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NBC changes cargo in 'Atomic Train' miniseries

LOS ANGELES -- It's still dangerous. It's just not THAT dangerous.

NBC is making a significant cargo change for its miniseries "Atomic Train," which begins this weekend.The drama was being hastily edited to replace references to nuclear waste with the phrase "hazardous waste," network spokeswoman Rebecca Marks said Tuesday.

The title will remain the same.

"Atomic Train," about a runaway Idaho-to-Denver train carrying a nuclear weapon and, originally, nuclear waste, did not accurately depict safeguards used in connection with such waste, Ms. Marks said.

"Although it (the miniseries) is fictitious, rather than be inaccurate about the transporting of material we decided to change the nature of the material," she said. Nuclear waste is moved in casks that are not shown in the film.

A tacked-on disclaimer will tell viewers the miniseries is not based on fact and that NBC does not "suggest or imply in any way that these events could actually occur."

The decision to change the film was strictly internal and no NBC executive had been contacted by any nuclear industry representative requesting changes, Ms. Marks said.

NBC itself has a relative in the business. General Electric, the network's parent company, includes the GE Nuclear Energy unit, which supplies parts and services for reactors.

In "Atomic Train," which stars Rob Lowe and airs Sunday and Monday, the wayward train crashes west of Denver. Fire detonates a Russian nuclear weapon placed on board by a disposal company contracted by the government to dispose of such weapons.

In reality, nuclear weapons are always transported by truck and are disarmed.

Though the network said it acted independently, the miniseries hasn't escaped criticism.

"There is no way something like this could happen," Energy Department spokesman Derek Scammell said. "It is just not feasible. With all due respect to Hollywood, this is going to be a typical Hollywood movie."

In a letter to NBC, the president of the Idaho chapter of the Health Physics Society, which specializes in radiation safety, called the movie's premise wrong and asked NBC to add a disclaimer similar to that eventually adopted by the network.

The Nuclear Energy Institute, which represents utilities with nuclear power plants, issued a "containment strategy" for reaction to the film.

The April 27 memo suggested an "aggressive effort" to provide industry employees, state regulators and elected officials with information to field any questions raised about transportation safety.

But Sen. Richard Bryan, D-Nev., a prominent opponent of nuclear waste transportation, said the film in its original version had an important message: Such waste represents a disaster waiting to happen.

"There are 50 million people in 43 states, living within a mile or less from nuclear shipment routes," Bryan said. "I keep telling people, this is nuclear waste that would be laid at your doorstep."