Q: What if there are bottlenecks at the intermodal transfer point or rail yards in major cities; won’t this increase the likelihood of accidents or the risk of sabotage?
A: No. First, the casks will be shipped on “dedicated” trains, meaning that the train will carry no other equipment or cargo other than the spent fuel destined to the PFS facility. Thus, there would be no cause for switch delays or layovers in rail yards. Second, the shipping of casks and transfer from rail to heavy haul vehicle will be carefully scheduled by PFS to avoid bottlenecks. Government regulations prohibit the casks from remaining at the transfer point for any extended period of time. During the transfer, the spent fuel will remain in NRC-approved shipping casks, which provide adequate shielding to protect workers, the public, and the environment from radiation exposure. Safeguards and security measures will apply while the casks are at the transfer point, as well as throughout the transportation process.
Q: Why does PFS seem to feel that sabotage is not a credible possibility during the transportation process, including the intermodal transfer point?
A: Experts agree that spent fuel rods are an unattractive target for terrorists for several reasons: First, a transportation cask will weigh 75 – 100 tons, and would require special equipment to handle it. It is not something that could be put in the back of a pickup truck and carried off. Second, the fuel inside cannot be used to make a bomb without a sophisticated reprocessing plant. Third, anyone attempting to penetrate the thick steel cask risks personal exposure and harm from radiation. Fourth, casks used to transport spent fuel have been tested and proven to withstand severe accidents or incidents, including bomb blasts. Finally, the potential damage that could be postulated from a breach in a cask, would be relatively minor compared with the damage that terrorists could cause for non-nuclear “targets” or by using other terrorist “tools,” such as chemical or biological agents.
Q: Is it true that PFS is not required to meet the same transportation standards as government shipments of radioactive materials?
A: No. The same NRC and DOT regulations that apply to government shipments also apply to private shipments. Shipments of spent fuel under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act will comply with the same DOT and NRC regulations in 10 CFR Part 71 that shipment of spent fuel to the PFS facility will comply with. PFS will follow all applicable laws governing the transportation of spent fuel.
Furthermore, PFS member utilities have had experience with spent fuel shipments and have established a record of best practices that will be used by PFS. Although not specifically required by regulations, PFS plans to make shipments by dedicated train, not mixed with other freight cargo.
Designated departments in each state will be notified of spent fuel shipments in advance. This is required by federal regulation.
Q: Has anyone assessed the risks of transporting the quantities of spent fuel PFS will need to ship?
A: The NRC, which is responsible for regulations governing packaging and other aspects of spent fuel transportation, has analyzed the risks of spent fuel storage for many years. The NRC performed a comprehensive evaluation of the spent fuel transportation risks over twenty years ago to support Federal regulation of such shipments. The NRC determined that the risks of spent fuel transportation are negligible. The NRC is currently completing a reassessment of its conclusions regarding transportation risks from its comprehensive evaluation. The reassessment has thus far confirmed that the risks are negligible and, in fact, actual transportation risks based on modern transportation cask designs and transportation conveyances are much lower than the earlier study predicted.