The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

The student media organization of California State University Northridge

Daily Sundial

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Professor warns of dangers in nuclear fuel transportation

Dr. James Ballard, CSUN sociology professor, warned the U.S. Senate in September of the possible risks that could arise from transporting spent nuclear fuel (SNF) across the country to a single repository.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) plan to gather SNF from sites across the country and hold them inside the Yucca Mountain Repository in Nevada.

That waste is currently being held at the site of production, within commercial nuclear reactors.

‘You have these sites where (the SNF) is safe, it’s protected, it’s got guards, it’s got gates, it’s got everything to protect it and then you have to drive it across the country to another place and bury it in the ground,’ Ballard said. ‘It’s that security risk from point A to point B that I worry about.’

‘ ‘They’re going to ship upwards of 100,000 shipments and we know, statistically, that they’re going to have a certain number of accidents,’ said Ballard.

As an example Ballard points to the Oct. 12, 2007 accident in the truck bypass tunnel of Interstate 5 just outside of Santa Clarita. The accident and the resulting fire involved nearly 30 big-rig trucks and forced the closure of the freeway for more than two days.

‘That fire would have challenged those casks,’ said Ballard.

Terrorism would be a major risk for the SNF transports as well since, according to Ballard, the transports would be a highly symbolic target.

‘(Sept. 11) wasn’t about crashing into a building, it was about crashing into those buildings,’ said Ballard.

‘If you didn’t like the government, you didn’t like the navy, if you didn’t like nuclear weapons, you might go after these,’ said Ballard. ‘It’s a symbolically rich target.’

Instead of the single-repository plan of the DOE and the NRC, Ballard argues the SNF might be more secure if it were housed at the site of production.

‘Radioactive material decays, the longer it sits, the less lethal it is,’ said Ballard.

‘Some isotopes decay very quickly; two days and they’re gone, some 10,000 years,’

Ballard said. ‘This material has lots of different isotopes, most of the more hazardous ones decay in the first 50 years.’

Ultimately if we can keep it or shelter it in place… until those radio isotopes have their half-lives, it’s safer,’ he added. ‘That also allows us to develop new technologies to handle it better, a process that’s safer than transporting it by trucks and trains.’

This is the third time Ballard has addressed Congress, twice before the Senate and once before the House of Representatives.

Ballard was invited to speak before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation by Hawaiian Sen. Daniel Inouye, the chair of the committee.

According to Ballard he has produced about 70 publications on Yucca Mountain, terrorism and nuclear material transportation.

‘It’s my specialty,’ Ballard said.

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