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House committee calls on feds to send nuclear shipment somewhere else

April 13, 2000
By: Michael Patrick Carney
State Capital Bureau
Links: HCR 29

JEFFERSON CITY - A truck filled with radioactive waste from a United Kingdom research reactor is slated to pass through Missouri this summer.

The House Committee on Energy and Environment OKed a resolution Thursday morning that calls on the federal government to change the route.

Members voiced concern about moving the hazardous material through populated areas on the crumbling concrete and asphalt of Missouri roads.

Unmentioned was a DOE plan to spend the first half of the century shipping 80,000 tons of radioactive material--probably through Missouri--to a permanent repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada.

The primary focus of testimony by the sponsor was on the state of the state's roads, especially the threat that could be posed when a shipment of nuclear waste passes through.

"Our highway isn't as good as Iowa's is," said the measure's sponsor, Rep. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia, who was unable to answer most questions from the committee.

A five truck convoy was routed along Interstate 80 in Iowa last year. That route was selected because of concerns within DOE that frequent inspection stops would force the shipment into populated areas during rush hour, said Tom Welch, an agency spokesman.

That is a non-issue this year because the shipment is contained within one truck and inspection stops will be relatively short in duration, Welch said.

"It is ludicrous that they would come through a more populated state with less well-maintained roads," said Rep. Gary Marble, R-Neosho, a member of the House committee.

This drew a chuckle from the Iowa statehouse.

"I didn't realize your highways were in such bad shape," said Rep. Jerry Welter, R-Iowa, chairman of the House Transportation Committee. "Maybe you need to raise taxes."

Rep. Russell Gunn, D-St. Louis City, said he is concerned about the potential danger of sending a truck of nuclear waste through St. Louis and its densely populated suburbs. Gunn is running for the State Senate.

Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan agrees with Gunn, a spokesman said.

"I don't think that it's that there are giant craters in I-70 and that shipment is going to disappear," said Jerry Nachtigal, Carnahan's spokesman. "It's the old "not in my backyard" syndrome, but look at the numbers," said Nachtigal. "We have several million people living in two major cities."

Because so many people live in Kansas City and St. Louis, a path through Iowa or to the south of Missouri is preferable, Nachtigal said, adding that the route is "far from being written in stone." Talks between the state Department of Natural Resources and DOE will continue, he said.

It takes six months to plan a route, with time and distance the primary elements considered by planners, Welch said.

Edlow International, a radioactive material specialty company based in Washington, DC, is under contract to haul the spent fuel to Idaho from research reactors overseas. The waste is being shipped to the U.S. under the Atoms for Peace program, a decades-old international agreement whereby America agreed to accept waste produced from the peaceful use of atomic energy.

The resolution, which was approved unanimously, must now be passed by the full House.