Coalition sues to stop Liquid Nuclear Waste Shipments

An international coalition including Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination has filed suit against the United States Department of Energy in an effort to stop dangerous and unprecedented shipments of liquid nuclear waste.

The coalition lawsuit charges that the Department of Energy (DOE) and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) failed to provide a thorough public process as required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to fully analyze the hazards of transporting liquid highly radioactive waste. An Environmental Impact Statement must be prepared and made available for other federal agencies and citizens to review and comment on, including a discussion of alternative ways to deal with the nuclear waste.


Experts drawn from organizations within the international coalition will testify that the shipments are unwarranted, ill advised and entirely unnecessary. Allowing highly radioactive liquid wastes from Canada to be shipped through communities and over major waterways in Canada and the United States, to be dumped in South Carolina, without the deliberative NEPA procedures, will set a dangerous precedent for decades to come. It will also intensify the pressures on the State of South Carolina to become an international nuclear sacrifice area.

U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins (NY – 26) has stated that the proposed shipments raise significant homeland security questions. The US House of Representatives unanimously passed Higgins sponsored legislation requiring a NEPA Environmental Impact Statement for the proposal.

Wes Raymond, CACC administrator says: “We cannot allow precedent to be set that would permit shipments of this material. CACC has examined all potential routes from Chalk River to Savannah River Site and the way in which liquid waste would interact with the environment in a release event; An accident anywhere along any potential route could irradiate the drinking water of millions of people. We are familiar with the physical properties of liquids, and we deny the claim that liquid nuclear waste can be contained in a release event.”

Lynda Schneekloth, a Buffalo, NY Sierra Club member says: “It is irresponsible to ship liquid highly radioactive waste through our communities and over our waterways without truly studying the dangers and alternatives. Governments are responsible for the health and wellbeing of the citizens who elected them.”

The liquid high-level nuclear waste in question is a corrosive acidic mixture of dozens of highly dangerous radioactive materials including cesium-137, strontium-90, iodine-129, plutonium-239, and weapons-grade uranium-235, left over from the production of medical isotopes at Chalk River, Ontario, north-west of Ottawa.

Although it was previously determined that this highly dangerous liquid waste would be solidified and stored onsite in Canada, the US Department of Energy now plans to truck the 6,000 gallons of extremely radioactive waste, in liquid form, to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, in exchange for $60 million from Canada.

“Liquid high-level nuclear waste is known to be among the most dangerous materials on the planet, as we have seen at the Savannah River Nuclear Weapons Site and the nuclear power and weapons reprocessing site at West Valley, NY. There is a good reason why no one has ever tried to move this stuff over public roads before. The material from Chalk River is in the same category,” said Diane D’Arrigo of the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.

“Our organization has fought against the needless and heedless transport of solid irradiated uranium fuel over public roads, rails, and waters,” said Kevin Kamps, nuclear waste specialist at Beyond Nuclear. “The only thing worse than solid irradiated uranium is the liquid variety. It is a Mobile Chernobyl; it cannot be contained when spilled due to crash, fire, or deliberate attack.”

Population centers of the eastern US
Population centers of the eastern US


“Shipping highly radioactive liquid waste to South Carolina is wildly inappropriate,” said Dr. Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility. “Chalk River has been solidifying exactly the same kind of liquid waste for over ten years already. In 2011 Chalk River promised to handle all this material on site.” He added, “It was recently learned that Indonesia is going to be down-blending its high-level liquid waste on site, rather than sending it to the Savannah River Site, and Canada can do the same thing, making the high-risk transport of this material over public roads completely unnecessary.”

The lawsuit is being filed against the Department of Energy and National Nuclear Security Administration on behalf of a number of organizations whose individual members live along the potential transport routes who could suffer significantly in the event of a safety or security mishap allowing the escape of some of the highly dangerous liquid contents. The suit will also highlight specific problems at the SRS site that argue against the dumping of more nuclear waste there.

The coalition includes Citizens for Alternatives to Chemical Contamination, Lone Tree Council, Beyond Nuclear, Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, Environmentalists, Inc., Nuclear Information Resource Service, Savannah River Site Watch, and Sierra Club.

Liquid Nuclear Waste on America’s Highways?

liquid uranium
Liquid Nuclear Waste – Photo by NRC

“Highly Enriched Uranyl Nitrate Liquids” (HEUNL) Liquid Nuclear Waste
It’s pretty much exactly what you think it is.

It’s a lot like solid nuclear waste, only it’s liquid.
It’s runny. It spills, it flows, it soaks into things, and it’s radioactive.  It glows in the dark.

HEUNL is so hazardous that it has never been transported in North America.
Not by train, plane or automobile. Solid radioactive material, which has been transported in North America, is dangerous enough, liquid radioactive material is even more dangerous.

There is no permanent disposal location for HEUNL, and those who create liquid nuclear waste are responsible for storing it on-site until a permanent disposal location is constructed.

Never, never-ever, not once anywhere in North America has anyone considered moving HEUNL from one temporary facility to another… until now.

A plan is in the works to move over 23,000 liters (6,075 US Gallons) of HEUNL from the Chalk River Site in Eastern Ontario
to the Savannah River Site in South Carolina,
another temporary holding site.

map by USGS – graphic by CACC
We’re talking about multiple trucks, carrying around 200 liters each of weapons grade liquid-uranium, traveling over 1,100 miles of public roadway, crossing countless waterways including the St. Lawrence River, and passing numerous cities, not least of which would be Washington DC.


It’s a long way from Ontario to South Carolina, and three major obstacles stand in the way: the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence Watershed, the Appalachian Mountain Range, and some of the largest population centers on the face of the planet. If the HEUNL transport operation is forced by Eastern states to take a more Westerly route, the convoys will travel through Michigan, possibly even across the Mackinac Bridge.

This map, created by the Regional Plan Association, illustrates eleven population centers that are growing into megaregions

Even if an accident does not occur, the areas along the shipping routes will be exposed to low levels of ionizing radiation.


But why transport liquid nuclear waste?


The material is included in a nonproliferation effort aimed at recovering U.S.-origin highly enriched uranium distributed to research facilities in other countries.

The Department of Energy said a contract has been signed in which Canada will pay $60 million over four years for Savannah River Site to receive and process the liquid.

Tom Clements, the South­eastern nuclear campaign coordinator for Friends of the Earth, said the Canada project is more about bringing money to SRS than safeguarding bomb-grade materials.

“A decision by the U.S. Department of Energy to import 23,000 liters of liquid high-level waste from Canada is being presented as a nonproliferation effort, but in reality it is a waste-management issue in Canada and a monetary issue at the Savannah River Site,” Clements said, adding that Canada “is dumping their problem on SRS.”

Processing the Canadian material will generate even more radioactive waste at Savannah River!

temporary storage – Photo by NRC

Estimates indicate that the Canadian waste, when processed, would create about 1.5 million gallons of low-level waste that would be disposed of in the site’s Saltstone Facility, and enough high-level waste to fill an additional 24 steel canisters produced by the site’s Defense Waste Processing Facility.

Those quantities only amount to about one additional month of operation for the Defense Waste Processing Facility and two months for the Saltstone Facility.

Liquid Nuclear Waste on America’s Highways…

(PD) sign kids

Any attempt to reroute the shipments away from populated areas would put the trucks on even more dangerous terrain. Such an attempt would be irrelevant in light of the fact that sparsely populated areas in the Eastern US are upstream from densely populated areas.

Highway accidents are sadly a common occurrence. CACC will continue to discourage the shipment of HEUNL Liquid Nuclear Waste. If these initial shipments go forward, it sets a dangerous precedent: that we may see these radioactive trucks pass us by again, and again… until something goes wrong.


For more information visit:

Radioactive Roads

Sierra Club Canada