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E-M:/ Press release on Safety Concerns of Derailed Train

News from NIRS - Nuclear Information and Resource Service, Washington, D.C. - www.nirs.org

For Immediate Release
June 19, 2006
Contact Kevin Kamps, Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS)
Office 301.270.6477x14, cell 240.462.3216
Safety and Security Concerns about Derailment of Train Hauling Atomic Waste:
Inconsistencies Raise Questions about Emergency Preparedness
Surrey Township - Michigan Concerned citizen groups are raising questions about the nature of the radioactive wastes aboard a derailed train amidst conflicting press reports. The Associated Press first reported that the train, which derailed in the early morning hours of June 16 in Clare County, was hauling eight to ten railcars containing radioactive water used for cooling nuclear materials at Consumers Energy's Big Rock Point nuclear power plant in Charlevoix, Michigan.

However, Consumers Energy spokesman Timothy Petrosky later told the Saginaw News that Big Rock no longer ships radioactive liquids, and its cargo aboard the derailed train consisted of radioactively contaminated concrete and soil.

According to a spokesman from the State of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality's Waste and Hazardous Materials Division, the six rail cars carrying 42 inter-modal atomic waste containers from Big Rock are bound for a licensed radioactive waste dump in Clive, Utah.

Clare County Sheriff's Department Emergency Services Division Sergeant William J. Larson told Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS) in a phone inquiry that tampering with the rails is suspected, and an investigation has been launched.
This raises serious concerns about the security of atomic waste shipments, said Kevin Kamps of NIRS. High-level radioactive waste shipments from Big Rock that would travel this same rail route would be potentially catastrophic targets for sabotage or terrorist attack rolling through countless Michigan communities.
Responding to a telephone inquiry from NIRS, Jim Dunn of the Tuscola and Saginaw Bay Railway also denied the presence of radioactive wastewater, despite press reports to the contrary. Dunn said the train carried radioactive crushed concrete containing a minimum of radioactivity.
These inconsistencies are very troubling, said Michael Keegan of Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes in Monroe, Michigan. Where is the train's manifest, clearly listing exactly what radioactive materials are aboard the train - and how hazardous they are?
We are concerned about what level of radiation these radioactive wastes from Consumers Energy are emitting, said Kevin Kamps of NIRS, a watchdog group on the nuclear power industry based in Washington, D.C. How high a radiation dose are the derailment clean up workers, emergency responders, and nearby local residents and unsuspecting members of the public receiving from these radioactive wastes that have now been parked in their midst for days on end?

Sgt. Larson told NIRS that his agency lacks radiation detection equipment, so it is unclear what radiation doses nearby persons face from the stalled atomic waste shipment.

The rail company and Clare County Sheriff's Department are assuming that there is no radioactive leakage, but how do they know? asked Kamps. Radiation is invisible and can only be detected by special monitoring equipment, so this incident reveals dangerous flaws in radiological emergency response. Isn't it a basic precaution, when an atomic waste train derails, that radiation monitoring be conducted right away? What if one of the containers has been damaged by being jostled during the derailment? What about the safety of local residents, and those who live along the tracks in Michigan and beyond, all the way to Utah? Kamps asked.
According to workers at the factory who spoke on condition of anonymity, the derailment took place close to the rail spur leading into, and the shipping dock area of, the Renosol Corp. plant, manufacturer of polyurethane products for the auto industry.
We know that extremely hazardous materials, such as toluene diisocyanate, are present at the Renosol factory, said Kay Cumbow of Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, headquartered in nearby Lake Township. If the derailment had ignited a fire at the factory, could a toxic cloud have formed? What would be the health and safety consequences downwind? Cumbow asked.

Previous derailments have occurred on this very same section of track, said Keegan. Was this train traveling at high speed, which led to the derailment? Why were hazardous radioactive wastes being shipped in the dead of night to begin with? What emergency preparations are in place to deal with accidents involving radioactive wastes?
The Saginaw News also quoted railroad spokesman Jim Dunn as saying of the radioactive waste [i]t's not dangerous at all. In response to a telephone inquiry from NIRS, Dunn stated that although the radioactive crushed concrete from Consumers Energy was placarded as hazardous, it only emitted a minimum of radiation.

Clare County Sheriff's Sergeant William J. Larson told the Saginaw News that the rail cars containing the atomic wastes are armor-plated.

Such false assurances raise more questions than they answer, said Kamps of NIRS. The only radioactive wastes that the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires to be packaged in special containers during transport are the most radioactive and hazardous of atomic wastes. So if these train cars are armor-plated, that makes it sound like these particular radioactive wastes from Consumers Energy are intensely radioactive.
Kamps also pointed out that, according to U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) documents, the very same Tuscola and Saginaw Bay Railway that experienced this atomic waste train derailment would also be used to ship eight massive rail carloads of high-level radioactive waste from Consumers Energy's Big Rock Point nuclear power plant to Nevada if the Yucca Mountain dumpsite ever opens there.

Irradiated nuclear fuel from Consumers Energy's Big Rock Point nuclear power plant in Charlevoix, Michigan would travel the Tuscola and Saginaw Bay Railway through Boyne Falls, Kalkaska, Walton, Cadillac, Marion, Clare, Mount Pleasant, Alma, Ashley, Owosso and Durand before transferring to the Grand Trunk Western railway through Lansing, Battle Creek, and Schoolcraft. The rail shipments would then exit Michigan bound for Nevada if the Yucca dump ever opens. A copy of the DOE route map can be accessed by this link:

Severe accidents or terrorist attacks can turn high-level radioactive waste shipments into Mobile Chernobyls or dirty bombs on wheels, said Kamps, referring to the 1986 Soviet nuclear catastrophe and radiological dispersal devices. Release of just a fraction of such a cargo could unleash a radioactive catastrophe deadly to emergency responders and residents downwind.

Consumers Energy has amassed a long list of radioactive waste handling and transport accidents, said Keegan of Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes. Consumers Energy should not generate twenty-five more years of radioactive wastes at its still-operating Palisades nuclear power plant in southwest Michigan, for those would require risky handling and transport as well.
Also under its Yucca Mountain dump plan, DOE proposes barging up to 125 containers of high-level radioactive waste on Lake Michigan from Palisades to Muskegon. U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow voted against this plan in 2002, citing the danger of such barge shipments sinking in Lake Michigan.