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Nuclear Train

Rail shipments of radioactive material to increase by 2,000% in 1999

CLEVELAND, Nov. 9 -- Moving trains safely has always been a major responsibility for BLE members, but that duty will be raised to a disturbing new level next year as shipments of radioactive material will increase dramatically by 2,000-3,000 percent.

Currently, an average of 20 shipments of radioactive materials are moved by trains each year in the U.S. However, the number of shipments will rise to between 400 and 600 next year, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The shipments will consist of high level radioactive waste and spent nuclear fuel, and some shipments will travel as far as 1,500 miles.

"We are disturbed by these alarmingly high numbers," BLE President Clarence Monin said. "However, we are working closely with the FRA and rail carriers to determine the safest possible way to ship this hazardous cargo."

The BLE and other rail labor unions met with the FRA in July to develop a shipping plan. Representatives from the BLE, the Transport Workers Union of America, the Transportation Communications Union, the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employes, and the American Train Dispatchers Department of the BLE proposed the following concerns:

"Because nuclear power plants are located all throughout the United States, we can expect to see increased movement of nuclear waste on much of the nation's rail network," Monin said. "This is a major issue, and of great concern to locomotive engineers and the public in general."

The FRA's current policy for the shipment of radioactive material was developed in 1986. A new policy is being developed in conjunction with the Department of Energy and the Association of American Railroads.

In preparation for the increased radioactive shipments, the FRA plans to hire 32 new inspectors. The role of these inspectors will be to go over the routes and inspect the locomotives and cars that will carry the radioactive materials.

While no FRA inspectors will be on board the train during shipment, they plan to require a railroad company officer to be in the cab of the lead locomotive.

In general, all trains carrying the radioactive material will be required to travel 10 mph lower than existing track speed, but no higher than 50 mph. Crews will be briefed prior to departure, and the present plan calls for a dedicated train to haul the shipment. However, the DOE is leaning toward more conventional rail shipping standards.

The FRA will inspect all track for proper gauge prior to the shipment and will inspect all bridges along the route. Each train will be equipped with a two-way End-of-Train braking device for each trip.

There will be at least one buffer car between all occupied equipment and the radioactive shipment. The shipments will have a low level of radiation emission, but the DOE reports that the health effects are considered minimal even within close proximity to the shipment.

Currently, there is no requirement to "decontaminate" the shipment vehicle once the radioactive cargo is removed. The empty container will not be placarded, and there is no plan to provide escort for an empty shipment. The container is not a "highly visible" or distinguishable vehicle, and the DOE and FRA have no authority to require special handling of the empty containers.

While the DOE has a policy of "openness" regarding the shipments, it will not release specific information on routes and times of departure.

The FRA also plans to promote a highway-rail grade crossing plan. Specifically, it plans to focus on routine Operation Lifesaver training in communities along the designated routes.

Each BLE local division has been issued a book titled, "A guide to Foreign Research Reactor Spent Fuel." The book outlines how spent nuclear fuel is to be transported, handled, safeguarded and stored in the U.S. BLE members can contact their local chairman to review the booklet.

Nuclear waste shipping casks

IU-04 Shipping Cask

The IU-04 cask has two concentric walls of steel, and the area between the steel walls is filled with lead for radiation shielding.

NAC-LWT Shipping Cask

The body of the NAC-LWT cask consists of a 0.7-inch thick stainless steel inner shell, a 5.7-inch thick gamma shield, a 1.2-inch thick stainless steel outer shell, and a neutron shield tank.

 

Nuclear waste is shipped in these special containers, called Type B transportation casks. They are ruggedly constructed and designed to retain their contents in the event of a major accident and to limit radiation emitted to allowable levels. One type of Type B cask weighs nearly 26 tons, is constructed of steel and lined with aluminum, and has walls approximately eight inches thick.


Union voters key to Democrats' November success

WASHINGTON -- In an election year that hinged on turnout, labor leaders credited their massive grass-roots mobilization Wednesday with giving Democrats an edge over the GOP's superior financial resources.

"They've got the money, but we've got something that money can't buy," said AFL-CIO President John Sweeney. "We've got the people."

BLE President Clarence Monin, right, meets with California Governor-elect Gray Davis during a Democratic fund-raiser just prior to the November election.

The election of Davis was a key victory for Democrats as California is one of the largest and most populous states in the United States.

Sweeney and his backers seized control of the AFL-CIO after Democrats lost control of Congress to Republicans in 1994, in part because they were frustrated that the federation wasn't more aggressive in politics.

Voters from union households cast just 14 percent of the ballots the year that Republicans swept to power behind the "Contract With America." This year, when labor-backed Democrats made history by gaining seats in a midterm election, union household voters accounted for 22 percent.

Indeed, as labor shifted its political investment to focus on getting out the vote over TV ads, turnout neared the 23 percent mark set during the 1996 presidential elections.

"I believe the 1998 elections usher in a new era of people-powered politics, with union members turning out at record levels and making a difference in race after race," Sweeney said.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and the head of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, recognized that the work labor and other key Democratic constituencies did this season was crucial to the results.

Two of the biggest prizes this year, the Senate and gubernatorial seats that were up in California, went to labor-backed Democrats.

Union leaders said labor's massive mobilization in June against a ballot measure that would have restricted their political work in that key electoral state laid the groundwork for Tuesday night's results.

"We've never seen such excitement and such enthusiasm from rank-and-file workers," said Gerald McEntee, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. "They're truly engaged. And it's our job to make sure they stay engaged into 2000."

 

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