Congress of the United States
House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
December 17, 1996
The Honorable William J. Clinton
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to express our deepest concern over the upcoming shipment by sea of high-level radioactive nuclear waste between Europe and Japan. Confirmed reports of radioactive contamination and unanticipated high internal temperatures of the stainless steel shipping canisters during the initial shipment in February 1995 have increased our concern about the safety of future shipments .
A transport accident involving vitrified high-level radioactive waste (VHLW) could irreparably harm the ocean environment and the health and economic well-being of en-route territories and nations. We ask you to call for a delay of the impending shipment until questions regarding issues of safety are fully resolved. Additionally, we ask your support in regards to the request of coastal nations for advance oonsultation on the route of the ship and on emergency-response plans and for a mandatory environmental impact assessment in advance of future shipments. The announcement by the governments of Japan and France to disclose the route of the waste ship after its departure from France prevents the world with a fait accompli and denies any form of prior consultation with nations and territories in the ship's path.
These shipments directly affect vital interests of the states and territories of the United States in the Caribbean and the Pacific. One proposed route takes the nuclear waste ship through Puerto Rico's Mona Passage and near the U.S. Virgin Islands on its way to the Panama Canal, and would make Hawaii a likely emergency port of call. An alternative route around Cape Horn would bring the ship near Samoa.
In a letter to you dated January l0, 1995, the legal basis for U.S. involvement in this matter was detailed. Wa also recounted our efforts to have appropriate U.S. officials analyze and evaluate the safety of the shipment and the adequacy of emergency preparations for a then-impending shipment. The response of the Executive Branch by Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary was limited to pro forma assumptions that the shipment would be conducted safely.
Now, nearly two years later, a second radioactive waste shipment is set to test international tolerance for this hazardous commerce. After this shipment, both the frequency and the quantities of the radioactive waste shipments will pick up.
The safety issues are by no means trivial. A 1987 study regarding the feasibility of disposing of VHLW under the ocean floor by the organization for Economic Cooperation and Development/Nuclear Energy Agency (OECD/NEA) considered the loss of a damaged VHLW cargo in coastal waters. The conclusion was that coastal transportation accidents are unacceptable. It would result in excessive radiation exposure to the public. Moreover, salvage operations cannot be relied upon to mitigate the consequences of such an accident because of the radiation exposures involved in such an operation. Recent discussions at the International Maritime Organization made it clear that there is no credible plan for salvaging radiation-contaminated cargo from a sunken ship.
As noted in a recent paper by Dr. Edwin Lyman of the Nuclear Control Institute, there remain a number of other important unresolved safety issues. These include: t) the ability of a waste shipment to survive a severe shipboard fire; and 2) the Sensitivity of the steel used by France for the waste canisters to corrosion, thereby making them vulnerable to rupture in an accident and to rapid disintegration in the event of a sinking.
The United States hag a legal and moral responsibility to exercise leadership with respect to international commerce in hazardous nuclear materials. The nuclear waste was generated from nuclear fuel supplied to Japan by the United States and reprocessed by France with U.S. permission. We approved the transportation plan for the l984 and 1992 shipments of separated plutonium to Japan and must approve any future shipments of plutonium. Given these facts, the United States should not absolve itself of responsibility for the safe transport of reprocessed waste derived from this plutonium.
Regarding our request for an inquiry into the safety of the impending shipment, we attach Dr. Lyman's paper and ask that you direct the National Security Council to provide us with a detailed response to the substantive points contained therein.
Thank you for considering this urgent matter. We look forward to your response.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie
Rep. Patsy Mink
Del. E. Faleomavenga
(Del., American Samoa)
Del. Robert Underwood
Del. Carlos Romero Barcilo
(Del., Puerto Rico)
Del. Donna Green
(Delegate-Elect, U.S. Virgin Islands)
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