The equation of protest with terrorism is particularly disturbing and chilling when practiced by a public servant.
In an article which allowed an official of the Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety to do just that, the Champaign News-Gazette on August 8 wrote about security preparations for the anticipated rail shipment of nuclear waste across Illinois and a number of other states in its journey from New York to Idaho. The train will traverse Illinois on the tracks of the Norfolk Southern Railroad, passing through such local towns as Philo and Tolono in southern Champaign County,.protected by armed guards. Authorities have been tight-lipped about the exact timing of the move, saying only that it will occur between now and late September. The primary reason for the tight security became clear toward the end of the News-Gazette article.
After describing a number of scenarios that could threaten the train and its cargo, Rich Allen, manager of the Office of Environmental Safety for the Illinois Department of Nuclear Safety, claimed that authorities worried most about “protesters”. He implied that they might wish to commit suicide in front of the train, but failed to explain how the body of a hypothetically suicidal protester could threaten a train that weighs hundreds of tons.
The main thrust of official comment seemed to be the demonization of protesters, while offering the public no new information except that, while safety was a concern, it would be unlikely that an evacuation would be required in the event of an accident involving the train carrying highly radioactive waste.
Allen then claimed that authorities were, in the words of the story, “keeping a wary eye on a protesters’ camp scheduled in Chicago in the next few weeks.” This is particularly interesting in that surveillance of political activists has been constrained in Chicago in the past by a federal court decision due to past political spying abuses by the police.
The News-Gazette article concluded by quoting Allen again. “The FBI and the Department of Energy take the security of these shipments very seriously.” Making a final effort to equate legitimate protest with domestic terrorism, he stated, “They [the FBI and DOE] know who is who in activist land and terrorist land. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had their eyes on this group as well.”
Despite assertions that there should be no public concern about the nuclear waste trains that may soon be passing through our area on the Norfolk Southern Railroad, due to the trains’ compliance with Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards, it seems that these standards may be seriously out of date. They are in fact over a half-century old, and modern catastrophes could well create conditions that would cause a release of highly radioactive materials in an accident involving these trains. The following article takes a less benign view of the hazards of nuclear waste transport.