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May 17, 1974 - Image 4

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
Michigan Daily, 1974-05-17

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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1
N

NUCLEAR WASTE
Watching the watchdog

By ALAN KETTLER
"4SHIPPING RADIOACTIVE wastes upon high-
ways and railroads is an endeavor filled with
difficulties for the industries involved and per-
ilous for the nearby population. The I[shipping)
casks are complex mechanisms which may fail
either due to improper design, manufacture, or
maintenance, or through involvement in accidents
causing them to open."
In a nutshell, these are the conclusions reached
in a recent PIRGIM report, written by Marion
Anderson, PIRGIM investigator. The study, entit-
led "Fallout on the Freeway - The Hazards of
Transporting Radio-active Wastes in Michigan,"
points out gross deficiencies in the manner in
which the Atomic Energy Commission handles
the shipping of atomic power plant wastes in
this. state. What the report also brings to light
are the possibly deadly consequences of such ship-
ments.
JUST WHAT ARE these radioactive wastes?
During the process by which uranium heats water
to make steam to drive turbines to make elec-
tricity at a nuclear power plant, the uranium
creates radioactive byproducts. One of these
waste materials is the irradiated fuel rods, which
are long metal tubes that contain the uran-
ium white it is inside the nuclear reactor creat-
ing electricity.
A some point in a plant's operation, the fuel
rods and other wastes must be removed and
put into lead and steel casks. Filled with cooling
water, the casks are taken to a reprocessing plant
or burial site. It is these hot and intensely radio-
active substances (some stay radio-active 25,000
years) that are shipped by train or truck through
the cities of Michigan. Each cask carries the
same amount of radio-activity as released in
Hiroshima-size bomb.

THE
MiChigan Daily
Edited and managed by Students at the
University of Michigan
Friday, May 17, 1974
News Phone: 764-0552
Murder asa wayo

THE MAJOR vulnerability of a typical cask is.
that it is "filled with water which, because of the
IN THESE "TROUBLED TIMES" when murder seems to heat emanating from the spent fuel, it hot and
be an unpleasant yet accepted aspect of society, it at high pressure. The cask is like a huge pressure
takes something unusually devastating for people to wake cooker; so the water or steam will seek to
up to what is really going on around them. escape." In the event of water loss from a
cask, less water remains to cool the hot fuel
We seem too involved in our own problems to even rods, so the increased temperature inside the
think about anyone elses. When the massacre at My cask will continue to build up pressure until all
Lai happened, America and the world emerged from the the water or steam has been driven out, leav-
depths of other troubles to cry out at the senseless mur- ing only the fuel rods,
der of all those innocent people, but that was war and Then, the rods will become so hot that any
"that happens." We all' remember the inquest into the cesium present will vaporize and escape from
incident and the trial. Nothing was solved and no one the cask through the same opening used by
was brought back to life. Eventually, everyone went back the water. This report, aided by the research
into their shells, curling up to inflation, the energy crisis of Professor Marc Ross, physicist at the Univer-
sity of Michigan, has branded radioactive cesium
and Watergate. All consciousness of war had been alle- as a hazardous content of these casks that could
viated from the troublesome list of current anxieties. contaminate land and create great danger for
Our cities are flooded with murder everyday, from anyone living downwind within many miles of
an accident.
Detroit which so casually carries the title of "murder
capital" to the mellow sophistication of San Francisco- RADIOACTIVE CESIUM, made famous from
We shrug it off with out a second thought. Great men studies of fallout from nuclear weapons tests, is
are murdered and we emerge again for a moment or two a long-lived radioactive material that enters the
and wonder about what the world is coming to. We bab- body readily by breathing and through food
ble about gun control but we doze off too quickly; our chains, and remainss in the body several months.
memories are so short. Its effect on an area, following an accident,

ALSO, ALTHOUGH one might think that casks
would be tested to see at what point they would
break, the GAO report's authors stated that this
type of testing had never been done. The AEC
does not insist that casks be tested under r e a 1
road conditions - cask manufacturing companies
need merely calculate the durability of the con-
tainers. This is a poor testing method, for as
Dr. Ross says, "The quality of the actual casks
may not correspond to theoretically considered
systems."
Additional factors increase the danger of casks
leaking or breaking. Again, the GAO authors
hinted danger when they said that used casks
were only given a "visual inspection." This is
a casual form of inspection for containers with
numbers of nuts, bolts, welds, valves, and gaskets
that could lead to the escape of poisonous gasses.
A final frightening procedure is that some cask
manufacturing companies only have to say to the
AEC that their casks are being properly made.
More than just hypothetically defective, casks
have a true history of being improperly built
or designed. According to the GAO, between
1969 and 1972, 64 instances in which the contain-
ers of the vehicles were contaminated above per-
missible limits were unreported. Two types
of containers continually experienced contam-
ination problems. The AEC, whose responsibility
is to protect the public from radiation, did
not report these 64 incidents, which were discov-
ered only by the GAO's special research.
THE ADEQUACY with which truck drivers can
transport and handle their deadly cargoes is also
a matter of concern. According to the PIRGIM
report, 1) drivers receive no special training
for carrying nuclear waste, 2) drivers do not
have radiation detectors with them nor have
they been trained in their use, 3) the trucks are
not inspected, not even their brakes, 4) the driv-
ers take whatever routes they choose, 5) the
drivers do not check with the Michigan State
Police to find out about road conditions, and 6)
there are no checkpoints along the route.
It is apparent that the situation concerning the
transportation of nuclear wastes is one mixed with
"It is these hot and intensely
radioactive substances (some
stay radioactive 25,000 years)
that are shipped by train or
truck through the cities of
Michigan. Each cask carries
the same amount of' radio-
activity as released in a Hiro-
shima-size bomb."
danger, uncertainty, and inadequate protection of
the public from radioactive substances t h a t
should require the most careful handling and care
as is possible. The highly toxic nature of these
substances makes it imperative that they be
kept out of contact with the public.
WITH SIMILAR THOUGHTS in mind, the au-
thor of the report came up with a series of re-
commendations that might lessen the danger at
hand. The first set of recommendations calls for
owners of nuclear power plants to write reports
concerning he possible effects of transportation
accidents, to be reviewed by a panel of six ex-
perts and made available to the public. The
second set asks that the Michigan Department
of Public Health take some responsibilities from
the AEC, and the third set would make casks
more safe and truck drivers and officials more
able to handle an accident.
Finally, the fouth set of recommendations calls
for something wholly different from the preceding
ones - that Michigan put major funds into de-
veloping alternative energy sources. While gov-
ernment and industry have spent billions and
billions of dollars on atomic power research, re-
latively trivial amounts have gone into the study
of other, more safe sources of energy.
EITHER GOVERNMENTAL bodies will some-
how implement and enforce adequate protection of
the public from radioactive contamination, or
allow too permissive policies that will result in
illness and death through accidental releases of
nuclear wastes during transport. In the latter
case, the public may then find such transports
an intolerable hazard. In any event, how the

AEC resolves its lax policies and how the public
accepts such policies concerning their health
will decide the future of nuclear power in Mich-
igan. If the AEC fails to make and enforce ade-
quate safety procedures, then it has no right
to carry on its business in the state of Michigan.

WEDNESDAY WE WERE awakened rudely, as 16 Israeli
high school students were killed and 70 were
wounded. We will all stay up for a while contemplating
the disgusting senselessness of this massacre. Dead are
16 children who, did not start the troubles between the
Arabs and Israelis.
We stand in horror of such a massacre and we sit
in judgement and continued horror as Israel carries out
retaliation attacks on a housing complex in a Lebanese
city..
Maybe retaliation makes us feel good. There will be
retaliation after retaliation and it just doesn't stop. No

would depend on the weather conditions at the
time.
The report gave estimates of the number of
deaths from cancer that would occur within 25
years after a rail cask accident involving irrad-
iated fuel in the following cities: Detroit - 3,000
people; Ain Arbor - 1230 people; Flint - 1580
people;' Saginaw - 1420 people; Lansing - 1070
people; Grand Rapids - 1180 people; Kalamazoo
- 940 people.
As cancer is only one result of radioactive con-
tamination, these figures leave out any estimates
of immediate death through radiation poisoning,
decreased longevity of life, damages to children
in utero, genetic damage to reproductive cells,
and increased susceptibility to disease.

one is right and everyone getq hurt in the end. ACCORDING TO DR. ROSS, "a bare minimum
of 162 serious accidents involving spent fuel casks
What is missing from our lives and our problems is will occur in the United States during a ten-year
a regard for human life. War casualty reports, as Ameri- period 20 to 25 years from now if reactors are
built at the rate the AEC projects." With about
cans know as well as anyone, are horrible. Yet as time 5 per cent of the nation's reactors at that time,
passes we seem relieved that the numbers have gone Michigan would suffer from a minimum'of eight
down. Each victim, losing his idntity to a number is only accidents involving irradiated fuel. This accident
. v.m.sfigure is conservative, for it does not take into ac-
an itidividual to his family and that is sick. count accidents due to faulty workmanship and
JS A LIFE BUT a number, a statistic for the records? materials (which is a very real hazard), and
the numerous shipments involving other radio-
Every soldier and every person on the street, no mat- active materials.
ter how important he or she may be, is a human life. The report clearly makes evident the possibili-,
Human life seems to be snuffed out with hardly a ties of an accident occuring. Fir'st of all, it points
out the inadequate care that goes into the design
though these days, not just in America and the Middle and manufacture of the casks themselves. In a
East but everywhere. We should all climb out of our com- Jduly, 1973 report, the General Accounting Office
fortable little shells and do something about what the said that out of four AEC operations offices re-
hell's going on around here, viewed, three did not have the expertise to pro-
perly evaluate cask designs which were sub-
--ANDREA LILLY mitted.

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