Waste to snake through West

  Nuclear waste may be coming soon through rural Western communities. As early as June, the U.S. Department of Energy plans to ship five loads of nuclear waste through Concord, Calif., to a federal storage facility near Idaho Falls in eastern Idaho.


The waste, spent nuclear fuel rods from Asia, is a legacy of the Eisenhower administration's 1950s Atoms for Peace program, which allowed Asian countries to use U.S.-produced uranium for research. To reduce the threat of nuclear terrorism, the countries promised to return the waste to the United States for safe storage.


After passing under the Golden Gate Bridge, the waste will travel by rail through Sacramento, Calif.; Reno, Nev.; Ogden, Utah; Pocatello, Idaho, and numerous small towns in the four states. It will be shipped in 25-ton lead and steel casks, each containing more radioactive material than a nuclear bomb, said John Hadder, a spokesman for Citizen Alert, a Nevada grassroots group for government accountability.


The shipments have provoked protests all along the 1,400-mile route and lawsuits from California's Contra Costa County and the city of Concord. On Feb. 16, activists started traveling the route with a mock cask, telling the public about the risks involved with the plan.


But there is virtually no chance of a leak, according to John Belluardo, a DOE spokesman in Oakland. The casks are designed to withstand smashes, 2,000-foot plunges and head-on collisions with diesel locomotives traveling 80 miles an hour, he said. Nevertheless, federal officials have been training emergency personnel from Concord to Idaho on how to handle a nuclear accident - just in case.


For information, contact John Hadder at Citizen Alert (702/827-4200) or the Department of Energy (510/637-2015).


* Jane Braxton Little