Nuclear waste coming through town; state getting responders ready

Published: Apr. 9, 2018 at 5:55 PM PDT
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Sometime in the next couple of years, radioactive waste from nuclear weapons development will be trucked across Nevada. So the state is preparing by training first responders along the route.

All manner of cargo travels through our community eastward across the state. This will be a little different, though not unprecedented. The last shipments of this kind crossed our state seven or eight years ago.

It's radioactive. That alone sounds scary.

It's what's called transuranic waste, elements--if you remember the periodic tables from your high school or college chemistry class--with a higher number than uranium, some man-made or the by-product of nuclear weapons development.

"It's not spent fuel, not active fuel. It's not weapons. It's not weapons components we're talking about. Waste from the development of weapons and weapons products, " says state training officer Jon Bakkedahl.

Such as?

"Uranium, californium, different materials that have a high heavy metal component."

The actual materials range from lab gowns and caps to equipment to dirt to dry wall from the buildings where the research took place.

The material is being shipped, primarily from the Bay Area, where it's been for decades, on I-80 through Nevada to Utah up to Idaho Falls where it will be evaluated, repackaged and shipped to a repository deep in the earth near Carlsbad, New Mexico. It will be shipped in drums sealed in huge concrete and steel casks.

Anyone who's spent enough time in Nevada to have heard the debate over the proposed high level nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain is familiar with the concern about transporting radioactive materials.

This stuff is much different, much less hazardous, but the potential for an accident still raises serious concerns.

"Anything in transportation is what we consider at its highest risk. So we spend a lot of time educating our responders along the I-80 corridor where this stuff is going to be transported across from response agencies to emergency management agencies to state agencies. So everybody is aware and trained at the same level."

So, beginning in mid-June the state will be holding a refresher course for hundreds of first responders all along the I-80 corridor, making sure all know what to do should something ever happen.

These shipments will have a Highway Patrol escort all across the state.

So most of them will likely not be noticed by the general public as they will pass through our area during the early morning hours.