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Piedmont Waste Watch

by Amy Kingsley

North Carolina roadway mayget unwanted shipments

Greensboro and other cities on Interstate 85 might soon start sporting an unhealthy glow – a consequence of truckloads of nuclear waste traveling from the north to a proposed treatment site in South Carolina – according to a report released on May 22 by a coalition of environmental groups.

The US Department of Energy is looking at two sites in the Palmetto State for the location of nuclear fuel reprocessing plants. A total of 11 sites around the country have been awarded grants to study the feasibility of treating spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants. If one of the South Carolina sites were selected, the waste would be shipped from power plants throughout the Eastern Seaboard and Great Lakes region to either the Savannah River National Laboratory or Barnwell.

The author, John Sticpewich, with the help of transit planning software, predicted that trucks carrying nuclear waste would most likely travel on Interstate 85 through Greensboro and Charlotte to get to the treatment site. He argues that trucking such material down the interstate would expose nearby residents to low levels of radiation, and put them in danger of nuclear exposure from terrorist attacks or traffic accidents. The report was produced for Commonsense at the Nuclear Crossroads, a group that often collaborates with the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

“Nuclear waste transport across our highways and railways would place at risk what we most hold dear: our families, our friends and our communities,” said Louis Zeller, the nuclear campaign coordinator at the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League.

The release of the report, titled “More Than a TAD: A Study of the Problems With the Transport and Reprocessing of Nuclear Waste in the Carolinas,” was attended by representatives of the Charlotte-area Green Party, Environmentalists, Inc. out of Columbia, SC and local chapters of the Sierra Club.

Louis Zeller of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League said the decision about where to locate the treatment site might be made within the year. Nuclear energy experts consulted by his organization say the South Carolina sites are very much in contention.

“Boosters in South Carolina are pressing for a nuclear treatment site the way some people in Greensboro push for a baseball team,” he said.According to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s website, the casks that carry spent nuclear fuel cloak the radioactive material in layers of metal shielding and weigh upwards of 125 tons. Thousands of transfers of nuclear material – most often between different facilities owned by the same company – have occurred uneventfully during the past 30 years, according to agency literature.

The US Department of Energy is examining locations for nuclear waste treatment as part of its Global Nuclear Energy Partnership, an effort to reevaluate nuclear energy as a carbon-free alternative to coal-fired power plants. Those who spoke on May 22 opposed the construction of new nuclear plants, saying the technology is dangerous and plagued with the unresolved issue of nuclear waste.

“Instead of nuclear power plants, we need to do a combination of things such as use the other alternative fuel sources available to us, mandate more fuel efficient cars, since we do have the technology, and reduce the carbon footprint, all the way from the individual to the biggest corporation,” said Joseph Zdenek, chair of the Henry’s Knob Group of the South Carolina Sierra Club.

Greensboro gets a taste of waste

Contractors working near the TZ Osborne wastewater treatment plant busted a sewage main on May 23, sending 25,000 gallons of untreated waste into the Haw River basin.

The accident occurred late Wednesday night, when a construction crew hit a 38-inch force main, and the untreated sewage leaked for more than four hours before a repair crew could clamp it shut. The temporary fix is preventing sewage from entering the watershed, officials said.

“First they tried to place a patch, a seal, over the break,” said Steve Mauney, an environmental engineer with the Winston-Salem regional office of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

“That was not successful so then they had to do a further repair.”

The construction crew was working along the path of the main when they struck it. A force main is pressurized, so the sewage spilled out quickly before it was repaired.

Rick Roberts, the spokesman for the Greensboro Water Department, said most of the effluent had been contained in a holding pond lined with sediment. He added that the overflow would not endanger the city’s drinking water supply or damage the ecosystem of the Haw River.

“It’s more or less contained itself,” Roberts said.The city reported the break to the state division of water quality. They conducted an investigation in the immediate aftermath and turned up no impacts on the water supply or ecosystem in Greensboro or municipalities downstream.

Most of the untreated sewage was pumped from the holding pond back into the Osborne treatment plant after the spill, Mauney said.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at amy@yesweekly.com.

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