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Higgins wins committee support for safety in shipping nuclear materials

WASHINGTON – Rep. Brian Higgins on Wednesday placed a big obstacle in the way of a plan to begin shipping nuclear material over the Peace Bridge next year.

The Buffalo Democrat won committee approval of an amendment that would require a risk analysis for the transporting of nuclear materials.

That’s just the kind of safety study that the federal government has been resisting as it moves forward with plans to begin shipping highly enriched uranium in liquid form from Chalk River, Ont., to the Department of Energy’s Savannah Energy River Site in Aiken, S.C., via the Peace Bridge in 2016.

“In today’s world of heightened security, these matters can’t be taken lightly, and the casual nature by which this plan has proceeded concerns me,” Higgins said. “Make no mistake, this is no ordinary truck. This material could be a moving target. This plan requires serious examination before moving forward.”

The House Homeland Security Committee – of which Higgins is a member – approved his amendment, attaching it to the Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Intelligence and Information Sharing Act, which deals with the shipment of such materials nationwide.

The Department of Energy has moved forward with plans for the shipments over the Peace Bridge, rejecting Higgins’ call for a full environmental-impact statement to assess the risks of the move.

If approved by the full Congress, though, Higgins’ amendment would guarantee the kind of thorough environmental review that the Department of Energy has been rejecting.

The amendment would require the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis to examine proposed shipments and share information about potential risks.

During committee discussion on the issue, Higgins said the Department of Energy had not considered the potential of a terrorist attack and the impact that possible nuclear contamination could have on the highly populated region, as well as water supplies.

In beginning his effort on the issue last year, Higgins said: “Without a comprehensive review and plan, they are setting us up for a mobile Chernobyl.”

email: jzremski@buffnews.com