It appears highly radioactive nuclear waste, the kind used in nuclear bombs, could be loaded up on trucks and shipped through New York State, down Interstate 81. A plan, still in the early stages of approval, that, as you can guess, has some worried. Our Brian Dwyer has the story.
WATERTOWN, N.Y. -- It's all part of a reported $60 million, four year deal between Atomic Energy in Canada and the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River site for reprocessing.
A Georgia-based company, NAC International, has applied to drive highly radioactive nuclear waste from Ottawa to South Carolina. Included in that waste is what's known as HEU, highly enriched uranium. It's classified as weapons grade, used in nuclear bombs.
Instead of the normal solid waste form it's usually transported in, it will be moved in a liquid state. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission says it's reviewing the application.
"We are somewhere fairly early in the process, but we have been engaged with them for a couple of months now," NRC PAO Maureen Conley said.
Conley says right now, the NRC is focusing more on how it will be shipped: The containers. Are they able to survive a drop? A fire? Water? A traffic accident?
"We would not issue an approval of this package unless the designer could demonstrate to us that the package meets those requirements and other requirements we have in place," she said.
How dangerous is this stuff? Well the Ottawa Citizen reports that the shipment plan has one or two large trucks with large containers on the road once a week and not in the winter. Those large containers will only have 17 gallons of the liquid and that's because if too much is stored in one, it could self-react and burn through the container. It's stuff like that that requires that lengthy review and testing process.
"So this combination of the liquid, the HEU and the volume is something we have not specifically seen before, but we have approved packages that have involved some combination of those elements," Conley said.
"You're talking about something that, on its face, is very, very dangerous in all sorts of ways," Save the River Executive Director Lee Willbanks said.
Willbanks, like many others, have come to realize it's likely a route from Ottawa to South Carolina which means the trucks will be on Interstate 81, likely going through the North Country, through Syracuse and the Southern Tier.
"When you start talking about putting that into containers and putting it on a truck, moving it over a bridge, over a body of water, your mind begins to wonder what are the possibilities here," he said.
So while he understands the need to keep some details private for security concerns, Willbanks and other local groups, and even Canadian groups, want more details than the few they say they've gotten so far.
"I don't think this is, we certainly aren't approaching it in a, 'Oh my God, the sky is falling' kind of way. We just want to, I think our concern should be that every step of the way has been thoughtfully considered. For somebody living in the community, somebody who relies on the river for livelihood, recreation, enjoyment, you sort of want to know that the steps are being taken appropriately. Just telling you or me that they are just doesn't seem to cut it," Willbanks added.
The NRC says it's being as open as it can, even offering the original application from NAC online, including response letters.
Jefferson County EMS Coordinator Joe Plummer says earlier this year, his department was given training exercises so they'd know what to expect. He says he's not that concerned with the shipments, but crews are ready.
North Country Congressman Bill Owens says his office is reaching out.
“We understand there is some concern in the community regarding this shipment and in response to some constituent inquiries on the issue, my office has been in touch with the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to ensure proper protocol is being followed. I will continue to monitor this operation for any new developments to ensure the health and safety of citizens along the route and all environmental concerns are fully considered.”
NAC is hoping to have its application approved by August 1st.
It would take an estimated four years to transport the entire shipment.