Congressman Brian Higgins

Representing the 26th District of NEW YORK

Higgins Pushes Back on Department of Energy Attempts to Move Forward with Nuclear Waste Transport Without Proper Review

Jan 6, 2016
Press Release
Up to 150 Shipments of Highly Enriched Uranium Could Travel Through Western New York

Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) is questioning the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) intentions to move forward with plans to transport liquid nuclear waste between Canada and the United States without a thorough threat assessment, despite unanimous approval by the House of Representatives requiring such action.

“The Department of Energy’s disinterest or disregard for the potential impact this plan could have on our community and many others is frankly astonishing,” said Higgins, a member of the House Committee on Homeland Security.  “After the DOE refused our reasonable request for a full environmental review of plans to move dangerous material across the northern border and throughout several states, Congress unanimously saw the wisdom of conducting a threat assessment of the plan.  Still the DOE is choosing to sidestep that directive and instead rely on decades old data that does nothing to address the specific characteristics of the transportation route and the realities of post-9/11 security considerations.”

In a new report issued recently, the DOE confirms plans to proceed with the shipment of highly enriched uranium from Chalk River Laboratories in Ontario, Canada to a DOE Savannah River Storage facility in South Carolina in 2016.  The analysis confirms the intent to transport highly enriched liquid uranium over a series of up to 150 truck shipments between Canada and the U.S.  Each shipment would include one shipping container with as many as four casks containing approximately 15 gallons of highly enriched uranium each.  The route is not made public, but a Western New York border crossing, particularly the Peace Bridge, is highly likely. 

Higgins points out that the DOE fails to adhere to a rigorous full environmental impact study (EIS) for this specific proposal, instead pointing to three reports each between 15-20 years old, all pre-dating 9/11.  Higgins called the latest DOE report “dangerously weak” expressing concern that appropriate considerations have not been made to factor in today’s threat situation.  On pages 3-4 of the report: “DOE determined that no latent cancer fatalities would occur in workers or the public as a result of incident-free transportation…”  On page 5: “Compliance with this requirement is demonstrated through tests simulating minor mishaps.”    The small portion of the report that looks at “Hypothetical Acts of Sabotage or Terrorism” doesn’t consider the proposed route from Chalk River Laboratories to the Savannah River facility at all or the surrounding population and community that will likely include Western New York, instead it refers to a nearly 14 year-old EIS related to the disposal of spent nuclear fuel at the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository in Nevada.  

In a letter to the Energy Secretary, Higgins expresses concern that the Department is understating the potential environmental impact related to the transport of highly enriched uranium.  Higgins asks the Department to follow the Congressional directive provided in legislation approved by the House. 

Higgins has repeatedly sounded the alarm on the lack of consideration for the potential of a transport-related terrorist attack and the impact contamination could have on the highly populated community and clean water.  The Buffalo-Niagara region sits within a 500 mile radius of 55% of the American population and 62% of the Canadian population.  In addition, the Great Lakes contain 84% of America’s surface fresh water.

Timeline:

July 24, 2014: Congressman Says Further Investigation Necessary Before Nuclear Waste Crosses Peace Bridge, Warns of Mobile Chernobyl

May 20, 2015: Higgins Wins Approval For Amendment to Require a Risk Assessment Prior to Planned Transport of Liquid Uranium Across Border

June 24, 2015: House Passes Bill With Higgins’ Amendment Requiring Risk Assessment of Proposed Nuclear Waste Transport Across Peace Bridge

October 1, 2015: Higgins’ Bill Requiring A Threat Assessment of Hazardous Materials Crossing the Border Is Approved In Committee

October 21, 2015: House of Representatives Approves Congressman Higgins’ Bill Requiring A Threat Assessment of Hazardous Materials Transported in the U.S.