Tacoma is on the short list of U.S. cities being considered as entry ports for highly radioactive waste from foreign nuclear reactors en route to federal storage sites.
Under an Energy Department proposal, Tacoma is among 10 ports being considered to receive shipments of more than 42,000 pounds of nuclear waste over the next 13 years.
Seattle had been considered but is no longer in the running.
The waste - spent nuclear-fuel elements from small research reactors - would be loaded on trains or trucks at the selected port cities and taken to an Energy Department site for storage.
The government is concerned that without such an arrangement, the waste could be used by terrorists or renegade governments to build nuclear weapons, said David Hoel, manager of DOE’s Spent Nuclear Fuel Program in Washington, D.C.
The best way to ensure that it does not fall into the wrong hands “is to make sure we know where that spent fuel is,” Hoel said.
Tacoma City Councilman Bob Evans plans to fight the proposal.
“It’s very dangerous for us to be a receptacle for somebody else’s garbage, especially that kind of garbage,” said Evans, whose district includes the port.
“We’re trying to clean up the Asarco smelter and Commencement Bay. Why should we begin to accept far more dangerous materials, even on a transitory basis?”
Although the waste would be shipped in lead, concrete and steel containers, which block most of the radiation, Tacoma’s longshoremen say they won’t unload the stuff.
“If we can eliminate that type of cargo being shipped through the state of Washington, I think we’re better off,” said Dick Marzano, president of Local 23 of the Longshoremen’s Union.
Two other West Coast ports - Portland and the Naval Weapons Station at Concord, Calif. - also are on the short list along with Galveston, Texas, and six East Coast ports.
Potential storage sites include the Hanford Nuclear Reservation near Richland, the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, the Nevada Test Site, Oak Ridge Reservation in Tennessee and the Savannah River Site in South Carolina.
A preliminary list of 20 candidate ports has been pared to 10 in an Energy Department draft environmental impact statement on the proposal. Seattle, which was on the earlier list, was dropped largely because of the city’s population, Energy Department officials said.
The spent fuel would be collected from research reactors in 41 nations, including Brazil, Zaire, Greece, Pakistan, France, Australia and South Korea.
A public hearing on the proposal is scheduled for May 24 at the Radisson Hotel in SeaTac. The Energy Department is accepting public comment through June 20.
A final environmental impact statement identifying the preferred alternative will be released in September, with a final decision a few months later.
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