Sunday, June 29, 2008 | 2:10 a.m.
A documentary that aired on The History Channel last week gave a national audience a glimpse into the concerns that Nevadans have had for years about the potential dangers of shipping high-level nuclear waste across the country on trains that would roll through hundreds of cities and towns.
Tuesday’s airing of “Mega Disasters: Glow Train Catastrophe,” evaluated the U.S. Energy Department’s plan to ship by railroad some 77,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste to a proposed repository at Yucca Mountain, 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
The show examined the frequency and severity of derailments and fiery collisions that have been reported on the nation’s railroads, noting that, on average, some 3,000 incidents involving derailments happen each year.
One of the accidents profiled was the 1996 derailment of a freight train passing through Weyauwega, Wis. Thirty of the 37 derailed cars were carrying highly flammable hazardous materials. The fire burned for two weeks and forced the evacuation of 2,300 people. Federal inspectors say the derailment was caused by a rail that had broken because of a fractured bolt hole.
Richard Brenner, hazardous materials coordinator for the Clark County Fire Department, who appeared on Tuesday’s program, said that if a train carrying high-level nuclear waste derailed in such a manner, “Las Vegas would not be prepared to handle something like that. It would be very difficult for any fire department in the nation to handle something like that.”
His “any fire department in the nation” observation is something History Channel viewers across the country should now be contemplating.
Nevadans have largely been the ones engaged in the fight against the Energy Department’s ill-conceived Yucca Mountain repository and the agency’s equally poor plan for transporting toxic nuclear waste. And “Mega Disasters” didn’t tell most of us anything we haven’t had numerous occasions to hear.
But maybe now residents across the country — not just Nevadans — will be asking the tough questions and telling the federal government that carrying the nation’s high-level nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain on an aging rail system is absurd.