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    Web site maps route of spent nuclear fuel

    An environmental group will document the whereabouts of transported radioactive cargo. Some call it a scare tactic.

    By Times staff and wire reports
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published June 11, 2002


    CRYSTAL RIVER -- Hoping to personalize the debate over shipping nuclear waste to Nevada, an environmental group will unveil a Web site today showing that potentially dangerous cargo could come within a mile of more than 2-million Floridians.

    "Yucca Mountain is about thousands of communities in this country, hundreds of communities in Florida," said Ken Cook, president of the Environmental Working Group.

    If the U.S. Senate approves the mountain repository 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, radioactive material could be shipped along interstate highways such as I-75 and I-95 and on railroads through densely populated cities, the group said.

    In Tallahassee, for example, spent nuclear fuel rods could move within a half-mile of the Capitol on a rail line that runs just south of downtown.

    The Web site, www.mapscience.org, allows visitors to type in an address and see how close they would be to a possible transportation route.

    Dark orange areas indicate locations within 1 mile, pale orange within 2 miles and yellow within 5 miles.

    The site also lists how many schools and hospitals are within 1 mile of a possible route -- 1,035 and 57 respectively, in Florida -- and provides statistics on semitrailer truck and train accidents in the state.

    The Environmental Working Group drew upon data about proposed transportation routes from the Department of Energy's environmental impact statement on Yucca Mountain.

    Mac Harris, spokesman for Florida Power's nuclear plant in Crystal River, dismissed the group's work as a scare tactic.

    "This is just a matter of trying to influence national policy on Yucca Mountain by trying to raise local concerns," he said.

    But Cook of Environmental Working Group denied those claims.

    "We're not trying to scare people, but we're definitely trying to inform them," Cook said. "This is the single most important transportation decision this country will have ever made."

    In addition to the Crystal River reactor, Florida has four other commercial nuclear reactors, all owned by Florida Power & Light: two at St. Lucie, outside Fort Pierce; and two at Turkey Point, 25 miles south of Miami.

    About 2,000 metric tons of fuel are sitting in large concrete pools at these plants, all of which are seeking a 20-year license renewal from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

    The government plans to store 77,000 tons of radioactive material in the Nevada mountain, most of it from the nation's 110 commercial nuclear reactors.

    Transporting Florida's waste would require 3,601 trips by truck or 348 by rail, according to the Web site.

    The government plan does not call for waste to begin shipping to Nevada until at least 2010. But the U.S. Senate could vote on the proposal as early as this month. The House and President Bush have already given approval.

    The Environmental Working Group, based in Washington, D.C., called for a decision on Yucca Mountain to be at least delayed until more is known about alternative storage possibilities and the public is better informed about transportation routes.

    "At this stage, we're putting the cart before the horse," Cook said.

    But the nuclear power industry says that there's little or no danger in shipping the spent fuel, noting high-level waste is already shipped.

    "The nuclear energy industry has carried out more than 3,000 shipments of used nuclear fuel over 1.7-million miles of U.S. highways and railroads since 1964," the Nuclear Energy Institute says on its Web site.

    No nuclear fuel container has leaked or cracked during shipment, the institute says. There have been four accidents involving spent fuel, including an overturned truck in 1971, but no radiation was released in any of them.

    "Shipping fuel is one of the safest industrial activities we engage in as a country," said Harris, the Florida Power spokesman.

    DOE, which prefers the use of railroads, said a final decision has not been made on the routes, and they would be developed in conjunction with state and local officials.

    Environmental Working Group said that Yucca Mountain in its current design would not solve all the waste problems, estimating there would still be 1,330 tons of spent fuel in Florida when the mountain is filled.

    -- Staff writer Alex Leary contributed to this report.

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