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Archive for the ‘Radioactive Waste’ Category

Rad Waste Transportation RoutesA high-level consolidated radioactive waste storage site has been proposed for Andrews County, Texas, by Waste Control Specialists (WCS). The company expects to submit a license application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and to have licensing and construction completed by the end of 2020.

“This plan is all risk, not only for the states of Texas and New Mexico, but for the whole country and it should be halted immediately,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office. “Why is our region being targeted to become the nation’s dumping ground for high-risk high-level radioactive waste? Putting this waste on our highways and railways invites disaster. Radioactive waste moving through highly populated cities across the country could be targeted for sabotage by terrorists.” A state report, the Assessment of Texas’ High-Level Radioactive Waste Storage Options, says that “spent nuclear fuel is more vulnerable to sabotage or accidents during transport than in storage because there are fewer security guards and engineered barriers, and that the consequences could be higher since the waste could travel through large cities.“

“Counties along the potential transport routes for high-level radioactive waste should have a voice in whether there is consent for this plan,” said Dallas County Commissioner Dr. Theresa Daniel. “While a single county in West Texas might gain financially from bringing in the nation’s high-level radioactive waste, other counties would have increased risks of accidents and terrorist activity.  Counties need to assess their financial liability and the costs they could incur for expanded emergency preparedness. “

Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert echoed Dr. Daniel’s concern. “Shipping this waste though our county is “ all risk and no reward”.   Our county and others along the way would have increased risks of accidents and given the concentration of military facilities in San Antonio we are potentially at higher risk of terrorist activity. Counties along the potential transport routes for high-level radioactive waste should be able to either consent to or deny the plan that would lead to waste being shipped though their communities.“

“Exposure to radioactivity can lead to cancers and genetic damage. Accidents could be deadly,” said SEED Coalition Director Karen Hadden. “An unshielded person exposed up close to high-level radioactive waste would die within a week according to the Department of Energy (DOE). There’s no need to risk health and safety across the country just to store radioactive waste in a different place, especially since no permanent repository has been developed. The least risky path is keeping the radioactive waste where it is.”

“We do not consent to the plan to dump dangerous radioactive waste on us,” said Rose Gardner of Eunice, New Mexico, a town of nearly 3000 people that is 40% Hispanic. It lies five miles west of the WCS site. “Andrews County officials say that we want this waste, but no one has ever asked me if I consent. I would definitely say no, and many others here feel the same way. We never got to vote on this issue. The Department of Energy (DOE) is saying that our community consents to having radioactive waste dumped in our backyard, but this isn’t true. The DOE scheduled eight hearings around the country, but not a single one for New Mexico or Texas, the targeted region. Clearly they don’t want to hear our voices.”

“If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approves WCS’ application it could unleash the world’s largest and most dangerous campaign of nuclear transport on our roads, rails and waterways,” said Diane D’Arrigo, Radioactive Waste Project Director at Nuclear Information and Resource Service (NIRS).

We call this plan “Fukushima Freeways,” after the triple nuclear reactor meltdowns that started five years ago in Japan and continue to hemorrhage radioactive water into the oceans, fish and our food webs.”

Transporting radioactive waste for the purpose of consolidated storage isn’t necessary since the waste can remain secured in dry casks at the site where it was generated, or close nearby and most reactor sites are already licensed to do this.

The DOE previously analyzed accident risks for shipping high-level waste to Yucca Mountain and predicted at least one accident for every 10,000 train shipments. With 10,700 shipments, at least one train accident was anticipated.  Consolidated storage would involve thousands of radioactive waste shipments that would occur over 20 or more years across much of the United States. If transport is mainly by truck, 53,000 shipments with 53 accidents were expected.  They found that a radiation release could render 42 square miles uninhabitable and cost 9.5 billion dollars to raze and rebuild a downtown area.

“If this mass movement of radioactive waste begins, there will be accidents and some of those accidents could release enormous amounts of radioactivity,” said D’Arrigo. “This waste is the hottest, longest-lasting, most intensely radioactive, cancer-causing part of the whole nuclear power fuel chain. It is dangerous now and will still be dangerous in thousands to millions of years. The nuclear industry and government want to pretend there is an answer to the radioactive waste problem and move the waste around, at our peril.”

WCS’ application for consolidated “interim” storage is likely to be for 40 years. The site could easily become a de facto permanent disposal site, without the necessary research and rigorous standards needed to keep radioactive waste isolated for thousands of years.

Former State Representative from Fort Worth Lon Burnam is concerned about water contamination. “The WCS site is supposed to be dry, but their own monitoring well data frequently shows that water is present. The site is very close to the Ogallala (High Plains) Aquifer that provides drinking and irrigation water for eight states in the middle of the U.S. What if the nation’s largest aquifer became contaminated by radioactivity?”

Sources:

Note: The maps above show likely routes developed based on routes previously designated for shipments to Yucca Mountain.  Please note that AFCI’s project for Loving County is no longer under consideration, although the company may still be looking for a site in Culberson County.

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Location of the Waste Control Specialists in Andrews Tx for Radioactive Waste Blog post

At Waste Control Specialists radioactive waste disposal pit in Andrews, Tex., space inside goes for $10,000 a cubic foot in some cases. As aging nuclear reactors retire, their most radioactive steel, concrete and other components must be shipped somewhere for burial. Photo by Michael Stravato, The New York Times

Texas is under radioactive waste assault. There is already an existing “low-level” radioactive waste dump owned by Waste Control Specialists (WCS) in Andrews County. Weapons waste from Fernald, Ohio is already buried in one of the three pits there. The facility is now taking nuclear reactor waste from around the country and is accepting Department of Energy waste, including nuclear weapons waste. And there is an adjacent hazardous waste pit, which can accept some 2000 chemicals, many of the toxic or corrosive. WCS expects to make some $15 billion off the site, although Texans bear the risks of contamination and financial liability.

All of this is at a site for which Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) staff originally recommended denial of the license due to concerns about water contamination. There are 2 water bodies are present at the site, the the most significant of which is the southern tip of the massive Ogallala Aquifer.  Although some maps have been drawn to show that the aquifer doesn’t extend as far as the WCS disposal site, water has been present in up to 40% of the monitoring wells on the site, indicating that a hydrological connection could exists.  The site is supposed to be dry for safety reasons, but that hasn’t stopped the TCEQ from granting permits or WCS from burying radioactive waste there.

Now two new threats have emerged, including storage of very hot transuranic waste – which includes plutonium, neptunium, and americium from the failed national repository known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) site.

Carlsbad Nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Carlsbad, NM Nuclear Waste Isolation Pilot Plant

Texas is getting the transuranic waste unexpectedly. The Waste Isolation Pilot Project (WIPP) site in Carlsbad, New Mexico, is a disposal site for transuranic waste that is buried half a mile underground. The site had a fire on February 5th and a major radiation leak 9 days later. At least 21 workers were exposed to radiation. The New Mexico facility has been closed since the accident and the WCS radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, Texas is now taking this same highly radioactive waste and storing it above ground in steel sided buildings, raising concerns about what would happen if there were tornadoes, floods or wildfires.

In addition, now Governor Perry is actively campaigning to bring spent nuclear fuel to Texas for storage. This the hottest, most dangerous of radioactive waste, the kind that was to be sent to the failed Yucca Mountain site in Nevada.

It is so dangerous that  shielding is required to protect humans from a lethal dose as a result of exposure to spent nuclear fuel. Even 10 years after this waste is removed from a spent fuel pool, the radiation field at one meter away is 20,000 rem/hour. It only takes a quarter of that amount to incapacitate a person immediately and cause the person’s death within one week.

The spent fuel is currently cooled and then kept in dry casks at the sites where it was generated. Storing the waste at the power plant sites raises the risks for people living in those areas, but transporting the waste to a central location increases risks for those living along transportation routes and those near the disposal site. There is simply no safe way to deal with the amount of radioactive waste we are producing in the long term.

The Texas House Environmental Regulation Committee will soon address an interim charge on how to bring this high-level waste to Texas and how much economic benefit there could be. Discussion of the risks isn’t on the agenda. It seems that the committee may be blinded by potential profit for their campaign donors.

Stay tuned and learn more at www.NukeFreeTexas.org (more…)

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Less than two weeks ago, we reported on a fire at the New Mexico Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in our blog about a Texas interim charge to “study the rules, laws, and regulations pertaining to the disposal of high-level radioactive waste in Texas and determine the potential economic impact of permitting a facility in Texas. Make specific recommendations on the state and federal actions necessary to permit a high-level radioactive waste disposal or interim storage facility in Texas“. 

WIPP is an underground low-level radioactive waste disposal site that began operations in 1999 and is the nation’s first repository for the permanent disposal of defense-generated transuranic radioactive waste left from research and production of nuclear weapons.  On February 5th, WIPP entered emergency status, after a vehicle used to transport salt in the north area of the underground (not an area where radioactive waste was stored) caught fire. Several employees were taken to the hospital with smoke inhalation and WIPP’s underground operations have been suspended since the incident.

This weekend, airborne radiation was detected around 11:30 p.m. on Friday near Panel 7, Room 7, in the south salt mine., according to officials with the Department of Energy. No injuries were reported and no personnel were underground when the facility’s continuous air monitors, or CAMs, detected radiation downstream of where nuclear waste is disposed.  The Department of Energy has told the public that:

  • this incident is the first time in WIPP’s 15-year history that the facility has had a CAM alarm detect this level of radiation underground,
  • they have not detected any above normal radiation levels above ground, and
  • that the radiation leak is not related to last week’s fire.

I hardly feel reassured that there have been two, not insignificant (related or not) incidents at a 15-year-old facility that was designed to contain the waste for 10,000 years.  And I am truly concerned that Texas thinks it can manage a high-level radioactive waste site in West Texas that will need to be designed to contain waste for 100’s of thousands of years.

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Between legislative sessions, the Texas Lieutenant Governor and Speaker of the House of Representatives appoint Interim Committees to study important issues that help guide the Texas Legislature’s decisions in the future. These interim committees hold hearings and take public testimony. Their findings will affect actions taken during the next regular session.  Public Citizen will be closely following several interim charges during the coming year.  After each charge, we have included a brief explanation about why we consider these important charges about which you should be concerned.  The interim charges include, but are not limited to:

House Committee on Environmental Regulation Interim Charges
# 1.  Study the environmental permitting processes at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), specifically the contested case hearing process at the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) and the timelines associated with the process. Study the economic impact that the state’s permitting processes have on Texas manufacturing sectors and how neighboring states’ and the federal permitting processes and timelines compare to those in Texas.
(Why are contested case hearings important for Texas citizens?  This is the only opportunity that neighbors of proposed facilities have to contest an air or water quality permit before a license is approved.  Once approved, any contentions must go through the Texas court system, which can cost a citizen or group of citizens thousands of dollars to litigate and the likelihood of getting a license revoked is extremely minimal.  You will note that the only concerns voice about this process has to do with economic impact and the impact on industry – NOT on how it would impact you and your family if you ended up with a facility next door that had to be permitted because it impacts on air and water quality.) 
# 2.  Study the rules, laws, and regulations pertaining to the disposal of high-level radioactive waste in Texas and determine the potential economic impact of permitting a facility in Texas. Make specific recommendations on the state and federal actions necessary to permit a high-level radioactive waste disposal or interim storage facility in Texas
(Can you say Yucca Mountain?  Yucca Mountain, a ridge of volcanic rock about 100 miles northwest of Las Vegas, has been the leading candidate site for a high-level radioactive repository since the 1980s, but Nevada has fought the project bitterly in court and in Congress. The spent fuel that emerges from nuclear power plants has been accumulating for decades in steel-lined pools or giant steel-and-concrete casks near the reactors.  A final decision to abandon the repository would leave the nation with no solution to a problem it has struggled with for half a century, but some in Texas seem determined to take on the task of making west Texas the new home for this nuclear waste.  While you may not be concerned about all that radioactivity sitting on land near Big Spring, TX, halfway between Midland and Sweetwater, you may want to consider the impact of all that waste being transported across the state on our highways, possibly through your neighborhood.  We will be following this charge and will post when we know about hearings.)

Consider this story that broke as I was writing this post. The Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), an underground radioactive waste disposal site that began operations in 1999 and is the nation’s first repository for the permanent disposal of defense-generated transuranic radioactive waste left from research and production of nuclear weapons, was evacuated this morning when an underground salt truck used to haul mining debris caught fire.  Two WIPP rescue teams were activated and an unconfirmed number of WIPP employees were transported to a hospital for potential smoke inhalation. Operations at WIPP have been suspended until further notice.  According to WIPP, none of the nuclear waste was disrupted during the incident, but emergency crews were still battling the fire at this writing.

House Committee on State Affairs Interim Charge

# 3. Study the different financial assurance options used by state agencies to ensure compliance with environmental clean-up or remediation costs. Determine whether the methods utilized by state agencies are appropriate to ensure sufficient funds will be available when called upon.
(An example of how this can affect you – Currently, mines associated with a coal-fired plant can disposed of toxic coal ash waste from the burning of that coal in the depleted mines – click here to read more about coal ash waste .  Federal law requires those facility to post a bond for cleanup and remediation of the land where coal ash waste is disposed of.  In Texas, we allow a financially solvent company to pledge existing assets against future reclamation claims related to mine operations and seem to have no recourse to require changes if the company no longer meets financial health benchmarks. This is a practice that leaves Texas tax payers at risk of having to bail failing companies out from this obligation if those companies are unable to meet it.)

Click here to see all the Texas House Interim Charges.  We will keep you updated as hearings for these charges are announced.  Your input can have significant impact on what our legislature does regarding these issues.

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UPDATE:  Last night’s film screening and panel discussion was well attended with between 200 and 250 filling the auditorium.  Technical difficulties meant the last 10 minutes of the film, “Pandora’s Promise”, could not be seen, but the panel discussion was balanced, informative and lively yet respectful (more than can be said of SXSW Eco’s panel and screening of this same film).  Our thanks to the Texas Advanced Computing Center and the UT Energy Institute for providing this opportunity to discuss issues around nuclear power.

Pandora’s Promise” film screening / panel discussion tonight, but before coming you might want to read this peer reviewed response to the myths and propaganda in Pandora’s Promise produced by Beyond Nuclear –

Reception: 5:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.

Screening / panel discussion and Q&A: 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

The Energy Institute will host a screening of “Pandora’s Promise,” a controversial new film that is a high-dollar pro-nuclear propaganda piece. The Breakthrough Institute has been promoting the film, and Ted Norhaus and Michael Shellenberger are involved – authors of Death of Environmentalism.

The screening, which is free and open to the public, will be held at the AT&T Center on the UT Austin campus Tuesday evening, February 4, 2014.  The event is part of the Austin Forum, a monthly speaker series organized by UT Austin’s Texas Advanced Computing Center.

The screening will be preceded by a networking reception and followed by a Q&A session and panel discussion moderated by Energy Institute Assistant Director Dr. Fred Beach. Former Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chair Dr. Dale Klein, an associate director at the Energy Institute, and Karen Hadden, executive director of the SEED Coalition, will participate in the discussion and answer questions from the audience.

Lessons should be learned following the disaster in Fukushima.  This multiple reactor meltdown in a technologically advanced nation continues to poison our planet.

Austin still has 16% of South Texas Project (STP) 1 & 2 Nuclear Reactors, which are currently being considered for relicensing, which would give them another 20 years past their retirement dates of 2027 and 2028!  These existing units were shut down for 8.5 months over the last several years, costing Austin $27 million in replacement power costs. (We get 200 MW from each reactor.) Repair costs of about $98 million will mostly be covered by insurance.

The latest?  On January 18, 2014 there was a fire in the control room of STP Reactor 1, causing an emergency to be declared.

There are increased risks as reactors age due to metal fatigue and pipes being worn down. When you consider the risks and expense of disposing of radioactive waste, the lack of a solution for high level waste (fuel rods) and the immense amount of water nuclear reactors use – it’s hard to see how anyone can still support this outdated and dangerous technology.

We encourage you to attend and add your voice to those who are concerned about the push to increase nuclear power in the United States.

And keep in mind the film’s name hardly evokes a tale with a happy ending.  In the Hesiodic myth of Pandora, who is also known as “she who sends up gifts”, Pandora is not a bearer of bountiful gifts.  Rather, Pandora opened a jar, known today as “Pandora’s box”, releasing all the evils of humanity—leaving only Hope inside once she had closed it again.

 

 

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Texas Capitol - north viewWith the regular session behind us and energy and environmental issues not likely to find a place in the special session, it’s a good time to look at what we accomplished.

Our wins came in two forms – bills that passed that will actually improve policy in Texas and bills that didn’t pass that would have taken policy in the wrong direction.

We made progress by helping to get bills passed that:

  • Expand funding for the Texas Emissions Reduction Plan (TERP) by about 40%;
  • Create a program within TERP to replace old diesel tractor trailer trucks used in and around ports and rail yards (these are some of the most polluting vehicles on the road);
  • Establish new incentives within TERP for purchasing plug-in electric cars; and
  • Assign authority to the Railroad Commission (RRC) to regulate small oil and gas lines (these lines, known as gathering lines, are prone to leaks); and
  • Allows commercial and industrial building owners to obtain low-cost, long-term private sector financing for water conservation and energy-efficiency improvements, including on-site renewable energy, such as solar.

We successfully helped to stop or improve bad legislation that would have:

  • Eliminated hearings on permits for new pollution sources (the contested case hearing process is crucial to limiting pollution increases);
  • Eliminated additional inspections for facilities with repeated pollution violations;
  • Weakened protections against utilities that violate market rules and safety guidelines;
  • Eliminated property tax breaks for wind farms, while continuing the policy for other industries;
  • Granted home owners associations (HOAs) authority to unreasonably restrict homeowners ability to install solar panels on their roofs; and
  • Permitted Austin City Council to turn control of Austin Energy over to an unelected board without a vote by the citizens of Austin.

We did lose ground on the issue of radioactive waste disposal.  Despite our considerable efforts, a bill passed that will allow more highly radioactive waste to be disposed of in the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) facility in west Texas.  Campaign contributions certainly played an important roll in getting the bill passed.

We were also disappointed by Governor Perry’s veto of the Ethics Commission sunset bill, which included several improvements, including a requirement that railroad commissioners resign before running for another office, as they are prone to do.  Read Carol’s post about this bill and the issue.

With the legislation over and Perry’s veto pen out of ink, we now shift our attention to organizing and advocating for a transition from polluting energy sources that send money out of our state to clean energy sources that can grow our economy.

We’re working to:

  • Promote solar energy at electric cooperatives and municipal electric utilities;
  • Speed up the retirement of old, inefficient, polluting coal-fired power plants in east Texas;
  • Protect our climate and our port communities throughout the Gulf states from health hazards from new and expanded coal export facilities;
  • Fight permitting of the Keystone XL and other tar sands pipelines in Texas;
  • Ensure full implementation of improvements made to TERP; and
  • Develop an environmental platform for the 2014 election cycle.

Our power comes from people like you getting involved – even in small ways, like writing an email or making a call.  If you want to help us work for a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable future, email me at [email protected]  And one of the best things you can do is to get your friends involved too.

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Update:  The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said an alert at the Oyster Creek plant in Forked River, N.J., ended early Wednesday, October 31.

According to an NRC press release, three reactors (Nine Mile Point 1 in Scriba, N.Y., Indian Point 3 in Buchanan, N.Y.; and Salem Unit 1 in Hancocks Bridge, N.J.) experienced shutdowns as Hurricane Sandy pounded the East Coast.  Another plant, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, remains in an “Alert” due to high water levels in its water intake structure.

NRC says, “Nine Mile Point 1 underwent an automatic shutdown at about 9 p.m. Monday when an electrical fault occurred on power lines used to send power to the grid. It is likely a storm-related event, but the plant’s operators are still evaluating the cause. All plant safety systems responded as designed and the shutdown was safely carried out. Meanwhile, Nine Mile Point 2 experienced a loss of one of two incoming off-site power lines as a result of the fault. One of the plant’s emergency diesel generators started in response to generate power usually provided by the line. Nine Mile Point 2 remained at full power.”

NRC continued, “Indian Point 3 automatically shut down at about 10:40 p.m. Monday in response to electrical grid disturbances caused by the storm. . . the unit was placed in a safe shutdown condition.” And, “Salem Unit 1 was manually shut down by plant operators at about 1:10 a.m. Tuesday as a result of circulating-water pumps being affected by high river level and debris in the waterway.”

Finally, but perhaps of most concern, Oyster Creek had an declared an “Alert” at approximately 8:45 p.m. on October 29th  preceded by an “Unusual Event” at about 7 p.m. when the water level first reached a minimum high water level criteria. The water level rose due to a combination of a rising tide, wind direction and storm surge. While the water level has dropped since peaking earlier today, the Alert remains in place until the level is below the specific criteria for the intake structure, which is where water from an intake canal is pumped into the plant for cooling purposes.

The alert came after water levels at the plant rose more than 6.5 feet above normal, potentially affecting the “water intake structure” that pumps cooling water through the plant.

Those pumps are not essential to keep the reactor cool since the plant has been shut for planned refueling since October 22. Exelon however was concerned that if the water rose over 7 feet it could submerge the service water pump motor that is used to cool the water in the spent fuel pool, potentially forcing it to use emergency water supplies from the in-house fire suppression system to keep the rods from overheating.

Exelon also moved a portable pump to the intake structure as a precaution in case it was needed to pump cooling water.  The water levels reached a peak of 7.4 feet — apparently above the threshold — but the pump motors did not flood.  As of 11 a.m. EDT Tuesday the water level was down to 5.8 feet, but they will need the water level to stay below 6 feet for a while before the alert status is taken off.  When the water level falls below 4.5 feet, the plant could then be taken off the unusual event status.

Fortunately for everyone, Oyster Creek, the oldest nuclear plant in the nation, was shut down for a refueling and maintenance outage prior to the storm and the reactor remains out of service.

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The agency responsible for approving the construction of nuclear reactors may no longer be able to rely on its old “build reactors now and worry about radioactive waste later” approach.

Learn more about new challenges to nuclear waste policy.

For decades, nuclear reactors have been built under two assumptions:

  • One day there would be a place to permanently store the lethal waste generated from nuclear power.
  • While the final burial place was being determined, the nuclear waste could be safely stored on-site.

But when it comes to waste that remains dangerous for hundreds of thousands of years, assumptions can be a reckless gamble.

A federal court agrees.

In June, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington ruled that these assumptions are no longer good enough, prompting the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to address the shortcomings of the two rules which translate these assumptions into policy — the waste confidence decision and the storage rule.

In response, 24 groups, including Public Citizen, challenging both new reactor licenses and license renewals for existing reactors filed a petition urging the NRC to respond to the court ruling by freezing final licensing decisions.

On July 8, the NRC voted to suspend a final decision on all new reactor licenses. No doubt this is a short-term win for us.

But the intermediate and long-term implications for nuclear energy and the policies that govern radioactive waste are still unclear.

As these implications unfold, we will continue to keep you updated and when possible provide opportunities to take action toward improving the safety of our country’s mounting stockpile of nuclear waste.

To get more information on the court’s decision, check out the blog post by Allison Fisher of Public Citizen’s Climate and Energy Program, Will nuclear power continue to hobble along despite its radioactive Achilles’ heel?

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Late yesterday, in a stunning rebuke of TCEQ’s decision to deny citizens the right to show how dangerous radioactive disposal would be in West Texas, State District Court Judge Lora Livingston ordered TCEQ to reverse their decision denying the Sierra Club the right to a contested case hearing over the license granted to Waste Control Specialists to operate a radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, just east of the New Mexico border. In her order, Judge Livingston remanded the case back to the TCEQ for a contested case hearing on whether this radioactive waste can be safely disposed of in West Texas.

The Sierra Club’s won a battle in its long fight against a radioactive waste dump in West Texas when the Travis CountyJudge reversed a decision made by the TCEQ three years ago that denied Sierra Club its right to a contested case hearing on the license given to Waste Control Specialists (WCS) for the dump. Sierra Club subsequently filed a lawsuit in District Court to win that hearing, but the court date had been delayed for years.  Yesterday was the first opportunity for opponents to argue before an impartial judge about the TCEQ’s conscious decision to ignore key information about potential problems with the site. The Judge agreed that TCEQ should have granted the Sierra Club the right to oppose the license for the waste dump in a contested case hearing before state administrative law judges and now the TCEQ license has been remanded to the agency to grant the contested case hearing.

Low level radioactive waste is so dangerous that it has to be disposed of in specially designed remote and isolated sites to prevent contamination of water and air.  When Waste Control Specialists applied for a license, the staff at TCEQ reviewed the application and recommended its rejection because of their concerns about the possibility of water intrusion and contamination.  The TCEQ’s executive director overruled the recommendation of the staff and recommended issuing the license.

In light of the staff’s concerns, the Sierra Club requested a hearing on the application. That request was denied and the license was issued by two of the three TCEQ commissioners appointed by Governor Perry. Six months later TCEQ’s executive director went to work for WCS.

New information has recently come to light about the WCS site  pertaining to the potential for water to come into contact with radioactive materials. According to data provided by TCEQ., water has been detected in monitoring wells at the facility for the last several months. An expert report authored by geologist George Rice and entitled, Occurrence of Groundwater at the Compact Waste Facility Waste Control Specialists Facility Andrews County, Texas, points out that infiltration of rainwater and movement of groundwater was already occurring within the buffer zone of the “Compact Waste Site” as recently as this March.

Just last week, the TCEQ granted WCS the right to receive radioactive waste at the site and begin operations despite the Sierra Club’s appeal to State District Court.

Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter of Sierra Club said, “This ruling confirms what we have been saying all along. The Sierra Club and its members in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico deserve the opportunity to show that radioactive waste dumped at the WCS site could impact people in the area through airborne radioactive particles and potential groundwater contamination. TCEQ should immediately stop operations at the WCS site and follow the judge’s order and grant the Sierra Club’s request for an expeditious but fair contested case hearing on the license for the dump site.”

Rose Gardner lives within four miles of the WCS radioactive waste facility and was represented in this case by Sierra Club. “I’m very glad about the judge’s decision, since we’ll now have a hearing where we can fully examine radioactive risks to our land and water. We now have more livestock than ever before and having the WCS radioactive waste dump nearby threatens our health and safety. TCEQ blocked this hearing before and needs to be more open with information and opportunities for citizens to participate,” said Gardner.

“This case is of national significance because the dump’s biggest investor is Harold Simmons, one of the largest contributors to Republican political campaigns and attack ads. He helped to fund the “Swift  Boat Veterans for Truth”  and  the “Obama is a Muslim”  attack ads. The Wall Street Journal has reported that Simmons has spent $18 million so far this election cycle and plans to spend a total of $36 million before the end of this cycle. Why would he spend that kind of money?  The amount and types of waste could be vastly expanded by a Republican President or Congress thus increasing the amount of money Simmons can make off of the dump and  increasing the funds he has available to donate to future political campaigns. And if anyone doubts that his political spending will pay off in favorable treatment, all they have to do is look at how successful he’s been in Texas”  said Tom “Smitty”  Smith of Public Citizen’s Texas Office.

“This is a big victory for the citizens of Texas and New Mexico. The TCEQ knew this case was likely to be decided this week, but rushed to sign off on the dump site late last month, allowing radioactive waste to start coming into Texas, showing just how much political pressure Harold Simmons, the chief financial investor of WCS, can exert on Texas politics and agencies. The first shipments of radioactive waste arrived just 10 days ago.  We call on TCEQ to act responsibly and reverse their decision granting that permit,” said Karen Hadden of  the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition.

The SEED Coalition and Public Citizen have been actively involved in opposing the recently adopted rule to open up the WCS facility to accepting waste from the rest of the nation and continue to monitor the transparency and accountability around this rule change.

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Harold Simmons built a West Texas dump for radioactive waste that is bigger than 1,000 football fields, paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and got a permit for it in Texas, and is now working to fill it.

To turn it into a profitable enterprise, the Texas billionaire has now hired lobbyists to urge the Obama administration to expand the types of nuclear waste, including depleted uranium, the dump can accept and award his company disposal contracts.

Click here to read the Bloomberg story on the influence of money on this regulatory issue.

Click here  and here and here and here, to read earlier blog posts about Harold Simmons, his Texas political contributions and the WCS radioactive waste dump.

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Trucks carrying low-level radioactive waste from 38 states could start rolling down Texas highways bound forburial at a dump in Andrews County on the Texas / New Mexico border as early as April,.

The state’s commission (Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission) overseeing disposal of low-level waste in Texas may approve the final rule changes needed this Friday, March 23rd. State lawmakers cleared the way with a new law passed late in the 82nd legislative session and state regulators still need to sign off on the burial site’s construction, but it seems inevitable that Texas is going to become the nation’s radioactive dumping ground.

The Compact Commisson meeting is scheduled to begin at 9am on Friday, March 23rd in the Texas Capitol Extension at  1400 North Congress, Austin, Texas in Hearing Rm. E1.024,  We’ve provided the meeting agenda below and encourage any who are interested to attend the hearing.

Agenda

1. Call to Order

2. Roll Call and Determination of Quorum

3. Introduction of

a. Commissioners

b. Elected Officials

c. Press

4. Public Comment (Note: Pursuant to Article IV, Section Two (c) of the Commission¿s Bylaws, the Commission [subject to such time constraints as may be established by the Chair] also will provide an opportunity for members of the public to directly address the Commission on each item on the agenda during the Commission¿s discussion or consideration of the item.

5. Discussion and possible action with regard to the final adoption of amendments to Rule 675.23 (Importation of Waste from a Non-Compact Generator for Disposal) (31 TAC 675.23) with changes from the proposed amendments to the rule as published in the Texas Register on January 20, 2012 (37 Tex. Reg. 184).

A) Receive and discuss the report of the Rules Committee (Mr. Lee [Chair], Mr. Salsman, Mr. Saudek, and Mr. Wilson) with respect to its deliberations after the publication of the proposed amendments to Rule 675.23 (31 TAC 675.23) as published in the Texas Register on January 20, 2012 (37 Tex. Reg.184).

B) Receive and act on the recommendations of the Rules Committee with respect to

(i) the final adoption (with changes) of proposed amendments to Rule 675.23 (31 TAC 675.23) as published in the Texas Register on January 20, 2012 (37 Tex. Reg. 184); and

(ii) the filing and publication of Rule 675.23 (31 TAC 675.23) as finally adopted in the Texas Register.

 6. Discussion and possible action on the following petitions for export: A) South Texas Project B) Vermont Yankee C) Luminant

7. Discussion among Commission members about methods of processing and evaluating applications for Agreements for importation of waste for disposal in accord with Compact Commission Rules and with Texas requirements expressed in Chapter 401 of the Texas Health and Safety Code, including quantities and revenue expectations and including possible action to appoint one or more Committees in connection with the processing of applications for Agreements for importation.

8. Discussion on and possible action on Bionomics Request for Import Agreement.

9. Presentation of Site status report and outlook from Waste Control Specialists Inc.

10. Presentation from Advocates for Responsible Disposal in Texas concerning Compact site use plans and issues.

11. Site status report from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality including discussion of plans for actions on commingling rule change effort and actions on site licensing and disposal site rate case actions.

12. Receive a report from and possibly take action in response on any recommendations from the Committee on the Commingling Rule (Ms. Morris [Chair], Mr. Saudek and Mr.Wilson)

13. Chairman¿s report on Compact Commission activities including reporting on fiscal matters and on status of filling needs for staffing.

14. Discussion and possible action regarding the provisions of existing Compact Commission Rule 675.21(l) (31 TAC 675.21(l)).

15. Determination of date and location of next meeting.

16 Adjourn.

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Among the recommendations for managing the current stockpile of spent nuclear fuel — approximately 65,000 tons of waste stored at about 75 operating and shut-down reactor sites around the country — is a plan to move the waste to temporary storage sites.

Public Citizen rejects this plan. In the absence of a permanent and viable solution, we and more than 200 other organizations advocate safeguarding the waste where it is generated.

Tell your representative in Congress to reject efforts to move radioactive waste to temporary dump sites.

The temporary dump plan is flawed for several reasons:

  • It would put tons of lethal radioactive waste on our highways, rails and waterways. An accident in transit could put whole communities at risk.
  • It would condemn a few targeted communities to being radioactive waste dumps for the whole country. Past attempts to place temporary dumps targeted Indian reservations and poor communities of color by offering substantial financial incentives.
  • The temporary dumps could become permanent if no suitable geological repository site is found.
  • It does not address an existing critical vulnerability of nuclear waste storage: almost all reactor fuel pools are filled to capacity. Fuel that is cool enough to move is stored in outdoor casks. Both types of storage are vulnerable to accidents, attack and natural disasters, as shown so clearly by the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

To better safeguard this waste, we advocate hardened on-site storage — a plan that calls for emptying the waste storage pools and placing the irradiated rods in high-quality outdoor casks fortified by thick bunkers and berms.

Ideally, we should stop generating nuclear waste, but while it continues to accumulate, we must implement smart safeguards to protect people and the environment from the immediate risks associated with high-level radioactive waste.

Tell your representative to increase nuclear waste safety at reactor sites.

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Waste Control Specialists LLC (WCS) is seeking several amendments to its Radioactive Material License # R04100 from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).  Five of the amendments request design changes to the Compact Waste Disposal Facility (CWF) and the Federal Waste Facility (FWF) for commercial and federal low-level radiactive waste disposal. The other two amendment applications set forth new Waste Acceptance Criteria that includes rates and contract considerations and new pavement design considerations.

Just as important, TCEQ is considering revising language and definition for waste of international origin, acceptance criteria, reporting of inventory and liability coverage as well as the issued TCEQ waste water permit.

TCEQ is accepting public comments and requests for a public meeting.  These can be submitted by mail to:

the Office of the Chief Clerk
MC 105
TCEQ
P. O. Box 13087

or electronically at www.tceq.state.tx.us/about/comments.html by December 17th.

If you need more information about the license application or the licensing process, please call the TCEQ Office of Public Assistance at 1-800-687-4040.

We will post the link to the amendment applications as soon as we are able to find them.  TCEQ recently migrated its database and the links no longer work.  Makes finding materials to base written comments on a bit more complicated.

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Gov. Rick Perry has replaced all six of the Texas commissioners who sit on the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission reappointing only two previously serving commissioner.  The TLLRWDCC commissioner terms were modified by Senate Bill 1605 as part of the 82nd Legislature giving Perry the ability to replace commissioners whose positions he didn’t like with new commissioners.

The appointees were:

  •  Eric J. Doyal of Houston, a senior associate at Capital Point Partners. He is appointed for a term to expire Sept. 1, 2013.
  • Andrews County Judge Richard H. Dolgener, Dolgener was first appointed in 2008 and is appointed for a term to expire Sept. 1, 2015.
  • Milton B. Lee II of San Antonio, a registered professional engineer and retired CEO of CPS Energy who left amid the shakeup following the municipally owned utility’s failure to disclose a dramatic price increase in the estimated cost of two new nuclear reactors to the City Council before a major bond vote.  He is appointed for a term to expire Sept. 1, 2013.
  • Linda Morris of Waco, a licensed medical health physicist and the Department Chair of the  Environmental Health & Safety Technology Department at Texas State Technical College. She is appointed for a term to expire Sept. 1, 2017.
  • John Matthew Salsman of College Station, a certified health physicist and the director of Environmental Health and Safety at Texas A&M University. He is appointed for a term to expire Sept. 1, 2017.
  • Robert Wilson of Lockhart, an attorney and partner at Jackson, Sjoberg, McCarthy and Wilson. He is re-appointed for a term to expire Sept. 1, 2017, and will serve as chair of the commission for a term to expire at the pleasure of the governor.

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According to the Fox news station in Salt Lake City, UT, controversy has arisen about EnergySolutions’ plans to dispose of what they call blended radioactive waste at its Clive Facility in the west desert of Utah.

There are three classifications of waste: A, B and C, all radioactive. Only the lowest level, type A, is allowed in Utah, but Energy Solutions says it’s found a way to blend and store the waste safely by mixing higher-level class C waste with low-level waste and labeling it class A – are you buying this, cause I’m pretty skeptical and it just sounds like fiction to me.  This magic would take place at a facility in Tennessee according to EnergySolutions.

EnergySolutions may have found a legal loophole that would allow them to store higher level radioactive waste at the Clive facility, but ultimately, the Utah Division of Radiation Control will decide whether the blended waste can be disposed in Utah.

In the meantime, William Dornsife, executive vice president of WCS, the Texas company building a radioactive waste disposal facility in Andrews County, Texas is telling Utah to bring it on. He wants the waste to go to Texas, not Utah.

Texas is licensed to take class A, B and C waste without the blending alchemy that EnergySolutions is proposing, and there is a lot of money at stake — potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.  WCS and billionaire Harold Simmons are salivating at the opportunity to spend what they probably see as the political capital with which they walked away from the 82nd Texas legislative session earlier this year to rake in the profits at the expense and liability of the Texas taxpayer.

Face it Texas, we are now the radioactive waste capital of the country.

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