Holden says Feds bungled waste shipment

Friday, November 2, 2001

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- Gov. Bob Holden has accused the U.S. Energy Department of breaking agreements on the shipment of nuclear waste through Missouri earlier this year and raised security concerns in light of terrorist attacks.

In a letter to Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, Holden asked the department to rethink shipping radioactive waste through Missouri, specifically through densely populated areas.

"In light of the recent terrorist attacks on our nation, I think it only appropriate for the Department of Energy to revisit the practice of shipping spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste through densely populated areas," Holden said in the letter. "The events of September 11 certainly have raised awareness of the vulnerabilities associated with shipping this type of extremely hazardous material on our nation's highways, and I believe that large population centers should be avoided."

Holden said the department failed to avoid rush-hour traffic and major public events on June 28 when the shipments passed through Missouri.

When the convoy carrying the waste arrived at the outskirts of St. Louis around 2:30 p.m., Holden sought to delay it. The trucks were allowed to proceed shortly after 7 p.m. and made their way along Interstate 70 across the state.

In its official notice, the Energy Department wrote that the waste would go through Iowa, not Missouri.

Energy Department spokesman Joe Davis said federal officials worked with Missouri for months leading up to the shipment and went beyond what the state was requiring for security.

Given that the department avoided disputes with other states along the route, Davis said, "we only seem to run into problems in Missouri."

Despite Holden's concern about the shipments, Missouri State Highway Patrol spokesman Chris Ricks said days after the shipment that the patrol was pleased with the operation.

Asked Thursday whether that was still the position of the patrol, Ricks said: "We've been instructed by the superintendent not to make any comments. Any comment on this will have to come from the governor's office."

Holden's letter says state and federal officials were supposed to designate safe stopping areas along the route. A separate letter from the Energy Department shows federal officials agreed to this idea in May, but the designation never happened.

Holden asked the department to identify a "severe-weather threshold" for stopping shipments The convoy went through a line of heavy thunderstorms.

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