A judge has given the U.S. Department of Energy the green light to begin transporting highly radioactive liquid waste from Ontario, Canada, to South Carolina, but opponents of the shipments say the fight is not over yet.
The Sierra Club was one of seven organizations that filed a lawsuit to require the DOE to produce an environmental impact statement before shipping 100 to 150 truckloads on interstate highways from a storage facility in Chalk River, Ontario, to the DOE’s Savannah River Site in Aiken, South Carolina.
In denying the plaintiffs’ request, U.S. District Court Judge Tanya S. Chutkan cited precedents that she said obligated her to “defer to the wisdom of the agency, provided its decision is reasoned and rational.” She accepted the DOE’s contention that since it had earlier assessed the hazards of shipping waste in powdered form, there was no need for a new assessment of liquid waste.
On the eve of the February 2 decision, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that, if approved by the Senate, would require a risk assessment before the DOE could transport highly radioactive waste across the Peace Bridge connecting Fort Erie, Ontario, with Buffalo, New York—a key stretch of the trucks’ most likely route.
“We continue to fight for appropriate environmental and safety assessments as the Department of Energy plans, for the first time, to move this hazardous material through our community,” said Congressman Brian Higgins (D-NY), who has repeatedly expressed concern about the shipment plan.
In Asheville, North Carolina, a town the shipments are likely to pass through, Judy Mattox, chair of the Western North Carolina (Wenoca) group of the Sierra Club, expressed disappointment in the decision. “We feel that this puts citizens of North Carolina and other parts of the country at risk. Our lawyers are reviewing the decision to determine the next steps in the legal process.”
“Citizens here don't want to be a dumping ground for Canada's nuclear waste,” said Tom Clements of South Carolina’s SRS Watch after the decision. “Last year Indonesia demonstrated a method called ‘down-blending,’ carried out with approval of the DOE, that eradicates any need for shipping highly radioactive liquid. The same technique can be utilized at Chalk River. It would be cheaper, faster, and safer than moving this dangerous liquid cargo through dozens of communities, endangering countless waterways along the route for no good reason.”
Blog image source: "High-Activity Waste in transit to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant" by Flickr user, Nuclear Regulatory Commission, licensed under CC by 2.0