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Feds want nuclear waste train, but nowhere to go

Published on NewsOK Modified: August 31, 2014 at 12:44 pm •  Published: August 31, 2014
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ATLANTA (AP) — The U.S. government is looking for trains to haul radioactive waste from nuclear power plants to disposal sites. Too bad those trains have nowhere to go.

Putting the cart before the horse, the U.S. Department of Energy recently asked companies for ideas on how the government should get the rail cars needed to haul 150-ton casks filled with used, radioactive nuclear fuel.

They won't be moving anytime soon. The latest government plans call for having an interim test storage site in 2021 and a long-term geologic depository in 2048.

No one knows where those sites will be, but the Obama administration is already thinking about contracts to develop, test and certify the necessary rail equipment.

U.S. Energy Department officials did not return messages seeking detailed comment. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and Department of Transportation share responsibility for regulating shipments.

"We know we're going to have to do it, so you might as well do it," said James Conca, senior scientist at the geoscience and environmental consulting firm UFA Ventures Inc. He has monitored a nuclear waste disposal site, helped design another and worked on cleanup efforts.

In a public solicitation, the Energy Department asked for opinions on whether it should buy or lease the rail cars. It expects the cars could last 30 years, run at standard speeds on regular tracks, accommodate the heavy protective casks and be used up to eight times annually. Besides a car to carry the cask, the trains would have buffer cars to maintain a safe distance between the crew and the radioactive cargo.

The U.S. military already sends fuel by rail from its reactors on Navy ships to federal labs for storage. The civilian power industry hauled more than 2,300 tons by rail from 1979 to 2007, averaging just over nine trips annually, according to NRC data.

Nuclear fuel is extremely hot and radioactive when it is removed from a reactor. Utilities first cool spent fuel in a water-filled pool, then can transfer it to massive casks that sit on land. Neither option is supposed to be final.

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