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Published: Monday, 11/6/2000

Grant to fund Sylvania nuke-waste disaster training


Sylvania this week will be transformed into a center of activity for disaster training.

About 150 firefighters, police officers, and other emergency workers from Sylvania and Sylvania Township are to learn how they should respond if a traffic accident on U.S. 23/I-475 involves potentially deadly radioactive waste.

Local public employees and officials of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio are to be trained for five days through a $35,000 program funded by a PUCO grant. The course, taught by Cleveland State University, is to be the first in Ohio of its kind, officials said.

PUCO agreed to fund the program after Sylvania and Sylvania Township passed resolutions last year objecting to a revised transport route for waste from a nuclear research plant at the University of Michigan.

Radioactive waste from UM's Phoenix Memorial Lab is shipped to the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River disposal site in South Carolina.

Until last year, the route barely touched the Sylvania area. Federal law requires such shipments to be on interstate highways and away from major population hubs whenever possible.

U.S. 23 is not an interstate, so the Shipments went east on I-94 to I-275, south to I-75, south to Toledo and west on I-475 to avoid downtown, then reconnected to I-75 near Perrysburg.

But officials obtained a waiver last year so U.S. 23 could be used to reduce travel time and distance.

Nobody's thrilled about having the waste come through the area, said Thomas Barnhizer, Lucas County Emergency Management Agency deputy director. But he said there's little chance of avoiding it, and the potential impact on Sylvania isn't much greater with U.S. 23 being used.

“By changing this route, we eliminate a potential risk [for North and West Toledo] while at the same time not unduly increasing the risk in another area,” Mr. Barnhizer said. “It comes down to common sense.”

Jim Maxwell, Sylvania Township administrator, said he's pleased PUCO is offering the training. “We're not anticipating a problem, but we want to make sure we have our people trained,” he said.

Fire Chief Chris Maurer agrees. “Any training we can receive, we're interested in trying,” he said.

Last spring's shipment from Ann Arbor to South Carolina was the first in almost a decade. No date has been announced for the next shipment.

For years, tons of waste has been shipped through this region and others en route to a low-level radioactive waste disposal pit in Barnwell, S.C. Generators of that waste include nuclear plants, hospitals, dental offices, and universities, with items ranging from contaminated clothing to radioactive devices.

“We don't see this material that often for obvious reasons,” Mr. Barnhizer said.

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