Higgins renews concerns over Canadian nuclear waste shipments through NYS

May 17, 2017

The first of more than a hundred anticipated shipments of liquid nuclear waste recently arrived in South Carolina from Canada. Congressman Brian Higgins renewed his opposition to using New York State's international crossings, citing concerns over public safety.


Others are equally concerned, following the revelation in a government report that shielding used to handle that first shipment was inadequate.

The plan to transport liquid Highly-Enriched Uranium across the border for processing in the U.S. was first unveiled four years ago. Numerous environmental groups sued last August to block the plan, expressing concern that the U.S. Department of Energy had not conducted thorough studies to ensure safety. A federal judge sided with the DOE this past February.

“The labels ... obscure the fact that this liquid waste is highly radioactive,” said Gordon Edwards, President of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, in a prepared written statement. “As I testified in court filings, a very small amount – just a few liquid ounces – of this highly radioactive stew of fission products such as Cesium-137, if spilled, could render an entire large city’s drinking water supply unsafe to drink."

Congressman Brian Higgins was also among those opposed to the shipment plan. While the route of the anticipated shipments was not revealed it was believed the Peace Bridge was the most likely candidate. The Thousand Islands was considered another highly likely crossing point.

Higgins noted that the Peace Bridge is among the busiest crossings along the US-Canada border and is undergoing construction work that makes the span even busier.

"When you have traffic delays like you do it becomes a target, potentially, for terrorist activity," said the congressman. "Now there's a general knowledge that they may be shipping liquefied nuclear waste on the Peace Bridge. That underscores the concern we should have here in Western New York, relative to national security and a potential environmental disaster."

Several environmental groups, including the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility and Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes, have pointed out that a U.S. federal agency has documented an incident during processing at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina. According to the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board, an independent federal agency that oversees the Department of Energy's defense nuclear sites, an unexpected "hotspot" was found while personnel at Savannah River processed the first shipment. It was determined that a container known as a "pig" - often times made of lead or depleted uranium - was not providing adequate protection. 

(Click here for the DNFSB report)

Back in Western New York, Higgins said the effort continues to address the planned entry of nuclear waste into Western New York.

"We've filed a Notice of Hazardous Conditions with all of the respective departments. In the event there is a problem, the federal government would be accountable because of negligence," Higgins said. "We're taking every action necessary to to protect the public right here in Western New York."