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Nuclear reactor-part shipment on its way to Utah from Illinois

Published December 6, 2011 10:17 am

Environment • EnergySolutions bringing low-level waste from Illinois.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A train carrying part of an Illinois nuclear reactor is rolling toward the EnergySolutions landfill in Tooele County, where it will be buried.

Considered a milestone in a unique cleanup project, the shipment contains a 225,000-pound nuclear reactor pressure vessel head. In the first-of-its-kind effort, EnergySolutions has taken ownership of the nuclear plant site to dismantle the reactors and decommission the plant site.

Many tons of low-level radioactive waste like the reactor head will wind up in Utah as part of the decade-long cleanup, which is expected to cost nearly $1 billion.

"It's on a train and headed here — no different than the other large components we've taken over the years," said company spokesman Mark Walker of the parts. "They are [Utah-approved low-level] Class A waste; they're just large."

The mile-square disposal site in Tooele County has an area devoted to big parts that are mildly contaminated. The site already contains steam generators from the San Onofre plant in California and turbines from the Peach Bottom nuclear generating station in Pennsylvania.

"This is nothing out of the ordinary," said Walker. "This is business as usual."

The Utah Division of Radiation Control confirmed the shipment is routine for any waste licensed for the site. "We don't even get notice of it," said DRC's John Hultquist.

According to the Lake County (Ill.) News-Sun, the equipment has been packed into a specially-designed steel shipping container measuring 17 feet around and 14 feet high. It will be moved on an 18-axle tractor/trailer combination rig that will be trailed by a push tractor that can muscle the load up hills. The overall length is more than 173 feet.

The newspaper also reported the company said the effort is overseen by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Transportation, and it has been "fully permitted to meet the requirements of each state along the route to Utah."

Although the News-Sun reported the EnergySolutions site would also someday take on the used fuel rods from the Illinois site, that is not correct, the company noted.

There currently is no site for spent fuel from commercial reactors — a form of high-level nuclear waste — in Utah or anywhere else in the United States.

fahys@sltrib.com