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Department of Energy needs to provide more information on planned shipments of liquid nuclear waste

The bureaucrats in Washington should consider slowing down plans for truck transport of high-level liquid nuclear waste over the Peace Bridge and across Western New York’s highways on its way to a South Carolina processing facility.

This process could start as early as September and, as opponents claim, without the proper environmental reviews and public comment.

After years of protest, letters, legislation and finally a lawsuit, the U.S. Department of Energy has failed to satisfactorily address concerns. If, as the agency claims, the process poses no threat to the public from terrorism or environmental hazard, then it should have no problem addressing the point-by-point issues that have been brought by various groups and a congressman. Given the issues, the department owes Western New York – and all along the trucks’ potential routes – at least that much.

Seven environmental organizations have filed a lawsuit against the DOE in federal court in Washington, D.C., with the express purpose of stopping what it calls, “mobile Chernobyls on steroids.” The Sierra Club’s Niagara Group and others have brought a lawsuit seeking a restraining order and injunctions against the agency. Indeed, the agency will have to make a convincing case for transporting liquid nuclear waste aboard tractor-trailers along a 1,100-mile stretch from Chalk River, Ont., to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. Lawsuit plaintiffs claimed that this would be the first time waste in liquid form was transported in such a manner.

The government has stressed the importance of getting this waste back into the United States, and it’s an important point. This waste needs to be disposed of in a way that protects it from terrorists and others.

But that argument is falling on deaf ears among members of the environmental community who want to know the whereabouts of any environmental impact statement, which is required by law. Their lawsuit claims that the agency circumvented a required public notification and comment process and they have long claimed that there were other alternatives that were not considered, including solidifying the waste prior to transport or “downblending” it in Canada, thus making it less radioactive.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, has written U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz in an effort to get the agency to conduct a formal environmental impact statement before proceeding with the shipments. He sponsored a congressional bill requiring a “terror threat assessment” on transporting hazardous materials and was successful in getting it passed unanimously last October. Unfortunately, the bill remains stalled in a Senate committee.

Higgins serves as a ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism & Intelligence. So it warrants attention by agency decisionmakers when he says the Peace Bridge, Buffalo and the Niagara River are classified as “high-impact targets” for terrorism.

The Department of Energy has to work a lot harder if it wants to convince anyone living within impact range – and that would be this entire area – that transporting liquid nuclear waste across the Peace Bridge is safe.

The agency has 60 days to respond to the lawsuit.

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