Tight-lipped toxic truckin?

Did you know that plans were under consideration to truck nuclear waste through Oregon, through the Gorge, up to the ailing Hanford Nuclear Reservation?

Did you know that plans were under consideration to truck nuclear waste through Oregon, through the Gorge, up to the ailing Hanford Nuclear Reservation? Not much has been said about it in the local media until last week when a local television station mentioned it briefly–so briefly, in fact, that when I decided to search for more information, I found nothing. After several Google and site-specific searches yielding nothing, I was beginning to think I had hallucinated the whole thing. Maybe it was some kind of spring break delirium?

After I heard the report, or hallucinated the report, whichever the case might be, I began to imagine the scenario of transporting spent nuclear fuel through the Columbia River Gorge. If you’ve ever been down I-84, there is no question that this is a remarkable stretch of road. It runs from Portland down nearly the entire length of the Columbia River, nestled next to the rocky crags of the Gorge until it opens out onto the brown rolling hills of the Palouse. Here “stunning” is an understatement. I began to imagine a handsomely paid truck driver winding his way down this highway. Then I imagined strong gusts of wind, the kind that nearly blew my car off the road last year, the kind that big rigs pull over and stop to wait out. Then I began to imagine a wild-eyed meth addict or a droopy lidded drunk driving recklessly fast in the wrong lane. I began to wonder if it was really a good idea to transport spent nuclear fuel through the Gorge to be “recycled” at Hanford. Nuclear energy is “clean” energy, unless its byproducts are spilled all over the place.

So why no news? Why no media coverage to answer my questions? If spent nuclear fuel could be transported through the Gorge eastward to Hanford, where would it be coming from? Would it be transported through Portland? Is the Oregon Department of Energy for or against this proposal? How much waste would be transported? How often? Where from? How long would it be stored at Hanford? I Googled and Googled and got nothing.

Finally, the Department of Energy (DOE) came to my aid with its Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) website located at gnep.gov. The GNEP is President Bush’s “Advanced Energy Initiative” which is charged with the mission of reducing “U.S. reliance on imported oil by changing the way we power our cars, homes and businesses.”

Historical background

November 2006, the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was one of 11 sites chosen for review by the DOE for the potential to become an advanced nuclear fuel recycling center.

January 2007, the DOE allocated $10 million for 11 commercial and public consortia to conduct detailed studies for integrated spent fuel recycling facilities under President Bush’s GNEP.

March 26, 2007, a public hearing was held in Hood River to discuss a DOE environmental study conducted by the GNEP. April 4 is the deadline for submitting comments entitled “GNEP PEIS Comments” to [email protected]

On, May 30, the site characterization report is due to the Department of Energy.

What is a nuclear fuel recycling center?

According to the DOE, an advanced nuclear fuel recycling center would separate usable uranium and transuranics from spent light water reactor fuel and convert them into a new fuel called transmutation fuel. The new fuel could then be used in an advanced recycling reactor. The GNEP explains, “This advanced recycling reactor is a fast reactor that would demonstrate the ability to reuse and consume materials recovered from spent nuclear fuel, including long-lived elements that would otherwise be disposed of in a geologic repository.” What do they mean when they say, “demonstrate the ability?” Is this an experiment?

Possible advantages

Reprocessing or recycling used nuclear fuel has the advantages of being an additional source of electricity and is a way to use waste that would otherwise be stored at a national high level nuclear waste repository. If Hanford were chosen as the site of recycling, 8,000 new jobs would be created in the region.

The team consortia in charge of the Hanford study are Tri-City Industrial Development Council and Columbia Basin Consulting Group. According to the GNEP website, the award amount specifically allocated to the consortia for the Hanford study was $1,020,000. This money will be used to study the “site and nearby land uses, demographics, ecological and habitat assessment, threatened or endangered species, historical, archaeological and cultural resources, geology and seismology, weather and climate, and regulatory and permitting requirements. A programmatic environmental impact statement (PEIS) will be made evaluating potential environmental impacts from each proposed GNEP facility.”

Possible disadvantages

Senator Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, was reported by the Tri-City Herald to be against using Hanford as a repository for more nuclear waste since the DOE has not yet decontaminated the site from its past production of plutonium for nuclear weapons.

According to the local environmental organization, Columbia Riverkeeper, utilizing Hanford as a nuclear recycling center would mean: “trucking dangerous nuclear waste through Portland, I-84 and Hood River, starting up a risky environmental nuclear reactor at Hanford, generating stockpiles of weapons-usable plutonium, posing new terrorist threats to the region, spending tens of billions of taxpayers dollars to subsidize the U.S. commercial nuclear industry’s storage problems.”

What was the reason the Portland mainstream media did not utter more than a sentence about the potential for transport of nuclear waste through our state? Why doesn’t a site-specific search of local media websites including The Oregonian yield any results? Is their perception that this topic is dull? Granted once one gets into catch phrases like “public hearing,” “environmental study,” “GNEP,” “DOE,” and “consortia,” I have to reach for the toothpicks to prop my eyes open. However, once propped, the topics of lights, power, human strife, energy and potentials for extreme environmental devastation get my attention. It seems that keeping the public informed on this issue is important. After all, the deadline to comment is April 4, tomorrow. Why no news?

Our Poison Planet

For more information on the nuclear discussion, Our Poison Planet: A Conference on the Nuclear Poisoning of Our Planet During War and Peace will be held at PSU in Lincoln Hall on April 14 from 9:30 a.m. — 3 p.m. Speakers will include Thomas Fasy, MD, Ph.D., Doug Rokke, Ph.D., Greg deBruler and Dennis Kyne. Topics of discussion will include depleted uranium, Hanford Nuclear Reservation, Gulf War Syndrome, cancer, birth defects, deceptions and sustainability of life on the planet. For more information e-mail: [email protected]

Related websites:

Tri-City Herald, www.tri-cityherald.com

Global Energy Nuclear Partnership, www.gnep.gov

Oregon Department of Energy, www.oregon.gov/ENERGY/

Columbia Riverkeeper, www.columbiariverkeeper.org

Heart of America Northwest, www.hoanw.org

International Panel on Fissile Materials, www.fissilematerials.org

Alliance for Nuclear Accountability, www.ananuclear.org