Strickland opposes Yucca Mountain site |

Strickland opposes Yucca Mountain site

The Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository could be a done deal within weeks.

If it gets a green light from the Senate, highly radioactive waste could come through Colorado along Interstate 70 and through Glenwood Springs, said Senate hopeful Tom Strickland, who spoke to a group of citizens and elected officials Friday at the county courthouse.

Strickland, a Democrat, is challenging incumbent Republican Wayne Allard for the Senate seat.

“It’s down to the last point in the approval process,” Strickland said.

If Yucca Mountain is approved, the Department of Energy will operate the site in southern Nevada and decide what route nuclear waste from over 100 nuclear power plants and research facilities will travel.

Both Interstate 70 and 80 are under consideration.

“Until we know the answer to (the transportation route), we can’t give the Department of Energy a blank check to do what they want,” he said.

Strickland said 77,000 tons of spent fuel rods and other highly radioactive waste would be transported to the Yucca Mountain repository. That would amount to 10,000 rail shipments or 50,000 truck shipments and would take about 25 years to complete.

“This (material) is so hot it has to be put in cooling ponds for five years before it can be handled,” Strickland said. “It’s probably safe to say it’s the most dangerous material ever created.”

The trucks or railroad cars carrying the waste would be ripe targets for terrorists who could use the material to make “dirty” bombs. Both trucks and trains are prone to accidents, Strickland said.

“Anyone who has ever driven through the Rockies on I-70 or on the northern stretch of I-25, where traffic deaths skyrocketed last year to the highest ever recorded, knows how dangerous these roads can be,” he said.

“People have said nuclear waste has been shipped for years without accident, but folks, before 9/11 no one would have ever thought you could destroy a 100-story building,” Strickland said.

Nor has the FBI properly assessed the security risk of transporting such material, he added.

“This is a risk we cannot take until law enforcement has done a thorough security risk assessment,” he said.

Garfield County Sheriff Tom Dalessandri, a fellow Democrat, agreed.

“The issue has not come up in domestic preparedness meetings,” said Dalessandri, who has been involved at a national level in domestic terrorism preparedness planning.

Even more disturbing is the fact that local law enforcement is not notified when hazardous materials are being shipped by the government through the area.

“They never tell us when it’s coming through. On any given day there is poison gas and contaminants” being shipped, Dalessandri said. “The level of security is very minimal for transportation in general.”

The feds “believe in a low profile,” and don’t secure the areas hazardous materials are passing through, he said.

Although Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn vetoed Yucca Mountain earlier this year, the U.S. House or Senate has 90 days to override it, Strickland said. The Senate is expected to cast the final vote on the site in early July.

Among Colorado’s congressional delegation, Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell is opposed to the measure, but Allard “has supported it since day one,” Strickland said.

Rather than creating 50,000 targets for terrorist attacks, it is better to keep spent nuclear fuel at the sites where it was used, he said.

“In the United States there are 130 sites dealing with (spent fuel) for 30 to 45 years,” he said. And it’s easier to guard those 130 sites than 50,000 truck shipments.

Strickland urged his audience to lobby Allard to vote no on Yucca Mountain.

“There’s no urgency in this. A `no’ vote will not kill the plan,” he said.

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