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October 20, 2004

Marks the Spot: About MapScience

Nuclear Waste Route Maps: About the MapScience System

The government provides almost no useful information about nuclear waste transportation implications of the Yucca Mountain repository. To fill that public information gap, EWG Action Fund staff developed a sophisticated Geographic Information System (GIS) analysis and the capacity to serve custom maps on the Web.

Here is how we conducted the analysis.

Mapping Software, Webware, Data and Analyses

We used state of the art GIS mapping software from ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute), the world leader in this technology. The primary geographic data—the locations of the rail lines and highways, the locations of schools, and other map “data layers”—came from Geographic Data Technology (GDT).

The routes we analyzed were taken directly from the U.S. Dept. of Energy”s final Environmental Impact Statement for the Yucca Mountain. nuclear waste dump. DOE analyzed two scenarios in order to “bracket” the range of the number of shipments required to deliver nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain from locations nationwide. The lower bound shipment estimate is derived from the “primarily train” scenario; the upper bound is associated with the “primarily truck” scenario. Some combination of the two, the DOE says, will be used for Yucca Mountain.

EWG Action Fund research and information technology staff painstakingly identified the routes selected by DOE by comparing the published maps in the EIS to the high-resolution rail and highway maps displayed on our GIS system. Altogether, we traced 20,000 separate route segments to replicate the DOE’s published maps. We then used the GIS system to draw bands along those segments identifying distances within 1 mile, 2 miles and 5 miles of the route.

With the routes in our GIS system, we were able to pre-measure the distance between route segments and the physical location (latitude and longitude) of each of the nation’s 29 million, nine-digit zip codes (Zip+4s, in USPS parlance). This locational data also came from GDT, the leading private source of geographic data. When you type in an address on the MapScience site, our server looks up the Zip+4 for that address and the associated latitude and longitude, and locates its proximity to the nearest nuclear waste route segment on a custom map displayed on your computer. At the same time, it identifies schools and hospitals in the vicinity from separate “data layers” and displays them, too.

The estimates of population and households in proximity to the maps were developed using data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2000 Census of Population. For accuracy, we used data on population and number of households from the smallest published Census unit—the Census “block”—and mapped the overlay of those units within 1, 2 and 5 miles of the route segments. That analysis yielded an estimate of the number of people and households that were close to a nuclear waste route as of the year 2000. Several factors probably cause these population and household figures to be underestimates: overall, the U.S. population is expected to grow, including along many of these routes; and the Census locates where people live, not where they work or commute or go to school, so the maps likely underestimate affected population in urban and suburban areas. Finally, the analysis will tend to overstate the population affected if, as expected, DOE selects some hybrid of its two scenarios (primarily truck and primarily rail), since some route segments will drop out. As noted elsewhere, however, it will be extremely difficult not to ship Yucca-bound nuclear waste by train or truck through hundreds of major cities and towns, because the nation’s mainline freight train routes and Interstates connect population centers.


The "Nuclear Waste Route Maps" Web site is a project of EWG Action Fund and EWG Action Fund. It was developed with the support of the W. Alton Jones Foundation, The Bauman Foundation, and The Turner Foundation. Support was also provided by Brian Greenspun, publisher of the Las Vegas Sun. No financial support was provided by the State of Nevada. Our funders are not responsible for the site’s content.

Made by Hand @ EWG Action Fund

This Web site was designed and developed by the staff of EWG Action Fund. From start to finish, it took three weeks. We did it because the government didn’t — and should have.

Sean Gray conceptualized and conducted the Geographic Information System analyses of the routes, and implemented the look-up features of the site, including Web display of the maps from the underlying data. Tim Greenleaf designed and produced the site. Chris Campbell designed and performed numerous database analyses, and designed. Many other EWG Action Fund staff contributed to the Web site’s development by providing research, analysis, quality assurance checks, and content: John Coequyt, Brendan DeMelle, Ben Crandall, Jim Cox, Susanne Fleek, Bill Walker, Daphne Dador, and Ken Cook. EWG Action Fund’s public affairs staff developed and implemented our media strategy for the site: Laura Chapin, Liz Moore, Jon Corsiglia, and Elizabeth Abbett.

EWG Action Fund Senior Vice President Richard Wiles managed the research effort for the project, and Mike Casey, EWG Action Fund Vice President for Public Affairs, oversaw the media and Internet communications components.

We also received superb site development support from ESRI.