Uranium may be shipped through Port of Tacoma
Terminal wants to bring uranium through port
By Meghan Erkkinen
Published on: November 15, 2007
A shipping terminal has received a conditional permit to bring uranium hexafluoride, a radioactive material, through the Port of Tacoma.
Washington United Terminals (WUT) requested permission from the Tacoma Fire Department (TFD) several months ago. The permit would allow WUT to bring about six containers through the port four times a year, according to Jeff Jensen, deputy chief of prevention and preparedness at the fire department.
Before WUT receives a full permit, there are two conditions TFD required it to meet. The first condition, which WUT has met, is to provide a site safety plan for the terminal. The second is to provide a transportation plan to show how the product will safely be transported to the port.
"We'll take every precaution necessary that this is handled safely," Jensen said. "We handle all kinds of hazardous materials that go through that port every day and we do it as safely as we can make them do it. We will continue that same attitude, that the safety of the citizens is the most important thing and if they can't do that that we won't [grant the permit]."
Uranium hexafluoride is used in the uranium enrichment process. If inhaled or ingested, it can be toxic. It can cause damage to the lungs and kidneys, and in high enough concentrations, it can cause death.
"It's radioactive. If there comes a leak there would be some exposure problems," Jensen said, but added that transporting the material is safe.
"The nuclear industry has been shipping radioactive materials for years," he said. "They have developed some pretty sophisticated containers to transport these products."
Although it does not have legal authority to regulate what goes through Tacoma, the port has opposed any radioactive shipments. In a letter to Mike Lingerfelt, president of WUT, Port Executive Director Tim Farrell discouraged the shipment of uranium hexafluoride.
"Because of the concerns such shipments would likely have in our community, and based on our past actions on similar cargoes, we are writing to discourage you from considering shipping this cargo through the Port of Tacoma," Farrell wrote.
Other players, including the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the Coast Guard, will be involved in later discussions, once the conditions for the permit are met.
The permit to bring through uranium hexafluoride is part of a deal WUT is seeking with a shipping line to relocate to the Port of Tacoma. WUT and the line are still in negotiations, according to Jensen. The shipping line currently ships through Port of Seattle.
"If we develop the plans, I believe it would be (safe)," Jensen said. "This commodity has been going through Seattle for several years. If they can do it safe there, they can certainly do it safe here."
TFD occasionally receives requests for permits to bring radioactive material through the port. The most recent request was approved two years ago, Jensen said.
WUT had no comment on the issue.