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Nukes On Our Roads
S everal recent accidents on U.S. interstate highways involving trucks carrying radioactive materials have revealed heightened activity in the transportation of such dangerous materials, as well as new growth in the nation’s nuclear infrastructure.
Earlier in the Bush II years, Mary Olsen, of the nuclear watchdog Nuclear Information and Resource Center (NIRS), warned, “New nuclear policies of the Bush administration are making new nuclear programs that in turn are resulting in a massive increase in the number of radioactive cargo shipments over the next several years…and for years to come.”
Last December 21 a flatbed truck carrying 6,000 pounds of uranium flipped on its side while exiting Interstate 95 West in central North Carolina. The truck’s journey had begun at the Portsmouth Marine Terminal near Norfolk, Virginia. Its destination was Global Nuclear Fuel America, a facility in Wilmington, North Carolina that makes nuclear fuel rods for commercial nuclear power plants.
According to the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), a nuke industry promoter, after uranium is extracted from the earth, it is filtered, dried, and packaged into a substance called yellowcake, or uranium oxide. This is then taken to a conversion plant where it is turned into uranium hexafluoride. “The uranium hexafluoride,” the NEI states, “is heated to become a gas, then loaded into cylinders where it is cooled and condensed to a solid.”
Next the uranium hexafluoride is sent to an enrichment plant. The United States Enrichment Co. (USEC) in Paducah, Kentucky is the sole such facility in the U.S. There the substance’s uranium-235, which will be used to fuel nuclear reactors, is increased from 1 percent to 3.5 percent of the weight of the substance, with uranium-238 (also known as depleted uranium) being the balance of the enriched uranium. Finally the enriched uranium is sent to a nuclear fuel fabrication plant, like Global Nuclear Fuel (GNF) in Wilmington, North Carolina. GNF is a partnership of General Electric, Toshiba, and Hitachi. According to GE, “GNF is comprised of manufacturing and fuel service facilities in the United States and Japan, as well as Spain.” GE and Hitachi are also forming another partnership to facilitate the construction of new nuclear plants around the planet.
In the U.S., 18 sites are being considered for the construction of 30 or more new nuclear plants. On January 8 two Japanese newspapers announced that the Japanese government “will provide trade insurance for [Japanese] firms helping to construct nuclear power plants in the U.S.” One of the newspapers, the Yomiuri Shimbun , said that Japanese plants are expected to help build all the U.S. new nukes “under a Japan-U.S. corporate alliance.” On January 10, U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman and Japanese Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Akira Amari met in Washington to announce their Global Nuclear Energy Partnership under which they will help one another build new nuclear power plants.
Raleigh News & Observer
on December 23 that the truck that flipped was carrying “low-grade
uranium powder.” It also reported, “Tom Rumsey, a spokesperson
for Global Nuclear, said the overturned truck was one of four on
its way to Global Nuclear.… The facility receives up to 15
shipments a month.”
The article stated that the 6,000 pounds of radioactive powder was “in polycarbonate-lined stainless steel drums, which in turn are placed inside heavy metal shipping containers secured to a flatbed trailer.” Lee Cox of the North Carolina Radiation Protection agency told the RNO that “the outermost containers of the overturned truck remained securely bolted to the trailer after the crash.”
“There was no material, no contamination, no risk,” Cox said. However, there was also no mention of the condition of the steel drums inside the shipping containers. A report from Eric McErlain of the Nuclear Energy Institute stated, “A note from our friends at GE: team of GNF was dispatched to the scene and found the containers carrying the uranium were ‘virtually undamaged.’ They were reloaded and arrived at the facility in Wilmington at 6:00 AM [on 12/22].”
McErlain said the cargo was “low grade uranium or low-enriched uranium,” which “when properly fabricated into fuel pellets provides the heat source for nuclear reactors in the United States.”
McErlain’s friends at GE also told him that if the uranium had spilled, “the only risk for exposure is if the powder is inhaled or ingested, which can easily be avoided by the use of standard protective equipment.” Unfortunately most drivers on the nation’s interstates don’t carry such equipment.
McErlain added, “Out of 45 million radioactive material packages that have been shipped since 1971, accidents involved about 3,500. Of these, only 197 containing low level radiation sustained damage or failed, and in some accidents, released a small amount of material.” Even a small amount of radioactive material, however, can pose a large risk to those contaminated by it. Last November Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko found this out after someone slipped a radioactive mickey in his drink in London and he received a lethal dose.
A New York blogger and opponent of the Indian Point nuke plants in that state, who goes by the monicker of Porgie Tirebiter, conducted his own investigation of the accident and posted some very interesting information. Tirebiter began looking into the accident after he saw it reported on CNN, December 21, “with a single photo of the truck lying on its side…more details to follow. Problem is, those details never came forward.”
Tirebiter reported that Lee Cox of NC Radiation Protection told him over the phone that Lt. Mark Dalton of the NC Highway Patrol had declared the accident scene an exclusion zone, thus barring the media. Then Alan Maybry of Global Nuclear told Tirebiter “that the response team for the incident involved several hundred emergency responders.” Tirebiter also reported that one of the responding officials told him that a Homeland Security “incident commander” was at the accident scene.
Tirebiter also uncovered several more significant pieces of information otherwise unreported by the media. Donny Lester, one of the owners of Tri-State Motor Transport, whose truck flipped, “explained that…the fuel was from overseas, had been shipped into America on a cargo vessel…from some foreign country. They would not or could not identify the country of origin for these materials, so I called Lee Cox who verified that the material was from Kurihama, Japan.”
Kurihama is the site of Global Nuclear Fuel-Japan. On March 6, 2006, Business Wire reported that the company “has been awarded a contract by Chuba Electric Company to provide Mixed Oxide Fuel [MOX] for the utility’s Hamoaka nuclear power plant.” Global Nuclear Fuel’s CEO Jack Fuller said, “GNF is deeply honored and excited to receive this landmark order for MOX fuel from Chuba.” MOX is nuclear fuel made of plutonium and uranium. It’s reclaimed, or “reprocessed” from “spent” (commercially spent, highly radioactive, and weapons grade) fuel no longer usable in nuclear reactors—or from radwaste left over from nuclear weapons production.
The AP reported that “Duke Power spokesperson Rose Cummings said the MOX fuel…will be tested at the Catawba Nuclear Station on Lake Wylie…about 20 miles south of Charlotte.” The MOX plan is another phenomena that increases the transportation of radioactive materials on our highways and in our ports. It also demonstrates the globalization of the transportation of these materials by the established nuclear powers.
A nother such disturbing story appeared on January 4. The Associated Press reported, “An Oakland [California] bound truck carrying radioactive material from a nuclear plant in Paducah [Kentucky] was involved in a crash with another vehicle.” The truck was one of four that had just left the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant that morning. Each was carrying 5,000 pounds of uranium hexafluoride, a radioactive compound “used during the uranium enrichment process,” which in turn is “used to fuel nuclear reactors,” the AP reported. Uranium hexafluoride is also used in the production of nuclear weapons, according to NIRS. The local sheriff’s department stated, “There was no chemical spill in the wreck outside the plant on U.S. 60 in West Paducah.” Spokesperson Elizabeth Stuckle of United States Enrichment (USEC), which operates the Paducah plant, said, “The material was headed for the Port of Oakland in California to be shipped to an overseas customer.”
Stuckle told the AP, “USEC ships about 1200 cylinders of the substance on about 300 trucks in a typical year. USEC supplies 27 percent of the world’s uranium, providing fuel for 150 reactors on three continents.” The AP also reported, “USEC contracts with Transport Logistics International, the largest transporter of nuclear material within the United States.”
On January 8, the New Virginian newspaper, located in Virginia’s western Appalachian region, reported that, “Interstate 81 could soon become a major East Coast shipping route for nuclear waste destined for a New Mexico dumping ground.” I-81 runs the whole length of the western side of the state. “Plans call for roughly 147 shipments of leftovers from Cold War-era nuclear weapons tests,” the newspaper reported, “to come from sites in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, the Department of Energy confirmed.”
The first six shipments are slated to start next year at Babcock & Wilcox’s facility in Lynchburg, Virginia. That company builds nuclear reactors, most infamously the one that suffered a partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979. Lynchburg also hosts Framatome ANP, which, along with Global Nuclear Fuel and Westinghouse, are the U.S. companies that manufacture nuclear fuel rods.
The type of waste to be transported is called transuranic waste, highly radioactive waste that includes, most notably, plutonium, one of the most toxic substances in the world. Despite this, Gary Shirley of the Virginia Department of Emergency Management told the New Virginian : “[Transuranic waste is] a relatively innocuous compound, non-harmful unless you do something stupid…like eat it.” One speck of plutonium breathed into your lungs most likely will doom you to develop cancer.
The destination of these radioactive shipments will be the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in Carlsbad, New Mexico. There it will end up in deep underground caverns. WIPP opened in 1999, and is the nation’s only dump for transuranic radwaste. The New Virginian reported, “So far only two of the more than 5,000 deliveries to WIPP have resulted in more than just fender benders, experts report.” The newspaper reported that a container fell off one truck in Idaho. The driver of another truck had a seizure and the truck ran across the highway into oncoming traffic. Fortunately there were no collisions in the latter incident.
In another instance a truck arrived at WIPP and it was discovered that the radwaste had been loaded wrong, resulting in leakage en route. In fact, all such “nuclear packages” emit radiation because the hot cargo can’t be totally shielded, and if you get stuck in traffic near one, you’ll likely get zapped.
Mary Olson of NIRS has also reported on the transportation of nuclear materials on our roads in support of Bush’s new nuclear weapons programs. These included:
- truck shipments of plutonium from federal nuclear sites in western states to the Savannah River site in South Carolina to make plutonium nuclear fuel or triggers for nuclear weapons
- shipments of plutonium triggers to replace old ones or for new ones at Oak Ridge, Tennessee
- shipments of tritium rods to replace old ones in nuclear weapons, from commercial nuclear plants in Tennessee to the Savannah River site
- transportation of uranium hexafluoride to make nuclear fuel rods for Poseidon and Trident nuclear submarines
Z Magazine Archive
HUMAN RIGHTS - The U.S. Human Rights Network will celebrate its 10th anniversary with the Advancing Human Rights 2013 Conference, December 6-8, in Atlanta, GA.
Contact: 250 Georgia Avenue SE, Suite 330, Atlanta, GA 30312; firstname.lastname@example.org; http:// www.ushrnetwork.org/.
AFRICAN/SOCIALIST - The Sixth Congress of the African People’s Socialist Party USA will be held December 7-11, in St. Petersburg, FL.
Contact: 1245 18th Avenue South, St. Petersburg, FL 33705; 727- 821-6620; info@aps puhuru.org; http://asiuhuru.org/.
SCHOOLS - The Dignity in Schools Campaign (DSC) will host a workshop on the DSC “Model Code on Education and Dignity: Presenting A Human Rights Framework for Schools” at the Mid-Hudson Region NY State Leadership Summit on School Justice Partnerships, December 11 in White Plains, NY.
Contact: http://www.dignityin schools.org/.
ANARCHIST/BOOKFAIR - The Humboldt Anarchist Book Fair will be held December 14, in Eureka, CA.
Contact: humboldtgrassroots @riseup.net; http://humbold tanarchist bookfair.wordpress. com/.
CLIMATE - The World Symposium on Sustainable Development at Universities is hosting a follow-up event to the 2012 Rio de Janeiro symposium. The gathering will be held in Qatar on January 28-30, 2014.
Contact: http://environment.tufts. edu/.
LABOR - The United Association for Labor Education (UALE) will host Organizing for Power: A New Labor Movement for the New Working Class in Los Angeles, March 26-29. Proposals are due December 15.
Contact: LAWCHA, 226 Carr Building (East Campus), Box 90719, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708-0719;lawcha @duke. edu; http://lawcha.org/.
MEDIA FELLOWSHIP - The Media Mobilizing Project is seeking applicants for the first annual Movement Media Fellowship Program. The Fellow will work with MMP to produce the spring season of Media Mobilizing Project TV. MMPTV is a news and talk show that tells the stories of local communities organizing to win human rights and build a movement to end poverty.
Contact: 4233 Chestnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19104; 215-821- 9632; milena@media mobilizing.org; http://www.media mobilizing.org/.
RACE - The 7th Facing Race: A National Conference will be held in Dallas, TX November 13-15, 2014. Organizers, educators, artists, funders and everyone interested in racial equity is invited to exchange best practices and learn about innovative models and successful organizing initiatives. Proposals must be submitted by January 24, 2014.
Contact: Race Forward, 32 Broadway, Suite 1801, New York, NY 10004; 212-513-7925; media @raceforward.org; http://race forward.org/.
VETERANS - They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars - The Untold Story, by Ann Jones, is about the journey of veterans from the moment of being wounded in rural Afghanistan to their return home.
Contact: Haymarket Books, PO Box 180165, Chicago, IL 60618; 773-583-7884; http://www.haymarketbooks.org/.
LIBYA - Destroying Libya and World Order: The Three-Decade U.S. Campaign to Terminate the Qaddafi Revolution, by Francis A. Boyle, is a history and critique of American foreign policy from Reagan to Obama.
Contact: Clarity Press, Inc., Ste. 469, 3277 Roswell Rd. NE, Atlanta, GE 30305; 404-647-6501; email@example.com; http://www. claritypress.com/.
CHILDREN - Fannie and Freddie by Becky Z. Dernbach is about two bumbling villains who gamble away the savings of the people of Homeville.
Contact: fannieandfreddiebook @gmail.com; http://fannieand freddie.org/.
PROTEST/COMIC - Fight the Power!: A Visual History of Protest Among English Speaking Peoples, by Sean Michael Wilson and Benjamin Dickson is a graphic narrative that explains how people have fought against oppression.
Contact: Seven Stories Press, 140 Watts Street, New York, NY 10013; 212-226-8760; info@ sevenstories.com; http://www. sevenstories.com.
CHILDREN - Brave Girl by Michelle Markel and illustrated by Melissa Sweet is the true story of Clara Lemlich, a young Ukrainian immigrant who led the largest strike of women workers in U.S. history.
Contact: http://www.harpercollins childrens.com/Kids/.
FESTIVAL - The 2014 Queer Women of Color Film Festival will be held June 13-15 in San Francisco. The festival is currently accepting submissions until December 31.
Contact: QWOCMAP, 59 Cook Street, San Francisco, CA 94118-3310; 415-752-0868; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.qwocmap.org/.
IRAQ/REFUGEES - Ten years after the U.S.-led war in Iraq, thousands of displaced Iraqi refugees are still facing a crisis in the United States. The Lost Dream follows Nazar and Salam who had to flee Iraq in order to avoid threats by Al- Qaeda-affiliated groups and Iraqi insurgents that consider them “traitors” for supporting U.S. forces in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Contact: Typecast Films, 888- 591-3456; info@type castfilms. com; http://type castfilms.com/.
HUMAN RIGHTS - Lyrical Revolt! III will be held December 4 in Syracuse, NY. The event will feature hip-hop musician Anhel whose album Young, Gifted, and Brown was just released. The event is sponsored by ANSWER Syracuse, Liberation News, and SyracuseHip Hop.com. Performers and artists are encouraged to send submissions.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.answercoalition.org/syracuse/.
FOLK - Musician Painless Parker has released his album Music for miscreants, malcontents and misanthropes featuring “Fuck Yeah, the Working Class.”
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://painlessparkermusic.com/.
COMEDY - Political comedian Lee Camp’s new album Pepper Spray the Tears Away has been released.