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Proposed High-Level Radioactive Waste Storage Site Is All Risk and No Reward for Texas

Institute for Energy and Environmental Research * Nuclear Information and Resource Service * Public Citizen * SEED Coalition

Feb. 9, 2015

Proposed High-Level Radioactive Waste Storage Site Is All Risk and No Reward for Texas

Deadly Waste Shipments Throughout the Country Could Be Targets for Sabotage, According to State’s Own Assessment

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A high-level radioactive waste storage site proposed for Andrews County, Texas, poses significant risks for residents throughout the country – Texas in particular – and should not be built, public interest groups said today.

The proposal was unveiled at a news conference in Washington, D.C. Site owner Waste Control Specialists (WCS) operates a low-level radioactive dump at the site already. The plan is for WCS to expand that site to store high-level radioactive waste.

“It was irresponsible ever to generate high-level nuclear waste without a plan for how to dispose of it,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen. “It would be doubly so to ship it across the country, with no serious plan to protect it in transit or in its new temporary destination. Hiding the problem of high-level nuclear waste in West Texas doesn’t make it go away, it makes it worse.”

Added Diane D’Arrigo, radioactive waste project director at Nuclear Information and Resource Service, “Moving nuclear waste to a supposedly temporary consolidated storage place gives the delusion of a solution when in fact it will at least double the risks or defacto create a permanent dump near one of the largest aquifers in the country.” She called the plans part of an elaborate, unnecessary shell game. “WCS is really volunteering to make the U.S. nuclear problem worse by putting the deadliest radioactive wastes from nuclear power on the same highways, railways and waterways we all use every day.”

A waste dump would pose particular hazards for Texas residents.

“This plan is all risk and no reward for the state of Texas, and poses transportation and accident risks around the country,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office. “We don’t need Fukushima Freeways.”

Smith outlined five key reasons public interest groups oppose radioactive waste being sent to Texas. Most reasons were raised in a March 2014 Texas Commission on Environmental Quality assessment:

1. The waste shipments could be targets for sabotage by terrorists.
2. More than 100,000 trucks trips would be needed to carry high-level radioactive waste through major cities across the country to a storage site and then later to a disposal site.
3. The operator of the facility would have minimal liability, but the public would be put at risk from accidents, leaks and terrorist incidents.
4. Short-term storage may become de facto permanent disposal.
5. This site is too close to the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides water for eight states.

“The federal government has made a mess of nuclear waste policy,” said Arjun Makhijani, president of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research. “The highly radioactive spent fuel from nuclear reactors should be stored on site in hardened configurations while Washington sorts it out. Putting the deadliest nuclear waste on the roads needlessly increases risks. It is not part of the answer; rather, it will add to the problem.”

Added Karen Hadden, director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, “High-level radioactive waste is deadly. If you were unshielded at about three feet away from spent fuel rods, you would be immediately incapacitated and die within a week. Radiation exposure can cause genetic damage and birth defects, many kinds of cancers, radiation sickness and death. Inhalation of plutonium is extremely risky and leads to cancer. There is no safe level of exposure.”

Said former State Rep. Lon Burnam of Ft. Worth, “The site isn’t even dry – a minimum safety prerequisite for safe storage or disposal of radioactive waste. Recently, 22 percent of test wells at the existing low-level radioactive waste site had water present. WCS admits that the Ogallala Aquifer is nearby. What would happen if radioactive waste contaminated water that lies beneath eight states in the middle of our country?”

Rose Gardner lives about five miles from the WCS site. “Here they go again, moving forward their dangerous ambitions,” she said. “These people at WCS haven’t even given the most affected community, Eunice, New Mexico, a chance to get used to their existing “low-level” radioactive waste dump, and now they’re trying to cram a high-level nuclear waste storage site into an area next to us. These are selfish and greedy people. Andrews County may profit, but not Eunice, which will bear great risks.”