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Texans Don’t Want Texas to Become a Dumping Ground for the Nation’s Radioactive Waste

A new poll shows 70% of Texans oppose importing radioactive waste to Texas for storage in Andrews County. Yet a crucial vote on a new rule by non-elected members of a commission could make Texas into the radioactive waste dump for the nation, and perhaps the world.

Originally only Texas and two other states could send radioactive waste to West Texas. Now a rule proposed by the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission would let Waste Control Specialists (WCS) dump radioactive waste from 36 or more states, and potentially from around the world, in Andrews County. This is not what anyone bargained for – even the legislators who approved the original Compact Agreement.

With a possible vote looming on the horizon (tentatively scheduled for May 11th), yesterday the Texas League of Women Voters, Public Citizen, the Lonestar Chapter of Sierra Club, and the SEED Coalition sponsored a webinar to provide expert information on radioactive waste importation for city, county and state leaders. In addition to featuring experts on radioactive waste disposal the webinar panel included Representatives Lon Burnham (D-Ft Worth) and Robert Talton (R- Pasadena).

Coincidentally, this morning we learned the Commission has canceled their May 11th meeting stating publically that they are unable to deal with the over 2,400 comments they received on the rule in time for the meeting.

The Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission was created in early 2009, with two commissioners appointed by Vermont and six appointed by Perry. Perry has seen $620,000 plowed into his coffers by Harold Simmons, a Dallas billionaire whose company Valhi, Inc. owns Waste Control Specialists, LLC. That kind of money could mean there would be pressure on the six Perry appointed commissioners to vote for the rule. (Read Texans for Public Justice’s Lobby Watch for more information about WCS and political contributions.)

This is not unlike the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s (TCEQ) Commissioners’ vote to approve a permit for WCS to accept and bury poisonous sludge despite even TCEQ’s own scientists expressing serious concerns that the site is too close to water aquifers and that waste stored at the site could potentially leak into groundwater. After TCEQ executive director Glenn Shankle supported the issuance of the permit over staff recommendations, three TCEQ employees left the agency due to frustration with the licensing process. Three years later Shankle left the agency and signed on to lobby for WCS.

The experts on the webinar panel expressed concerns that the proposed rule had no volume limits on radioactive waste or on radioactivity levels of imported materials. They also outlined other problems that exist for this waste dump.

  • The Commission is not prepared to oversee radioactive waste import at this level. They still have no bylaws. They have no staff and very little funding. In fact, they can barely afford to travel to meetings. They cannot afford the research they should be seeking in order to protect public health and safety and ensure monitoring.
  • Public health and safety concerns are not addressed. All six existing radioactive waste dumps have leaked, and there is no technological fix that would prevent leaking in Texas.
  • There are no route restrictions for low-level radioactive waste and no requirement to let landowners along a route know that radioactive waste is traveling by your home or business.
  • No emergency response plans have been considered. Some communities have only a volunteer fire department. It appears they don’t have the protective equipment and the right training to handle an accident involving radioactive materials.
  • The proposed rule ignores Texas’ financial liability and environmental risks. Texas has liability from the moment that radioactive waste comes into our state.
  • USGS maps show the region to be seismically active. Groundwater would be as little as 14 feet below the bottom of the trenches, which is way too close. Nine TCEQ staff members unanimously recommended denial of the license, and three employees quit in protest of licensing the WCS site. If underground aquifers become contaminated such as the Ogallala Aquifer (which underlies eight states, below the wheat and soy-growing heart of our nation) it is likely that the State of Texas would be liable.

Only privately held WCS will get richer by dumping radioactive waste on West Texas. The rest of us could end up paying to clean radioactive contamination.