The government plans its first shipment of radioactive waste from Asian reactors through the San Francisco Bay area this summer, now that a federal judge has rejected a lawsuit based on safety and environmental laws.
U.S. District Judge Fern Smith ruled Wednesday that the Department of Energy had conducted a proper safety review in choosing the Concord Naval Weapons Station as the docking site, and had adequately considered the risks of a train derailment in the Feather River Canyon.The spent nuclear fuel from Asia, residue of the U.S. Atoms for Peace program of the 1950s, is to be loaded onto freight cars and hauled 915 miles to a temporary storage site at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.
The government plans permanent storage at Yucca Mountain, Nev.
Contra Costa County and the city of Concord had sued over the plan, arguing that safety factors spelled out in a federal law should have led the Energy Department to choose another West Coast port, such as Portland, Ore., or Bremerton, Wash.
The suit was supported by Butte County, which said the department failed to assess the risks of a derailment in the Feather River Canyon, northeast of the Bay area and the site of numerous train wrecks.
Smith had promised a quick ruling so that 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals could resolve any appeal by April 1, the government's deadline for arranging the shipment.
Plaintiffs' attorney Richard Brandt said a potential appeal will be discussed next week.
The nuclear fuel was sent abroad by the United States for research and medical use. The U.S. government now says storage space is running short overseas and has arranged to accept nearly 20 tons of used, highly radioactive uranium and other material from Asia and Europe.
About one-half ton, from seven Asian countries, will be shipped through Concord. The rest will be handled by a federal facility in South Carolina.
The government says leaving the fuel overseas would increase the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation and terrorism.
Smith ruled that the government was entitled to conclude Concord was the safest port for the shipments. Although the weapons station is farther from Idaho than some ports and has not previously handled nuclear fuel, it has experience unloading containerized cargo and also meets criteria for facilities and a low population density, she said.