DOE Plans to Ship Waste through the Big I Construction to WIPP

Russian Citizens Oppose Plans to Import High-Level Nuclear Waste

* Beginning this fall, the Department of Energy (or DOE) plans to truck 33 shipments of radioactive and hazardous waste from the Nevada Test Site through the Big I construction project to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (or WIPP). Albuquerque is the most populated city between the Nevada Test Site and WIPP.

Critics of the plan predict that there will be increased chances of accidents due to the reduced-sized lanes through the construction zone and the possible use of Albuquerque streets. Don Hancock of the Southwest Research and Information Center said, "These shipments are totally unnecessary as Nevada has plenty of room to store this waste. Given the construction of the Big I, some of the trucks could even travel on Albuquerque's streets when they are diverted from I-40. Citizens of Albuquerque voted on whether to have a new or renovated baseball stadium, but they have no right to vote on whether nuclear waste shipments can come through the city. If they could vote, they would vote NO to waste shipments."

The State of New Mexico has been unsuccessful in convincing DOE to delay the shipments until after the construction is completed. The State may escort the trucks through Albuquerque or direct the WIPP trucks to different routes. Activists have taken their appeal to Representative Heather Wilson. Claiming that DOE and state officials are responsible for the shipments, Wilson said, "I have no intention of intervening, nor would it be appropriate for me to do so."

* On June 7th, Russia's lower house of Parliament will vote on legislation that would allow the import of high-level waste for permanent storage. Recent opinion polls, however, indicate that 90 percent of voters oppose the plan.

If the plan passes, the upper house of Parliament is required to vote on the measure. The chairman of the upper house, Yegor Stroyev, opposes the project and stated that the plan is "designed either for madmen or the mafia."

Officials of Russia's Nuclear Power Ministry have declared that if Russia allows the import of 22,000 tons of high-level waste over 10 years, that it would earn up to $20 billion. Under existing contracts, Russia currently imports high-level waste for reprocessing from former East Bloc nations, including Ukraine, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Hungary.

If the Russian Parliament approves the plan, waste would be transported to the Chelyabinsk Region for storage and possibly for reprocessing at the Mayak nuclear facility. Unable to afford a safe disposal system for its highly toxic radioactive waste, the Mayak facility continues to dump its wastes into the environment, thus earning it the epithet of "the blackest spot on earth." Contamination found in the region is eight times greater than the radioactive fallout from the 1986 Chernobyl accident that spread across Europe.

Despite the fact that the final Parliament vote has not taken place, waste shipments may have already begun. Since January, Greenpeace activists in St. Petersburg have detected 20 trains emitting large amounts of radiation passing through the city. The activists allege that the trains are carrying spent nuclear fuel from Germany.

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