October 20, 2004

Marks the Spot: Accident Scenarios

Everyone agrees that there will be accidents if nuclear waste is transported by train and truck through 45 states for 38 years to the repository at Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The Department of Energy (DOE) predicts that there will be about 100 accidents over the life of the project. The State of Nevada predicts about 400 accidents during the same time period.

To date, however, the public has not been provided meaningful information about the potential effects of a serious nuclear waste accident in any of the heavily-populated metropolitan areas through which Nevada-bound radioactive waste would travel. This report is the first attempt to utilize government data and computer models in order to describe the consequences of a serious, but plausible accident involving the release of high-level radioactive waste in major cities along the DOE-proposed nuclear waste transport routes.

For people living along the Department of Energy’s proposed nuclear waste transport routes, the question is: What if there is a nuclear waste accident in my community that involves the release of radiation?

The maps presented here by EWG Action Fund are the first attempt to provide the public with answers to this question. We use government models and government assumptions as presented in more detail below. The maps describe the consequences of an accident of moderate severity, not a worst case scenario. We did not model the impact of an attack on a nuclear waste shipment that penetrates or explodes the cask, or results in a severe long-term fire, like the Baltimore Tunnel fire, dispersing a far greater amount of radiation into the surrounding community.

The DOE has not published a detailed analysis of the impact of a terrorist attack on a nuclear waste shipment. Instead, the DOE has produced a generic, one-size-fits-all estimate of the number of fatalities from a serious accident, and conducted complex and lengthy probability analyses designed to show that such an accident is very unlikely to occur. The DOE analysis was an abstract exercise. It did not situate the modeled event in any actual community.

Given the unanimous agreement that train or truck accidents are inevitable during the tens of thousands of radioactive waste shipments to Yucca Mountain, we believe people have a right to know what would happen if one of those accidents led to a release of radioactive materials in their town.

Read more: download Adobe Acrobat versions of this report