Several planned routes for the waste converge in Atlanta, the nearest major hub to the federal government's Savannah River nuclear processing site just across the state line in South Carolina.
At an informational meeting last week organized by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, federal regulators and representatives of the nuclear-power industry previewed the proposed changes, which they say are needed to bring U.S. shipping regulations in line with global standards approved by the International Atomic Energy Agency and International Civil Aviation Organization.
Among other steps, the regulations would establish a new set of allowable radiation levels for materials being shipped, scrap a '70s-era requirement that high-level radioactive shipments be packaged in "double-walled" containers, and allow manufacturers of shipping containers to select among "crush" or "drop" tests, instead of having to meet requirements for both.
The proposed changes come as other steps are being taken that may increase the amount of radioactive material being moved around the country. The federal government and the nuclear-power industry are continuing work on a massive underground storage facility at Yucca Mountain, Nev., which is slated to hold some 70,000 tons of radioactive waste when completed.
Closer to home, the Savannah River Site, which manufactured elements for nuclear weapons until being closed in the late '80s, also is gearing up to begin a process called "glassification," under which nuclear-plant waste and plutonium from decommissioned nuclear weapons will be immobilized in ceramic logs.
And, under a far more controversial proposal being pushed at energy companies, plutonium from decommissioned weapons -- U.S. and foreign -- would be re-processed into a new type of nuclear fuel destined to be used in commercial reactors. This mixed-oxide, or MOX, fuel is hailed by the industry as a means to recycle the highly radioactive plutonium reclaimed from old weapons. Critics argue that such an arrangement would violate both international treaties and time-honored U.S. bans against mixing civilian and military nuclear programs, and would generate even more high-level waste.
Ever since the NRC first floated plans for the Yucca Mountain site, nuclear-power critics have raised concerns about the shipping of such materials. In addition to basic transportation considerations in case of a train derailment, highway accident or ship sinking, they've argued that the material could be vulnerable to theft or sabotage.
Federal regulators say an almost Byzantine system of safeguards, the enormous concrete-and-steel shipping containers being constructed for spent-fuel transport and a near-spotless track record of handling shipments should put such fears to rest.
In a response to charges that the new radiation levels are less safe than existing ones, U.S. Department of Transportation health physicist Fred Ferate noted at last week's meeting that the current levels are basically "one size fits all," with radioactive isotopes with vastly different properties all ranked the same.
"Under the new standards," he said at last week's meeting, "about two-thirds of the levels are smaller (than current) levels, and one-third are larger."
Olsen and others are suspicious of the push for new standards, some of which they say have been proposed by a cost-conscious nuclear industry before. They dismiss assertions that regulators are being forced to adopt the new rules by their foreign peers.
"The excuse that NRC is using to change -- and relax -- their regulations is that the International Atomic Energy Agency has updated their guidelines," Olsen says. But, she charges, "there is a paper trail showing that the U.S. nuclear industry and NRC were in on developing the new (international) guidelines."
When she raised the question, Ferate seemed to concur, saying much of the input to the international organization did indeed come from the energy industry. But NRC Spent Fuels project director Bill Brock disagreed, arguing that public notice and input was solicited by American representatives before they participated in formulating the new rules.
While the NRC still is in the early stages of adopting the proposed rules, Ferate pointed out that some of the shipping requirement revisions would be automatically adopted by international agencies dealing with air and marine shipping, under agreements already in place.
"As a consequence," he noted, "most domestic U.S. air carriers will institute these changes Jan. 1, 2001, anyway."
Does it matter? They wont push for MARTA to be expanded.
That is going to be one fancy homeless camp.
I'll be done with my degree before this happens, but Kell Hall wouldn't/won't be missed…
Yay, pot-related arrests. Good use of my tax money. Lotta lives saved.
Carter's Presidency had its problems, to be sure, but as someone who came of age…