No radioactivity found around leaky nuclear waste container

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LAS VEGAS (AP) - Nevada's U.S. senators are stepping up their call for a review of hazardous materials shipping, following the discovery of a damaged nuclear waste container on a truck bound for the Nevada Test Site.

''Twice in two weeks we attempted to transport dangerous materials and failed to get them to their destination safely,'' Sen. Harry Reid said Wednesday.

Reid referred to the discovery Monday in West Wendover, Nev., of a leaking shipping container on a truck hauling low-level nuclear waste to the Nevada Test Site and to a July 18 train derailment and toxic chemical fire after freight cars derailed in a rail tunnel in Baltimore.

Federal and state officials said Wednesday that no radioactivity escaped in the Nevada trucking incident. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the Baltimore mishap.

''This is an unacceptable safety record,'' said Reid, the Senate's second-ranking Democrat and chairman of the Senate Transportation, Infrastructure and Nuclear Safety subcommittee.

Reid said he and Sen. John Ensign, a Republican, will host a news conference Thursday in Washington, D.C., to call attention to the problem.

The two senators head a Nevada congressional delegation fighting a proposal to transport the nation's 77,000 tons of high-level commercial and military nuclear waste to the Nevada Test Site. It would be entombed at Yucca Mountain, about 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.

On Monday, a driver for International Waste Removal Inc. reported that while washing down spilled diesel fuel he discovered foam around one of seven containers of contaminated pipes and valves he was hauling to the Test Site. The materials came from a dismantled nuclear-waste reprocessing project near Buffalo, N.Y.

Crews spent Tuesday examining and removing the damaged container from a commercial truck stop.

''The assessments by first responders and the Department of Energy confirmed no loss of radioactivity from the containers,'' Stan Marshall, radiological health manager for the Nevada State Health Division, said Wednesday.

Marshall said a patch and plastic material stopped a trickle of packing material from the thick-walled metal box. The material foams when it gets wet.

The patched container was sealed inside another packing container and taken on another truck to a storage facility near Clive, Utah, about an hour away. Marshall said it will be returned to New York.

The six other containers in the shipment were trucked late Tuesday to the Test Site for burial.

Nevada Gov. Kenny Guinn termed the incident ''a near-catastrophe'' and said it illustrates problems with transporting nuclear waste by truck or train.

Low-level radiation ''doesn't necessarily mean low-level danger,'' said Kalynda Tilges, nuclear issues coordinator for Citizen Alert, a statewide environmental group.


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