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Web Used in Fight Over Nuclear Waste Disposal

Safety: Internet users see how close they live to highways and rail lines proposed for transit of material to Nevada site.


More than 7.5 million Californians live within one mile of major rail lines and highways that could be used to transport radioactive waste to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, the proposed repository for high-level nuclear waste, according to the Environmental Working Group.

The nonprofit group, based in Washington, D.C., and Oakland, has created a Web site that allows users to type in their home address or any other U.S. location to find out how close they are to proposed transport routes to Yucca Mountain.

Staff members of the nonprofit organization said they used maps contained in a Department of Energy environmental impact statement on shipping nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, enlarged them and combined them with local school maps, census and transportation safety data to create

"What we're trying to do," said Bill Walker, vice president of the group in Oakland, "is make it easy for the individual person to see just how close a proposed nuclear waste route is through their neighborhood, including locations of schools and hospitals."

Representatives of the group said they were not taking a position on the Bush administration's widely contested plan to store the waste at Yucca Mountain, 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas. But they said they had worked with and received funding from opponents of the proposed site.

"All we're trying to say is that we don't believe the American public has been offered the kind of information to participate fully in this decision," said Walker.

Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Department of Energy, said that although preliminary route maps had been prepared, the routes could change by 2010, when the facility is scheduled to open.

"These are routes based on current regulations," said Davis. "Some of them may be used, some of them may not."

But the working group's senior vice president, Richard Wiles, said the safest routes for transporting an estimated 77,000 tons of waste from 131 nuclear reactors throughout the country will be railroad lines and interstate highways, which go through and near major population centers.

"Coming out of most these reactors, you have to get out onto a main interstate or main rail line as soon as you can," said Wiles. "They may want to take the 5 instead of the 405 leaving San Onofre or Diablo [the two active nuclear reactor sites in Southern California] but basically they'll have to go through Los Angeles and the Inland Empire on the interstates. There's no other way to do it."

Steve Kerekes, a spokesman for the Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents the owners/ operators of nuclear plants, said: "We have a 35-year sterling track record" of safely transporting nuclear waste, and that would not change if Yucca Mountain becomes the final destination. He said the Department of Energy had stated "quite explicitly" that rail transport would be preferred over highways.

Davis said that the Web site would be of no use to terrorists because no final routes have been determined, and specific shipment information will be classified.

The nonprofit group said it just wants to increase public discussion before a final Senate vote on the designation of the site, which could come as soon as June 25. The House voted last month to rebuff an attempt by Nevada officials to block the plan.

The Environmental Working Group received funding from the Las Vegas Sun newspaper's publisher, who has been an outspoken critic of the plan, as well as from the Turner Foundation and others, according to the group.

The organization is perhaps best known for a Web site it created to inform the public of federal farm subsidy recipients.

A group spokesman said that since the nuclear waste Web site debuted Tuesday, 35,000 users had visited and 50,000 maps had been generated.

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