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Federal judge allows Savannah River Site to accept liquid radioactive waste from Canada

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled [opinion, PDF] Thursday that the Department of Energy had completed the required investigations for the delivery of liquid radioactive waste from Chalk River in Ontario, Canada, to the Savannah River Site [official websites] in South Carolina. The lawsuit was filed by Beyond Nuclear [advocacy website] and other environmental groups against the US Department of Energy relating to 6,000 gallons of highly-enriched uranyl nitrate liquid (HEUNL). The National Environmental Protection Act 1969 (NEPA) requires that a detailed statement must be made on the environmental impacts of an activity that may "significantly affect the quality of the human environment." The DOE previously released environmental impact statements (EIS) in 1995, 1996 and 2000 related to shipments of radioactive materials to Savannah River Site. The 1996 EIS included the same source location, transportation method, and storage method as the conditions contested in the lawsuit. The material analyzed in the 1996 EIS was in the form of a loose oxide powder instead of the nitrate liquid that is currently being considered. The DOE completed two supplemental analyses (SA) in 2013 and 2015 to determine the differences between the current conditions and that in the 1996 EIS. The 2015 SA determined that the differences of the impacts "would be very low and not significantly different from the impacts reported in [the 1996 EIS]." Therefore, no new or supplemental EIS would be needed. The court determined that the DOE "has not acted arbitrarily or capriciously or made a clear error in judgment by deciding that its planned transport of highly-enriched uranyl nitrate liquid was not a substantial change from the actions evaluated by past environmental impact statements." Therefore, the shipment is allowed to take place in February 2017. The Savannah River Watch [Advocacy site] expressed disappointment [Aiken Standard report] in the decision stating that public opposition remains for the proposed transportation.

The transportation and storage of radioactive waste has been an ongoing debate in the US for many years. Criticism of storage of radioactive waste have increased after an event at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) [official website] in New Mexico released [WIPP report] radioactivity into the environment in February 2014. WIPP [WIPP fact sheet] is a storage site for transuranic waste. The accident involved an exothermic reaction in one drum on the site. No personnel were exposed to radiation exceeding that of a typical chest x-ray. In the US, there have been more than 3,000 shipments [World Nuclear Association report] of nuclear fuel by 2013, and more than 9,000 road shipments to WIPP before October 2010.

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