The Department of Energy is hoping to ship 3 million cubic feet of radioactive, nuclear waste along I-5 to the Hanford toxic waste facility, which is nestled snugly along the Columbia River in southern Washington. The chosen route would loop directly through Portland's downtown.

But last week, city council passed a resolution asking the DOE to halt the shipments, at least until the Hanford facility--which has a bad, bad reputation for leaking radioactive particles into the Columbia--is cleaned and fixed up. Environmentalists are also acutely concerned about the shipping plan itself. Under the proposed plan, the trucks would be unmarked and unescorted, ostensibly to outwit terrorists intent on hijacking the shipments. However, that strategy could trip up security measures for more likely disasters, like traffic accidents or equipment failure. With no indication that the trucks are carrying radioactive waste, it would be impossible for emergency crews to respond appropriately.

Even more alarming, says Commissioner Erik Sten, is that according to the DOE's own study, the shipments will lead to at least 10 cancer-related deaths simply by being on the road. Idling next to one of the trucks would give unwitting drivers a radioactive dose equivalent to a few X-rays.

Sten says the resolution has two goals--to inform the public and influence other cities to adopt similar stances.

"I'm not foolish enough to think that one city passing a resolution is going to effect the White House," Sten said. "But if hundreds of cities [along I-5] react, it might make an impact."

The resolution passed unanimously. Interestingly, Jim Francesconi, who shot down last year's anti-war resolution because he doesn't believe the city should get involved in national affairs, felt the resolution didn't go far enough. He downplayed the apparent flip-flop by saying his opposition to the anti-war text was based solely on a desire to not meddle in foreign policy. "I'm not sure voters elected me to decide on foreign affairs," Francesconi said. "But it is my duty to protect our citizens."

Sten doesn't necessarily buy that argument. "I don't think his distinction holds up to intellectual scrutiny. From my point of view, both issues have a very clear local impact," he said. "But I'm glad he voted for this one."