The Colorado Public Service Commission has assured local officials that a plan to ship nearly 110 tons of spent nuclear fuel from Colorado to Idaho via northern Utah hasn't shortchanged safety.
Under the plan, the high-level radioactive waste would be transported in 247 shipments over interstate highways. The spent fuel comes from the defunct Fort St. Vrain power plant, located 40 miles north of Denver.The waste fuel is to be shipped to the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory about 30 miles west of Idaho Falls, Idaho.
Shipments would enter Utah at the Wyoming border northwest of Evanston, move on Interstate 80 to Echo Junction, head west on I-84 through Morgan County to Ogden and then swing east to Idaho on I-15 through Box Elder County.
Frank Novachek, manager of the program to decommission the Colorado power plant, said the shipments will take place almost daily over a period of about 12 months - until the plant's spent reactor core has been transferred to Idaho for storage and disposal.
The shipments are expected to begin some time this year, as soon as the U.S. Department of Energy works out final arrangements with Idaho officials. The Gem State has been reluctant to accept the material.
"We're basically in the starting blocks and ready to go" as soon as the Idaho issues are resolved, Steven Sherrow, radioactive waste management coordinator for the Colorado PSC, said during a Friday night meeting at the Capitol here.
He said shipments could begin moving as early as February if DOE officials get approval from Idaho.
Weber County Commissioner-elect Randall Williford said the Colorado plan seems well-conceived and takes many precautions to ensure safety.
"I think they've covered this well," said Williford, who has a degree in physics. "There's virtually no chance of a (safety) problem in our county."
Morgan County Sheriff Bert Holbrook said he doesn't foresee a "great probability of any accident," but indicated local public safety agencies have been trained to handle such an eventuality.
Novachek said public utilities officials decided to close the high-temperature, helium-cooled reactor at Fort St. Vrain because the plant consistently lost money and was encountering expensive maintenance problems.
As part of the commitment to safety, tractor-trailer rigs will be inspected several times each trip, he said.
Further, the Colorado PSC has hired a nationally prominent radioactive waste hauler to run the shipment program. The drivers will be highly trained professionals who will be randomly tested for drug and alcohol use.
The rigs will be equipped with citizen band radios plus radiotelephones linked to a national communications center in South Carolina. They also will carry special transponders that constantly transmit information to satellites about the location and movement of each tractor-trailer unit.
Drivers will be allowed to stop only at certain "safe haven" truck stops for fuel and food and the location of those stops will remain secret for national security reasons, Colorado officials said.
All shipments will be made in three hardened casks made of stainless steel and depleted uranium that are designed to withstand fires, explosions, punctures and other trauma.
"We're not only going the extra mile," Sherrow said, "but the extra two miles."