Interstate 3: The Nuclear Connection

July 27, 2005

The politicians proposing “Interstate 3” tout it as a connection between the port of Savannah, Georgia, and the numerous interstates running through Knoxville, Tennessee, with connections to the industrial Midwest.

However, a glance at the map of the proposed route shows that I-3 would go right by the massive Savannah river Site (SRS) nuclear complex in South Carolina across from Augusta, Georgia and would terminate, not in Knoxville itself, but at the recently completed I-140 spur running from Maryville-Alcoa to the nuclear facilities at Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

While rarely mentioned by I-3 proponents, it is likely that this nuclear connection is a key reason why this interstate project is being proposed. The nuclear weapons complex, composed of widely dispersed sites throughout the West and the Southeast, has for years depended on transporting dangerous radioactive materials, including plutonium and tritium, on our highways. The new nuclear weapons complex being planned will have production facilities concentrated at Oak Ridge, TN, Watts Bar, TN, Savannah River Site, SC, and the Pantex facility in Amarillo, Texas.

Currently there is a large amount of nuclear material shipped between Oak Ridge and the Savannah River Site (see And the nuclear power industry, having no solution to the problem of providing safe long-term storage for reactor wastes, seems to just want to move them around.

Problems with the dump which has been proposed for Yucca Mountain, Nevada, mean that the Savannah River Site may also soon be on the receiving end of large amounts of radioactive waste. The guidelines for routing I-3 as proposed by Rep. Charlie Norwood call for the new interstate to run as “a direct, Savannah to Knoxville Interstate. That’s not Statesboro to Anderson, or Savannah to Gainesville – but Savannah, Augusta, and Knoxville tied together in as straight a line as practical.” That is to the west side of Knoxville (i.e. Oak Ridge). Isn’t it obvious that Interstate 3 would be a very busy radioactive highway?

Some specific examples of the traffic in deadly materials which now take place on I-26 and I-40 and would likely be shifted to I-3 if it is built:

Weapons grade plutonium moves from Amarillo, Texas to SRS on unmarked trucks. At SRS, the plutonium will be worked over and then re-shipped, if the current proposals move forward. Destinations include Duke Power nuclear plants in NC and SC (experimental MOX plutonium fuel) and the Oak Ridge Y-12 Nuclear Weapons Plant (plutonium “pits,” the triggers for nuclear bombs).

Rods used to produce tritium, which is used for hydrogen bombs, are being shipped from the Watts Bar reactor in Tennessee to the Savannah River Site where the rods will be processed to produce tritium gas. The gas will then be shipped back to Oak Ridge in trucks.

High level radioactive waste from commercial reactors is likely to be shipped along Interstate 3 to the Savannah River Site.

So-called low level radioactive waste is trafficked both to Oak Ridge and SRS.

Many of us get very nervous thinking about these dangerous materials being shipped on our highways and especially through our mountains. For the most part the trucks carrying these radioactive materials are not marked and the times and nature of the shipments are classified. Local EMT’s and law enforcement personnel might not even know what kind of hazardous material they are dealing with in the event of an accident. Local hospitals in mountain communities are not even remotely equipped to deal with radiation poisoning which might occur as a result of a “Mobile Chernobyl” accident or sabotage. Plutonium is so toxic and so long-lasting that a spill could render large areas of land unusable for centuries.

In conclusion, though the nuclear issue is not the only reason to oppose the building of Interstate 3, it is a significant one and, indeed, may be the driving force behind the proposal. Let us all work to keep the southern Blue Ridge area from being sacrificed for the sake of nuclear pork barrel politics. And while we’re at it, we can work to shut down risky and potentially deadly nuclear shipments through Asheville and the I-40/ I-26 corridor.

Respectfully submitted,

John Clarke, Hayesville, NC
Chair, Clay/Cherokee Chapter, Stop I-3 Coalition

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