The U.S. Department of Energy is studying the possibility of shipping bomb-grade uranium fuel from foreign research nuclear reactors through the Port of Long Beach to government facilities in other states.
The study, which includes other U.S. ports as well, is still in the preliminary stages and a final decision on where to import the spent nuclear fuel rods is months away, said Energy Department spokesman Brad Bugger.
But citing the potential danger of passing nuclear material through a heavily populated area, the Long Beach City Council voted Tuesday to send a letter to the department opposing the plan. The council also decided to ask neighboring cities to join in the opposition.
"I think it would be a disaster to the area, the harbor area, the whole metropolitan area, for them to even consider passing those rods through the Port of Long Beach," Mayor Ernie Kell said.
The spent fuel rods were produced in the United States and shipped for use in foreign research reactors, most of which are at universities and hospitals.
To guard against the proliferation of nuclear weapons, the United States until 1988 would take back the spent fuel rods for reclamation or storage. Environmental challenges prompted the government to suspend the policy that year.
Under pressure from the State Department and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Department of Energy decided last July to resume accepting the rods.
In addition to looking at the Port of Long Beach, the government is studying the prospect of importing the fuel rods through ports in Seattle, Houston, New Orleans, New York and Hampton Roads, Va.
When officials decide which port will be used, they will consider the risks identified in the environmental studies and also take into consideration whether the community objects to the shipment.
The agency also will study the environmental impact of storing the rods at the Energy Department's Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, its Savannah River weapons plant in Aiken, S.C., or several other federal facilities.
On Tuesday, Long Beach officials recalled a plan in the mid-1980s to move 18 shipments of spent nuclear fuel rods from a research reactor in Taiwan through the Port of Long Beach or other West Coast ports. The rods would have been trucked to South Carolina for reclamation.
A coalition of Washington state environmental and labor groups filed a lawsuit to bar West Coast seaports, including Long Beach, from accepting the waste pending the completion of a thorough environmental impact study.
In Long Beach, civic groups protested and city officials refused to allow the fuel rods to be unloaded. State officials, including then-Gov. George Deukmejian, joined in opposing the plan.
Federal officials abandoned their plan and decided to import the fuel rods through Portsmouth, Va.
"This was a stupid idea 10 years ago and it's even dumber now," Councilman Ray Grabinski said.