The burning railway cars that have been
paralysing traffic through Baltimore and sabotaging up the main
eastern transport and cyber-artery of the United States, could
have been carrying spent nuclear fuel rods. The clean-up wouldn't
take weeks. It would take centuries. New Department of Energy
regs allow for rail cars to carry lethal nuclear fuel.
The nuclear industry is on
full emergency alert after the Baltimore debacle. It knows that
years of lobbying and propaganda about the "safe" transportation
of nuclear waste could go down the tubes. Answering such fears
Harry Reid of Nevada, number two Democrat in the US Senate and
prime opponent of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste plan, has
pounced on the Baltimore disaster.
In a Senate floor speech Thursday
Reid said the crash in a Baltimore tunnel near Camden Yards baseball
park should slow the "mad clamor by the nuclear power industry
to send nuclear waste somewhere. They don't care
where it goes, but they have focused on Nevada for the present
time. And I think everyone needs to recognize that transporting
dangerous materials is very difficult," he said. "The
leaking hydrochloric acid in Baltimore is nothing compared to
the high-level radioactive waste proposed for the Yucca Mountain
site 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. A speck the size of a
pinpoint would kill a person. And we're talking about transporting
some 70,000 tons of it across America."
Reid told his fellow senators
that an estimated 60 million people would be within 1 mile of
the truck and rail routes proposed to ship waste to Yucca Mountain.
"What we should do with nuclear waste is leave it where
it is," he said.
The US Energy Department's high-level nuclear waste transportation
route maps were released in January, 2000 as part of the Draft
Environmental Impact Statement for a Geologic Repository at Yucca
Mountain. These maps have been reviewed by the Nuclear Information
& Research Service. The irradiated nuclear fuel from Constellation
Energy Group's (formerly Baltimore Gas & Electric's) Calvert
Cliffs nuclear plant located on the western shore of the Chesapeake
Bay in Calvert County, Maryland could be carried by heavy haul
truck to the nearest CSX railhead at Chalk Point (about 67 miles
from Baltimore), then transported by train through Baltimore.
The DOE route map for Maryland can be viewed on the Internet
The DOE map does not estimate
how many containers of high-level nuclear waste would travel
through Baltimore on the CSX. In a 1995 report, the State of
Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects identified the same railway
through Baltimore as a potential high-level nuclear waste transport
route from Calvert Cliffs' twin reactors. The 1995 Nevada report
identified the rail route as belonging to Conrail: Conrail then
merged with CSX in 1997. The Nevada study, "High-Level Nuclear
Waste Shipping Route Maps to Yucca Mountain and Shipment Number
Estimates," reported that 180 rail casks from Calvert Cliffs
could travel the CSX line through Baltimore and numerous States
westward on its way to Yucca Mountain, Nevada. This map can be
viewed on the Internet at http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/states/maryland.htm
Kevin Kamps, nuclear waste specialist
at Nuclear Information & Resource Service estimates that
"Each of the 180 rail containers of atomic waste from Calvert
Cliffs could hold one hundred times the long-lasting radiation
released by the Hiroshima atomic bomb. Irradiated nuclear fuel,
even decades after removal from the reactor, can deliver a lethal
dose of radiation in a few minutes time", Kamps tells us.
"The only thing standing between people and deadly radiation
is the nuclear waste transport container, which can be breached
and release radiation in a severe accident."
The Baltimore Sun has reported
that the fire in the train tunnel reached temperatures as high
as 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The fire, apparently fed by flammable
chemicals in the train cargo, burned out of control all day long,
overnight, and well into the next day. "The inadequate U.S.
Nuclear Regulatory Commission design criteria for high-level
nuclear waste containers only calls for casks to be able to withstand
a 1,475 degree fire for 30 minutes", Kamps reports. "Obviously,
this real life accident in Baltimore surpassed the NRC's design
criteria for containers that would hold deadly atomic waste.
These outdated NRC criteria dates back to 1947, and haven't been
updated since, despite combustibles on the roads and rails today
that burn at much higher temperatures."
The Baltimore Sun quoted a
firefighter as saying all he could see inside the tunnel was
the glowing metal of train tanker cars. "It was a deep orange,
like a horseshoe just pulled out of the oven."
If it had been nuclear waste,
that firefighter wouldn't be able to look inside the tunnel.
If he did, it wouldn't be long before he was dead. Here at CounterPunch
we're willing to bet that somewhere in the "Terror Attack"
scenarios stacked up in FEMA and other government agencies is
one involving tunnels up and down the east coast. Now they've
got a real-life lesson smouldering right under their noses, not
so far from where the British bombarded Ft. McHenry outside Baltimore
in the war of 1812, thus provoking the composition of the Star
Spangled Banner. Stormed at with shot and shell? How about "glowing
with nuclear waste".