Americans are now alert to the new terrorist threat of the “dirty bomb,” a simple device designed to attack densely populated areas by releasing dangerous radioactive material that we have learned is not all that hard to get.
Now it has come to question how we make sure that nuclear material doesn’t fall into the wrong hands, and this has gotten many concerned citizens investigating the security of the proposal to store the nation’s nuclear waste in Yucca Mountain, Nev.
The Department of Energy believes that having one nuclear waste site is more secure than having several scattered throughout the country. “The Senate must now decide whether to leave nuclear waste stranded at 131 sites in 39 states or allow the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to make the independent determination that Yucca Mountain is suitable to serve as a geological repository,” was how Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham commented on the Senate Energy Committee’s approval of the bill, sending it to a Senate vote.
But critics say that transportation of the waste can be a serious national security threat. Political analyst Bill Schneider points out, “If nuclear wastes are transported across the United States to Yucca Mountain, Nevada, they could become a moving dirty bomb.”
Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.), who opposes the storage of nuclear waste 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas, believes that the proposal will “give the terrorists plenty of opportunities by shipping this nuclear waste across the country through major metropolitan areas.”
But terrorism isn’t the only danger. Mere accidents may unintentionally detonate such a “moving dirty bomb.” The Dekalb Neighbor in metro Atlanta reported that in Dekalb County there have been 16 accidents between trains and cars in the past five years. If that trend continues, there will be nearly 77 train accidents while nuclear waste is shipped through one of Georgia’s most populated counties for the estimated 24 years of transport to Yucca Mountain.
Furthermore, over ten thousand trucks will travel on the interstates through cities like Atlanta, Tampa and Miami for the next two decades. But still, the Department of Energy insists that the accident risk is small. The concern about the Yucca Mountain proposal’s effect on national security is a part of a growing concern about weaknesses in the chemical industry and how they can be exploited by terrorists.
The Environmental Protection Agency reports that there are over 120 chemical facilities in the vicinity of a million or more local residents, making them perfect targets for terrorists.
And there are reports of security failures at such facilities. Rick Hind, legislative director of the Greenpeace Toxics Campaign, claims that in a recent visit to a Dow Chemical plant in Louisiana, “Greenpeace activists entered this facility undetected. There were no guards at the perimeter, no security cameras and no burglar alarms. In fact, the door to the building was unlocked. All of these are rudimentary security measures that the EPA recommended.”
Such failures in security may allow terrorists to either penetrate these facilities to use them as weapons or even acquire the necessary ingredients for chemical weapons. This concern is not only addressed by organizations such as Greenpeace. Sen. Jon Corzine (D-N.J.) has proposed legislation to tighten security at chemical facilities, and the EPA is planning to introduce stricter regulations as well.
Though Nevada’s senators, Ensign and Democrat Harry Reid, have kept up their fight against the Yucca Mountain proposal, its passage in the Senate is more than likely. However, it is also likely that the EPA and the proposal’s critics will examine how to carry out the storage plan without handing nuclear material over to the terrorists.
Paul is an RC junior.