A small amount of the most highly radioactive waste on the planet, spent nuclear fuel, is planned for a secretive, highly protected shipment from an Illinois nuclear power plant through Michigan and Port Huron, on its way to Canada.
The plan, made public in filings last month with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, has raised concerns with environmental groups and others.
Kay Cumbow, with the nonprofit Great Lakes Environmental Alliance in Port Huron, noted the risk in a release.
“A spill, release or fire here, or near waterways that flow into the St. Clair River, could potentially ruin one of the largest freshwater deltas in the world — the St. Clair Flats — and potentially poison forever drinking water and freshwater ecosystems for up to 40-plus million people of the Great Lakes, including residents of Canada, the United States, U.S. Tribes, First Nations and other indigenous peoples,” she said.
Company officials said they are participating “in an innovative industry initiative to help explore a safer and more efficient nuclear fuel.” As part of that effort, they plan to transport nine nuclear fuel rods, weighing about 5 pounds each, to a testing facility in Canada.
The rods “will be packed into a 24-ton, collision-absorbing and heavily shielded shipping cask,” company officials stated.
Viktoria Mitlyng, a spokeswoman for the NRC’s regional office in Chicago, said there are currently no large-scale shipments of spent nuclear fuel happening anywhere in the U.S. — because there’s nowhere to take nuclear plants’ accumulating spent fuel. A proposed central repository in Yucca Mountain, Nevada, has stalled, and other proposed central repositories are also not near completion, leaving the material on-site at nuclear plants in secured storage.
“There are shipments of segments of spent fuel rods; small parts of spent fuel,” Mitlyng said. “Usually when that happens, they are sent for scientific research purposes — there are certain types of new fuels being developed, or there is something about the specific fuel bundle that needs to be analyzed.”
“There’s enough radioactivity with nine fuel rods to cause a nuclear disaster in Kalamazoo even with a 40-year-old, anti-tank missile technology, fired as this presumably moves along I-94,” he said.
How the nuclear fuel rods will move through Canada, and their final destination, are unclear. Cristina Canas, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Canada’s equivalent of the NRC, said a shipment of such highly radioactive material would require a license from the agency. “To date, CNSC has not received an application” for such a shipment from the LaSalle nuclear plant, she said.
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