Exelon Corp. proposes shipping nuclear waste by road through Port Huron
Route is under review by NRC
Federal officials are considering approving a highway shipping route for high-level nuclear waste between the LaSalle nuclear reactors in Illinois and the city of Port Huron — and environmental groups are concerned.
Owned by the Exelon Corp., LaSalle’s two boiling water nuclear reactors are located about 85 miles southwest of Chicago, Illinois. While the route under consideration is secret, the most direct route between the LaSalle County Nuclear Generating Station and Port Huron appears to be Interstate 80 to I-94 to I-69 through Flint to Port Huron, a trip of about 400 miles.
“Exelon is participating in an industry study to develop a safer and more effective nuclear fuel,” said Linsey Wisniewski, senior manager for nuclear generation communications for Exelon’s Midwest region.
The company is proposing to transport the nine spent fuel rods, weighing about 5 pounds apiece, inside a 24-ton, collision-absorbing, heavily shielded shipping cask to the Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario, Canada, for testing.
The Chalk River site is about 425 miles northeast-east of Port Huron on the far side of Algonquin Provincial Park.
“It’s a standard procedure heavily regulated by the federal government,” Wisniewski said.
What about the precise route?
“We can’t disclose the exact route or timing,” she said.
Any risk to the public along the undisclosed route?
“Absolutely none,” said Wisniewski.
She was unable to say whether the single shipment would be accompanied by a military escort.
Michael Keegan, with Don’t Waste Michigan and the Coalition for a Nuclear-free Great Lakes, uncovered the proposed shipment. Keegan said shipments of high-level liquid nuclear waste from Chalk River through Buffalo to the Savannah River Site, owned by the Department of Energy in South Carolina, are accompanied by military escort. About 75 of the 150 shipments have taken place, Keegan said.
The danger: Environmental catastrophe
Critics of the proposed shipment site the danger of an environmental catastrophe if the container was compromised en route.
“Irradiated nuclear fuel rods discharged from commercial nuclear power plants are highly radioactive, a million times more so than when they were first loaded into a reactor core as ‘fresh’ fuel,” according to the Chicago-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service. “Even after decades of radioactive decay, a few minutes of unshielded exposure could deliver a lethal dose. Certain radioactive elements (such as plutonium-239) in ‘spent’ fuel will remain hazardous to humans and other living beings for hundreds of thousands of years. Other radioisotopes will remain hazardous for millions of years. Thus, these wastes must be shielded for centuries and isolated from the living environment for hundreds of millennia.”
David Kraft directs NIRS.
“We have serious concerns about shipping high-level radioactive waste from Exelon’s LaSalle reactors to a port city,” said Kraft in a statement. “Except in cases of extreme emergency, we believe that irradiated fuel should only be moved once for permanent isolation.”
Port Huron sits at the mouth on the St. Clair River, part of the crucial linkage between the Upper and Lower Great Lakes.
“A ground route would take the wastes either over the Blue Water Bridge, which crosses the St. Clair River, or by rail, through a tunnel that connects the two countries,” said Kay Cumbow, with the Port Huron-based Great Lakes Environmental Alliance, in a statement.
“A spill, release or fire here or near waterways that flow into the St. Clair River could potentially ruin one of the largest fresh water deltas in the world — the St. Clair Flats — and potentially poison forever the drinking water for up to 40-plus million people of the Great Lakes, including residents of Canada, the U.S., U.S. Tribes, First Nations and other Indigenous Peoples.”
The danger: Police state
The nuclear industry has traveled a long, dark way from its claims in the 1950s that it would produce energy too cheap to meter, Keegan said.
With nuclear power plants being retired around the globe, the age of nuclear energy has become the age of nuclear waste, Keegan said. No solution has been found for the safe disposal or storage of the waste, which remains dangerous essentially for eternity.
As the LaSalle proposal suggests, the potential involvement of the military, the secrecy of the transportation routes and the absence of consultation with the public are signs of a police state taking shape, according to Keegan.