Monday, August 21, 2000

Nuclear waste passing through

Queensgate is site of truck-train transfer point

By Robert Anglen
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Two semi-tractor trailers carrying low-level radioactive waste from the former Fernald uranium processing plant will travel through Cincinnati for the first time today.

        U.S. Department of Energy officials have confirmed the trucks, loaded with two containers each of scrap materials, will be driven to the Queensgate rail yard and loaded onto a train bound for Utah.

        The load, which officials describe as being safer than a typical chemical tanker, will be hauled from the plant on Ohio 128 to U.S. 50 and into the rail yard.

        The route, a new one for shipments out of the plant, is part of a pilot project aimed at saving costs by using both trucks and trains.

        “Normally this wouldn't go through Cincinnati,” said DOE spokesman Gary Stegner. “We don't use rail to ship this kind of waste.”

        Cincinnati was chosen because officials say Queens gate is one of the few rail yards with the equipment necessary to transfer the waste containers from truck to train.

        “This is something that has been talked about for months,” said Fernald spokeswoman Christy

        McMurry. “We're talking about very, very low levels. This stuff is just scrap material.”

        Normally, low-level waste is trucked from Fernald — about 30 minutes northwest of Cincinnati in Crosby Township — to Nevada, where it is buried in the ground in a test site near Las Vegas.

        The end results will be the same, but this time a train is being used for the longest stretch of the trip. Once the waste arrives in Cisco, Utah, it will be put back on a truck for the final leg.

        Edwa Yocum, a member of Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health Inc. (FRESH), said the group of about 250 is aware of the pilot project.

        “It has to get out there,” said Ms. Yocum, who lives 1 1/2 miles south of the Fernald site.

        Ms. Yocum said residents want to make sure the Department of Energy communicates with people in the communities that the radioactive scrap will travel through. They also want to make sure the trains do not remain in the train yards for very long.

        “I'm in agreement with it,” Ms. Yocum said. “They have answered some of my concerns.”

        Philip Gatto, who lives about a mile off Ohio 128 on East Miami, said he hadn't heard about the pilot project.

        “It doesn't bother me,” he said.

        Alan McConnaughey, who lives on Paddy's Run Road just off Ohio 128, agreed.

        “I'm not aware of any accidents or incidents that have happened in shipping,” he said. “I don't foresee any real problems.”

        Ms. McMurry said officials have been very open about the transport and that federal, state and local authorities have been notified about it. She said details about the transport have been posted at Fernald's Web site at www.Fernald.Gov, listed under Intermodal Pilot Project.

        Dennis Murphey, director of Cincinnati's Office of Environmental Management, said he was notified of the Fernald shipment.

        “The city doesn't have direct oversight of this,” he said. “But what we will do is make sure the city is in a position to provide any response necessary.”

        He said his office notified public safety and the fire, police and health departments.

        He said the amount of radioactive material being shipped is nothing to be alarmed about.

        “It probably will not even be measurable,” Mr. Murphey said.

        The DOE reports that the waste contamination comes primarily from uranium isotopes. The estimated maximum dose rate is less than .5 millirem per hour on contact with the truck or rail car. The Department of Transportation has a dose limit of 10 millirems per hour for a vehicle transporting radioactive waste.

        Ms. McMurry said there are no plans to continue these transports.

        “This is a one-time deal,” she said. “We're trying it out to see if it works.”