Terrorism Concerns Prompt Review of Radioactive Waste Shipment

The Department of Homeland Security today will review the U.S. Department of Energy's plans to transport radioactive waste


Department of Homeland Security today will review the U.S. Department of Energy's plans to transport radioactive waste from Fernald. The review was prompted by Hamilton County Commissioners' questions to Energy Department and Environmental Protection Agency officials Monday about the possibility of a terrorist attack while transporting waste.

Although Energy Department officials had taken into consideration the possibility of natural disasters and other catastrophic accidents in its plan to move 9,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste from the former uranium processing plant in Crosby Township to the Nevada desert, officials hadn't consulted with the Homeland Security Department about the possibility of a terrorist attack.

Specifically, Commissioner Todd Portune asked what the Energy Department planned in the event of a rocket propelled grenade attack on the transport.

Energy Department spokesperson Gary Stegner said that scenario had not been considered.

"In my opinion, that was a glaring omission in the review process," said Portune.

Energy Department officials agreed to let Homeland Security officials review the plans, though Stegner said the two departments have worked together regularly on other issues related to the Fernald cleanup.

Current transportation plans call for the radium-bearing waste to be encased in 7,000 containers for about 3,500 shipments to the Energy Department's former atomic weapons testing site in Nevada. Some of those shipments will likely occur on flatbed trucks, said Stegner.

"There is the attractiveness of something like that compared to other targets," he said. "On a transportation campaign like this, we want to make sure we've considered every scenario."

Lisa Crawford, spokeswoman for Fernald Residents for Environmental Safety and Health, or FRESH, said the community organization is glad Energy Department officials are addressing the safety concerns raised by commissioners.

"It's a good thing before we put hundreds of trucks on the road," said Crawford. "We need to make sure nobody else is in any more danger than we are."

However, she is also concerned the involvement of another government agency may slow the disposal process. Only 15-20 percent of the radioactive waste at Fernald is slated for shipment off- site. Any potential delay in the removal of that material is a concern for local residents, she said.

"It could add another layer of bureaucracy. There's the potential for a lot more problems," she said.

But Stegner said he doesn't anticipate any delays as a result of running the plans past Homeland Security officials.

"It's unlikely this will delay anything," he said.

Fluor Fernald, the company responsible for the $4 billion cleanup of the site for the Energy Department, began pumping waste out of two concrete silos at the end of September. The four-month removal process is the initial step in preparing the waste for transfer.