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Mobile Chernobyl En Route

A shipment of spent nuclear fuel rods passed through Utah Wednesday night, stopping long enough to change crews, before entering Idaho several hours later.

John Bromley, spokesman for Union Pacific, said the train entered the state at 10:16 p.m. Wednesday, stopped at the Ogden depot at about 3 a.m. to change crews, and crossed into Idaho about two hours later.

"In this case we have a contingent of security folks" who ride in several cabooses, he said. "This train has a lot of supervision."

Normally, such trains have a two-man crew, he said.

Protest sign on train route
For security reasons, state and federal officials remained tightlipped about plans leading up to the shipment of the spent nuclear fuel rods.

The rods were part of a 1950s international technology exchange program called Atoms for Peace and were being returned from South Korea for storage at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory in Idaho Falls.

The United States agreed to take back the nuclear waste so the enriched uranium cannot be used for nuclear weapons.

Bromley said the shipments have become fairly routine for Union Pacific, which has been handling waste for decades.

"The science of these shipments is the same, but the politics are a little different," he said.

The fuel rods arrived in California from South Korea by ship on Tuesday and the casks designed to withstand a head-on locomotive collision were loaded onto the train.

The train was greeted by a group of about 15 protesters as it left Sacramento at about 3 a.m. Wednesday, but its journey through Nevada and Utah had been quiet.

Too quiet for some, who would have liked more information on the shipments.

"As city administration I think we should have been made aware," said Don Tingey, administrator for Brigham City, Utah, which is just east of the tracks where the shipments would pass. "I am sure it is being transported as safely as possible, but for safety community they should let us know when it was coming through just so we could have our people ready."

Bob Couch, a resident of Winnemucca, Nev., which the train passed through Wednesday afternoon, expressed similar concerns.

"This is a small community with a lot of children and everything in it," he said. "It would be nice for there to be something in the paper or something like that saying it is really going to happen."

But Bill Sinclair, director of the Utah Division of Radiation Control, said the state was prepared for the shipments.

"We spent a lot of effort over the last 10 years training people to respod to a radiological incident," he said. "If, heaven forbid, there's a problem, I think we can respond to it."