MAHONING VALLEY Train to carry toxic waste
Emergency management personnel will be notified 24 hours in advance.
By STEPHEN SIFF
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
WARREN -- Local officials have been warned that a train carrying 45 tons of high-level radioactive waste will rumble through the Mahoning Valley this summer.
The train will carry the last 125 spent fuel rod assemblies from a defunct reprocessing nuclear plant north of Buffalo to a storage facility in Idaho.
Its path, determined by a computer analysis of the population density on all possible routes and a review by states and railroads, will take it west from Butler, Pa., through New Castle, Pa., Youngstown and across a corner of Trumbull County to Ravenna and Akron.
What will be done: "We are going to reacquaint and refine our first responders involved in this type of shipment," said Walt Duzzny, director of the Mahoning County Emergency Management Agency, who will attend a number of statewide meetings to discuss what to do if something goes awry.
"Ours is a worst-case scenario business," he said. "A lot of people don't want to think about it, a lot of people don't want to know."
Should a disaster occur, the role of local emergency response teams would be to evacuate the area and keep people away from the accident scene, said Marko Bourne, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.
Specialists would be flown in for the actual cleanup.
"We have been working closely with our county emergency management agencies to provide them with additional services and training to handle any particular emergency that could arise from that shipment," he said.
Training exercises: The hazardous-materials response team in Trumbull County will incorporate the radioactive train wreck scenario into training exercises this summer, said Don Waldron, the team's assistant chief.
Waldron is not overly concerned about this shipment, saying hazardous materials have been shipped through the Valley in the past.
The emergency management agencies will be told 24 hours in advance when the train is coming.
"We don't assemble, we don't go out; we come to our jobs like a normal day," Waldron said. "It will probably take 15 minutes to get through the county, and then it will be done."
The spent fuel assemblies will ride in two, 20-foot-long casks of 9-inch-thick steel strapped to flatbed trailers.
Only cargo on train: No other cargo will be carried on the train, said John Chamberlain, a Department of Energy spokesman at the West Valley Demonstration Project, where the load originates. The trailers will be separated by a string of empty cars. Radiation and communication experts will monitor the cargo from a passenger car at the rear of the train.
"It is very, very safe," Chamberlain said.
West Valley has been ready since 1986 to ship the material in the specially constructed storage casks, but the trip has been held up all these years by regulation and court cases against the Idaho Department of Energy storage facility.
Before the train pulls out of West Valley, the tracks and train will be inspected by state and federal officials and its progress will be monitored by satellite.
The casks will be put underground immediately upon arrival at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory.
Chamberlain said the steel storage casks shield radiation from the nuclear waste so well that from 30 or 40 feet away, the amount of radiation released cannot be distinguished from what is normally around.
In tests, similar casks have survived hourlong jet-fuel fires and being hit by trains, he said.