste,"he said.

Lane and study director Kevin Crowley said no conclusions have been made. The panel expects to issue a report in early 2005.

Shortly after that, the Energy Department plans to submit its application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for opening the Yucca Mountain repository in 2010. Plans call for 24 years of shipments to the ancient volcanic ridge at the western edge of the Nevada Test Site. The waste would be entombed in casks in tunnels 1,000 feet below the surface.

Lane said the panel was looking at risks from normal operations, accidents or sabotage _ particularly through hub transportation cities.

"For the rail option,"he said,"much of the material would come through Chicago, St. Louis or Ohio,"he said.

A truck route charts a main Southeast interstate truck route from South Carolina through Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri, and a Northeast route from New York and Pennsylvania through Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa.

The map, drawn from an Energy Department environmental report, shows the routes meeting at Interstate 80 in Omaha, Neb., and crossing Nebraska and Wyoming to Interstate 15 at Salt Lake City before heading into Nevada.

The Las Vegas meetings were the second of seven for the 16 panelists drawn from academic, engineering, consulting and policy fields. The National Academies provide technical research and advice on science, engineering and medicine issues.


On the Net:

Yucca Mountain project:

Nevada opposition:

National Academies National Research Council Web site: