Transport of nuclear waste is much safer than the public thinks and Utahns should not be alarmed about plans to increase shipments of radioactive materials over the state's highways and rail lines, say two nuclear energy supporters.
The generation of electricity at nuclear-powered plants is here to stay and will account for 20 percent of the nation's electricity within a few years, said Joel Cehn, a nuclear engineering consultant from Oakland, Calif."There can never be a spill, because there's nothing to spill," said Cehn, who noted that spent fuel is in the form of pellets.
Lori Hixon, an engineer and communications consultant with GPU Nuclear Corp.'s Three Mile Island operation in Pennsylvania, said Tuesday those pellets are transported in large, high impact-resistant shipping casks.
The casks, made by sandwiching 4 inches of lead between two 2-inch layers of stainless steel, are rigorously tested to ensure they do not leak harmful amounts of radiation and will withstand any kind of transportation accident.
"In one test, a cask was dropped from a helicopter at an altitude of 2,000 feet," Hixon said. "It reached (a speed of) 235 miles per hour and buried itself 4 feet under the ground. All that happened was some paint was scratched."
Cehn and Hixon were in Utah this week as part of a three-member information team from Energy America, an association of nuclear power producers and users advocating the safe use of nuclear energy.
Motorists have nothing to fear from casks shipped on interstate highways, said Cehn, a health physicist, because the casks are designed to stop 99-plus percent of the radiation emitted by spent fuel.
"It approaches zero radiation once you get beyond the cab of the truck," he said.
The Energy America spokesman said there have been four accidents in 500 shipments of high-level nuclear wastes, but there have been no cases in which shipping casks were breached or even damaged.