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Syracuse officials want to know if nuclear waste from Canada is coming down I-81

Ellen Abbott
WRVO News (file photo)
Interstate-81 through downtown Syracuse.

One hundred fifty truck shipments of radioactive waste could be traveling along Interstate-81 from Canada to South Carolina for the next several years. That has city officials in Syracuse worried about the potential dangers if there is an accident.

A federal judge ruled in favor of the U.S. Department of Energy in February to go through with the transportation after environmental groups filed a lawsuit against it. Six thousand gallons of spent nuclear fuel could take I-81 to get to its destination, and I-81 goes directly through downtown Syracuse. If that is the case, Councilor Jean Kessner said city officials should know ahead of time before each shipment.

“If something happened, the police would be called, and our police officers would be put in danger, along with any motorists going by or anyone who happened to live in the area,” Kessner said. "There's danger all along the way. Anything could happen and if it did happen in Syracuse what would we do? Do you have a plan if something happens? Have you told the people who would have to implement the plan if something happens?"

Councilor Steven Thompson said police generally are notified in a situation like this and he said the trucks could be rerouted around the city.

The U.S. has provided highly enriched uranium to other countries for decades, not for weapons but for other purposes, and the U.S. then takes the waste material back. This shipment coming from Canada, according to Kessner, was used for nuclear medicine.

"It was a loan so part of it is we asked for it, we're getting it back," Kessner said.

Department of Public Works Commissioner Pete O’Connor said his safety director tells him these routes are not advertised so as not to draw the attention of potential terrorists.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.