Background: March 19 2016
When uranium is irradiated, dozens of highly radioactive byproducts are created called “fission products”. They are the broken pieces of uranium atoms that have been “split”. They include radioactive varieties of iodine, cesium, strontium, hydrogen, carbon, and many others. In addition, transuranic elements — man-made radioactive elements that are heavier than uranium, such as neptunium, plutonium, americium, and curium — are also created.
When irradiated uranium is dissolved in nitric acid, all of these radioactive byproducts are rendered into a liquid solution that is far more radioactive and much more damaging to health and to the environment than the original uranium. This “post-reprocessing” liquid radioactive waste has never before been transported over public roads in North Anerica. But now the US and Canada are planning to do just that, in a series of more than 100 truckloads with heavily armed guards using secret routes that will not be announced publicly for security reasons.
There is a double-walled steel tank at Chalk River (called FISST) containing 23 000 litres (about 6000 US gallons) of this intensely radioactive liquid material. The concentration of cesium-137 (measured in becquerels per litre) in the liquid in the FISST tank is four times greater than the average concentration of cesium-137 in the high-level radioactive liquid waste tanks at the military plutonium production plants at Hanford Washington. This material is acknowledged to be among the most dangerous materials on earth.
In 2011, the Canadian Department of Natural Resources reported that the liquid material in the FISST tank would be “down-blended” on site at Chalk River to remove any nuclear bomb-making security risk there might be, and in the licensing application submitted in 2011, Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) declared that it was planning to solidify the material on-site using a process of “cementation”. By the way, for the last ten years, high-level radioactive liquid waste of the same composition has been successfully cemented and stored at Chalk River without shipping the liquid or the solidified material offsite.
There has never been a public hearing, in either country, to examine the health and environmental risks associated with shipping this liquid material about 2000 kilometers over public roads and bridges. There has been no specific environmental assessment conducted, nor has there been any explicit study of security risk of the shipments.
One thing is crystal clear: these shipments are unnecessary. Safer alternatives exist.
PS. For more information on the weld failures described in the article, see recommendations #13-16 and the associated text passages in www.ccnr.org/CCRC_CRL_2016.pdf .
Congressman Higgins asks feds
to keep highly enriched uranium
shipments out of Western New York
Congressman says risks are too great given recent container flaws
and lack of environmental or threat assessment
Niagara-Wheatfield (New York) Tribune, March 18, 2016