Two more bills give exemptions to company shipping radioactive material through Missouri

Three bills in the Missouri House now include amendments that would exempt a Canadian company shipping radioactive material through the state from mandatory inspections and fees.

The Star reported Tuesday that the House Transportation Committee had quietly added an amendment to a Senate bill exempting one company from the fees and mandatory inspections. The company — Ontario-based Nordion Inc. — ships cobalt-60 through Missouri to sell for use in the sterilization of medical devices.

On Wednesday the House Transportation Committee added identical amendments to two additional Senate bills, a move apparently aimed at improving chances that the provision would find its way to the governor’s desk. A stand-alone bill pertaining to radioactive material was never filed.

Under current law, passed in 2009, shipments of radioactive material are inspected upon entering the state by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. For security, the shipment is then escorted border to border by the Missouri Highway Patrol.

But supporters maintain that cobalt-60 is highly regulated, that the containers used to ship it are certified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to withstand severe accidents and that further inspections are unnecessary.

Critics, however, worry about the effect on public safety if an accident did occur or if the material fell into the wrong hands.

“Missouri’s always been a business-friendly state, but we’re not going to be business friendly at the expense of public safety,” said Rep. Jason Holsman, a Kansas City Democrat. “Our first obligation is to the citizens of Missouri, not a company shipping hazardous materials out of Canada.”

If these shipments create costs to the state, then the company responsible should also help cover those costs, Holsman said.

Nordion is charged $1,800 per cask of cobalt-60, plus a $25 fee for every mile traveled in Missouri beyond 200 miles. In the last two years the company has paid the state $293,000 in fees.

But the new amendments have the support of Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Stouffer.

“These types of shipments were moving through Missouri for 40 years before we instituted inspections and security escorts,” said Stouffer, a Napton Republican. “I think it’s an appropriate change to make that won’t impact public safety.”

The proposed amendment was written by Stephen Norton, spokesman for Gamma Industry Producers Alliance, a trade organization. Nordion is a member of the alliance.

Norton argued that strict federal regulations, such as inspections upon entering the country, make the state inspections and Highway Patrol escorts unnecessary. State resources should instead “be focused on their core mission and real safety concerns,” he said.

Norton also stressed that the majority of the 2009 law would remain unchanged. Other radioactive materials — such as spent nuclear fuel — would still be subject to fees, inspections and security escorts.

Five nearby states — Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska — charge similar fees on radioactive material shipments. Kansas does not have a fee system in place, and Ohio repealed such measures last year.