Radioactive Waste Could Be Moving Through Mid-Missouri Towns

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ST. LOUIS COUNTY - The EPA is deciding between three different solutions for dealing with radioactive waste in West Lake Landfill situated in Bridgeton, just outside of St.Louis. One of the solutions the EPA is assessing is the excavation and transportation of the waste through mid-Missouri to facilities in Utah, Idaho or Colorado.  

In 2008, the EPA decided to implement one of the three solutions proposed by the outside consulting firm that would put a new layer over the landfill to keep it in the St.Louis area. Due to recent backlash from the St. Louis community, the EPA is reconsidering the two other alternatives: movement of the waste through mid-Missouri towns, or building a new underground area to house the waste within St. Louis county.

Republic Services, the company that owns the landfill, created a lobbying group called the Coalition to Keep Us Safe. The group voices the opinions of mid-Missouri residents concerned about the risks of transporting the waste through their towns.  A spokesperson for the coalition said transporting the radioactive material on Interstate 70 or on one of several different railroad routes is more dangerous than leaving it in St.Louis.  

"In my area we have lots of turnovers of trucks and we also have accidents with trains," Molly Teichman, the coalition's spokesperson said. "Those are sad enough when they occur, but when it potentially puts spores of cancer up into the area and could impact an entire community, I think we need to take a second look at some other solutions."

According to the coalition's map of potential routes, the following major cities could be on the path: Columbia, Jefferson City, Sedalia, Warrensburg, Rolla and Springfield.

Missouri S&T nuclear engineering professor Carlos Castano said although there are always risks with moving nuclear waste and that with proper precautions, the consequences of an incident would be minimal.  

"It's not like it's going to all of a sudden make half a county uninhabitable or something of the sort," Castano said.  "It's very small quantities. The amount of radiation that we are talking about are very small."

Castano went on to say that people fear radioactive waste because in many cases, it's invisible to the human eye but that radioactive materials are everywhere, only harmful after long periods of exposure or ingestion.

"Actually this plate is one of the hottest materials we have in this building," Castano said. "As long as you don't actually ingest the uranium and put it inside your body, then you don't have much of a problem."

This is not the first time nuclear waste has been transported out of St.Louis.  According to the Army Corps of Engineering, since 1998 it has moved 1.1 million cubic yards of radioactive material out of St. Louis' North County from the Manhattan Project.  

The solution picked in 2008 to cap the current site in St.Louis is the cheapest of the three solutions and would only take three years to finish. The second solution, to move the waste, is the most expensive option and would take four years to finish. The third solution to build a new container on the current West Lake Landfill site would take six years to complete and would cost less than moving the waste but more than just capping it.     

EPA spokesperson Chris Whitley said that all three solutions meet the EPA's criteria for long-term human health for those living around the landfill.  The EPA hopes to make a decision in the next couple months.