Seattle Opposes U.S. Rule On Radioactive Load Routing

Seattle Opposes U.S. Rule On Radioactive Load Routing


The Seattle Fire Department has voiced opposition to a proposed federal rule that would regulate highway routing of radioactive materials (RAM). In a United States Department of Transportation (DOT) hearing in Seattle on April 18, Seattle Fire Marshal Bob Hansen voiced the grave concern the City of Seattle has with the proposed rule.

The DOT fears that the transportation of radioactive materials may be severely limited by the increasing restrictions of local jurisdictions. The proposed rule would cover some low level radioactive products by subjecting them to a general routing rule emphasizing routes which would expose the fewest people. However, the main part of the proposal is aimed at what the DOT calls “large quantity” radioactive materials. This category includes most of the radioactive materials which have been subject to state and local actions.

Basic proposals

Specifically, the rule would establish preferred routes for the shipment of large quantities of radioactive materials and carriers would be required to avoid urban areas by using circumferential interstate highways where they are available. Route plans would have to be filed within 90 days of any shipment, and all carriers would be required to establish a driver training program meeting specified minimal requirements.

The proposed rule would also make large quantity shipments of spent reactor fuel subject to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s more restrictive requirements.

Alan I. Roberts, associate director for the DOT Office of Hazardous Material Regulation, in his opening statement at the hearing explained, “While the proposed regulation clearly would limit the ability of local jurisdiction to impose severe, unilateral restrictions on highway traffic, it would also encourage reasonable regulation.”

Roberts pointed out that the approximately 23,000 jurisdictions in the United States could each conceivably have its own restrictions.

Although the DOT proposal provides for state participation in the designation of preferred routes, the involvement is limited and the proposal would allow “no absolute ban of radioactive materials.”

Chief Hansen, in his testimony for the City of Seattle, stated, “When regulating radioactive materials, we always consider two primary factors: First, radioactive materials are inherently dangerous and secondly, that this same material must be shipped. The question is how to do it safely.

“While the proposed rule attempts to further reduce the likelihood of an accident, there is concern as to the impact the rule would have on local authority and control,” Hansen continued. “The development of such rules would effectively remove the right of local authority to regulate shipment of hazardous materials within their jurisdictions while leaving with them the responsibility to control any emergency involving the material. This is a situation totally unacceptable and strongly opposed by the city of Seattle.”

Revisions urged

The chief then presented the fire department’s position that the proposed rule needs to be revised to provide for:

  1. More effective participation by local authorities in the designation of routes within their jurisdictions.
  2. A general tightening of the language of the rule, which presently provides too many exemptions and leaves too many decisions to the vehicle operator.
  3. Sufficient federal inspection forces must be provided for strict enforcement if local authorities are preempted from enforcement of radioactive materials transportation regulations. Furthermore, the federal government should provide assistance in training and equipment to local authorities, which are left with the responsibility for public safety in the event of an accident.
  4. The City of Seattle is strongly opposed to any future rules relating to the routing of hazardous materials which would prevent local jurisdictions from exercising control and the city fears that the proposed rule would establish a dangerous precedent in this area.

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