Radioactive Waste Coming Our Way

By Molly Rush

An unprecedented shipment of 6000 gallons of high risk, highly radioactive liquid waste was scheduled to pass through Allegheny County this past September. The waste includes highly enriched uranium, radioactive isotopes of cesium, strontium and plutonium, to be shipped from the Chalk River Labs in Canada to the Savannah River Site in North Carolina for reprocessing and recycling.

The U.S. route would go from Buffalo on Route 90 to Erie, then down Route 79 for 200 miles, past Pittsburgh, to Charleston WV, then Route 77 to Aiken SC. “These liquid shipments have never been done before in the U.S., and we’re very concerned about crashes, fires and terrorist attacks,” said Kevin Kamps with Beyond Nuclear [Don Hopey, Post-Gazette, 8/19;]]

The Sierra Club and five other concerned groups filed a federal lawsuit on August 12 to seek an injunction to stop the shipments. The suit claims that the U.S. Dept. of Energy [DOE] did not conduct a required environmental impact study, public notice or comments and failed to consider safer alternatives.

The planned shipments have been suspended until February 17, 2017, pending a decision. Stay tuned.


Western PA Nuclear Waste Sites.

On November 10th the Wall St. Journal published an article, “Waste Lands: America’s Forgotten Nuclear Legacy”. It listed waste sites in Pennsylvania. Among these: Aliquippa, Apollo, Beaver Falls, Blairsville, Bridgeville, Canonsburg, Carnegie, Chambersburg, Cheswick, East Pittsburgh, McKeesport, New Kensington, Parks Township, Springdale, Verona and West Mifflin.



One of the most notorious of the sites is producing nuclear fuel in a government plant in Apollo, the former NUMEC and after that, Atlantic Richfield and Babcock Wilcox site. I was invited to a protest at Apollo by resident Cindee Virostek, who had done extensive research for 14 years on the effects of emissions and waste produced by the plant. I was shocked to see that it was located right in the middle of town.

Former Mayor Jim Hutchison and his wife Helen were among the first residents to complain to regulators about odors and ash on their front porch back in 1958.

Nearly 50 years later, B&W and Atlantic Richfield settled lawsuits with residents for $52.5 and $27.5 million for injury, wrongful deaths and property damage. Helen said of the nuclear contamination, “We’ll live with it forever…Money doesn’t cure the problem.” Another former mayor, William Kerr, commented, “Every aspect of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, environmental health, political science and economics…you could use every core subject to illustrate what happened here.”

Virostek, a former borough councilwoman, said, “I’m glad the lawsuit came to an end…that’s a good thing. But the lawsuit doesn’t fully compensate people for their losses…it does not bring closure as far as I’m concerned.”



From 1911-22 Standard Chemical Co. ran a radium refining mill. It produced more radium in a year than the rest of the word combined. It provided scientist Marie Curie radium for her experiments. In 1930 it began to refine uranium. In 1942 Vitro Mfg. Co. took over and produced uranium for the Manhattan Project’s atom bomb used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan in 1945. The plant closed in 1960.

200,000 tons of radioactive waste was left uncovered, making Strabane the most radioactive town in the U.S. Finally the plant and waste site were covered by a huge clay mound. Word is that people used the material for concrete for sidewalks and walls.

The Federal Department of Energy found ”higher-than-acceptable” radioactive emissions from radon gas and radium at the site in 1977. Up to a third of a mile from the site, the emissions range from two to three times normal levels. Within that area, the risk of lung cancer is 25 percent higher than normal, according to consultants of the Department of Energy. The Canonsburg site is the only one east of the Mississippi River and the only one surrounded by residents; about 8,000 of Canonsburg’s 11,000 residents live within one mile of the industrial park.


Molly Rush is a TMC board member and member of The NewPeople editorial collective.


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