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Feds agree to delay possible nuclear waste shipments across Peace Bridge

Plans by the U.S. Department of Energy that could involve trucking high-level liquid nuclear waste from Canada over the Peace Bridge are on hold until at least February.

Court papers filed late last month show energy officials agreed to withhold shipments until after Feb. 17, 2017, “in order to ensure compliance with all legal and contractual obligations.”

The shipments could have started as early as last month under an agreement between the United States and Canada, but a federal lawsuit filed by seven environmental organizations against the Energy Department in August appears to be resulting in the delay.

“The court-agreed delay in the shipment of liquid high-level nuclear waste from Canada to the Savannah River Site is a victory for the effort demanding that DOE prepare an Environmental Impact Statement on the proposal and analyze the viable option of treating the waste in Canada,” said Tom Clements, director of the Savannah River Site Watch, which is one of the organizations suing the federal government.

The lawsuit seeks to compel a full environmental impact statement before the mission is carried out.

Tuesday, more than two dozen organizations from the United States and Canada petitioned President Obama and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau “to cancel or delay” it entirely until proper environmental reviews and protocols are followed in accordance with the 2012 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.

Energy Department officials haven’t commented on the specifics of the lawsuit, but pointed out Monday that a court-ordered briefing schedule is in place.

That order states that all motions to be made in the case will be held in a court hearing on Jan. 18, 2017.

Current plans call for the repatriation of the nuclear material from Chalk River Laboratories, an Ontario nuclear facility, to the Savannah River Site in Aiken, S.C.

Environmental groups argue transporting liquid nuclear waste in the manner proposed by the Energy Department is unprecedented and poses potential for catastrophic harm to public highways, waters and the general population.

One possible route between the two places is over the Peace Bridge. Maps show trucks could also proceed on the Niagara Thruway through downtown Buffalo and west on the Thruway to Erie, Pa., and points south.

There would be about 150 tractor-trailer shipments over a roughly four-year period.

Each would carry a container with a cask holding nearly 60 gallons of high-level liquid waste.

Rep. Brian Higgins pushed back on the issue in August when he penned a letter to the Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency putting the agencies on official notice of a “hazardous condition” being created by the Energy Department’s plan.

Higgins serves as ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism & Intelligence.

Higgins said Monday advocates from the Great Lakes share common concerns about “the never-before tested transport of liquid highly-enriched uranium over the largest source of fresh water on the planet, across an international bridge and through our community” and hoped the recent development is a positive step.

“We hope the delay agreed to by the courts, following the objection of concerned citizens, provides time for the Department of Energy to rethink its strategy and follow through on an adequate review toward the goal of better protecting the environment and the people living in it,” Higgins said.

Clements, the Savannah River Site Watch director, said since an initial request was made to the energy department more than three years ago, the agency “has staunchly refused” to accept public input in the form of an environmental impact statement on its proposal.

“We are optimistic that our initial victory in halting the shipments will yield the environmental impact statement we are seeking,” Clements said.

email: tpignataro@buffnews.com

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