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Published: Sunday, 10/19/2003

Nuclear-reactor train stays overnight in area

Walbridge police officers Rick Solether and Kenny Hetrick guard train and reactor from protesters at the Walbridge stop. Walbridge police officers Rick Solether and Kenny Hetrick guard train and reactor from protesters at the Walbridge stop.
KING / BLADE Enlarge

The Toledo area got a longer visit than planned yesterday from a scrapped nuclear reactor that emits a low dose of radiation.

But the massive steel can - 25 feet long and 580,000 pounds - finally left the CSX rail yard in Walbridge at 3:41 p.m., after being held up there for nearly 24 hours.

The device, which held highly radioactive nuclear fuel for 35 years at the now-decommissioned Big Rock Point nuclear plant in northern Michigan, is en route to Barnwell, S.C., for disposal in one of the nation's only dumps licensed to accept low-level radioactive waste.

Its long journey from Charlevoix, Mich., to the Barnwell dump took an interlude in the Toledo area at 4 p.m. Friday, with an overnight stop at the Walbridge rail yard that CSX owns. CSX restricted travel on its lines to daylight hours, and wanted to spend the night making preparations for yesterday morning's anticipated transfer to the Norfolk Southern tracks near Fostoria, Adam Hollingsworth, CSX spokesman, said.

But the transfer didn't occur yesterday morning. Norfolk Southern was not immediately willing to accept the hefty freight on its tracks. Several people speculated that the rail company might have had reservations about the concentrated weight and mass of the reactor. Rudy Husband, Norfolk Southern spokesman, claimed that had nothing to do with it.

“All of the paperwork that normally accompanies a transfer wasn't done,” he said. “It was a simple paperwork situation.”

The delay kept the cask in Walbridge hours longer than expected, making some area residents edgy about the cumulative effect of radiation. One of them, Jim Wolsiffer, said he was concerned about the potential for exposure faced by his parents, Jim and Yolanda Wolsiffer. The couple live close to the Walbridge rail yard and could see the train from their home, their son said.

Tim Petrosky, spokesman for Consumers Energy, the Michigan utility responsible for the move, claimed the radiation level was only one-tenth of the allowable limit and that there was “absolutely zero risk” to the public.

He said he wasn't sure why Norfolk Southern wasn't ready to go in the morning.

“Our understanding was that everything was in place,” he said, referring to the time when the reactor started heading south in early October.

The delay gave activists time to stage a demonstration. Nine of them gathered near the Walbridge rail yard yesterday morning.

Two of them, Mike Ferner of Toledo and Kevin Kamps of the Washington-based Nuclear Information & Resource Service, were arrested by CSX security on trespassing charges for getting too close to the reactor and attempting to hang an anti-nuclear banner on it.

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