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HB 2184 – moving forward, but now more questions

HB 2184 was voted out of the Texas House State Affairs Committee earlier today.  HB 2184 is a piece of  legislation that impacts how much, from where and how safely radioactive waste will be transported and stored at a West Texas site, and who will pay for it if something goes wrong.

While this bill has been moving rapidly through the Texas legislature, today when being reconsidered in State Affairs, a number of members offered amendments, none of which were agreeable to the bill’s author, Representative Tryon Lewis (R-Odessa) and none of which were amended to the bill that passed out of the committee.  Nevertheless, the issues raised by the proposed amendments got the attention of several members of the committee.

Transportation

An amendment was offered that would assure we have money set aside to handle a hazardous transportation accident.

Currently, there are no designated routes for this waste in Texas, but we believe these wastes be transported down our major interstate highways-

  • Like I 20-30 through the DFW  areas
  • or on I-27
  • Or on I-10

There have been numerous accidents involving vehicles carrying radioactive wastes

  • DOE documents show that between 1971 and 1994 there were 306 accidents involving 3,649 containers of “low-level” radioactive waste.
  • Of these, 236 containers were damaged and 149 resulted in an unspecified amount of radiation being released into the environment

But, there have there been no risk assessments that weigh the cost of damage and cleanup of an area along the interstate should an accident occur in Texas (whether a truck rolls over or is involved in a collision with another vehicle)?

The state also need to consider the safety of the waste casks/containers.

  • Nuclear Regulatory Agency study shows that there are three  types of packages: Type A (Cardbox, wooden crate, or a metal drum), and type B (a metal drum or massive shielded transport container). Study shows:
  • 10% of type A that was involved in accidents failed and 90% of them released their contents;
  • 1% of type B failed in accidents, 39% of them released their contents.
  • We have found no studies specifically to address the consequences of leakage or accident involving the transportation of Class C, which is the hottest in radiation

There was an incident in Texas where shipments to the dump have disappeared

  • On August 24th 2001, it was revealed that a 22-ton shipment of waste from a Illinois gaseous diffusion plant had headed for Andrews, and was lost for nearly a month when found dumped on a North Texas cattle ranch near Oklahoma piled on plastic and covered with dirt.

There is a state fund that is allocated specifically for accident cleanup in Texas

  • The shippers are assessed a $10 per cubic foot fee that goes into a state fund which is capped at $500,000.
    • this fee will be suspended when the amount of fees collected reaches $500,000,
    • We do not believe that is adequate with the vast number of trucks that would be bringing waste though Texas from additional states.

And we don’t know if our current emergency teams are equipped and ready to handle such a task, especially in rural Texas where we rely on volunteers.

This amendment would require a study of the risks of transportation of the low-level radioactive waste in Texas.

Financial Risks and Assurances

An amendment was offered that would prohibit the importation of radioactive waste from non-compact states until a study is done that analyzes the level and quality of financial assurance set aside against unplanned events and compares it to potential liabilities the state incurs by taking and disposing of radioactive waste at the site.

  • Financial assurance provided by the private operator of the site for unplanned events: ~ $75 – $100 million*
  • Nature of the financial assurance is currently undetermined, but is anticipated to be bonds and/or stocks from WCS’s parent company Valhi, Inc.
  • Cost to clean up small contaminated aquifer in South Texas: $384 million
  • Cost to clean up leak at the West Valley site in New York: $5 billion
    • To date neither of those sites has been cleaned up

*The operator must pay $25 million up front and an amount each year based on the estimated liability associated with waste received, not to be less than $3.35 million

This amendment would help ensure Texas taxpayers don’t end up picking up a huge tab should something go wrong.

Site Capacity

Finally, an amendment was offered that would limit annual imports to 3% of the site capacity by both curies (radiation levels) and volume and mandates that the TCEQ study both waste minimization techniques and other low-level waste decommissioning and disposal methods that would limit the amount of waste that actually occupies the site.

Why should we limit imports in this way?

  • With no cap on curies and volume, the unreserved portion of the site could be filled with imported waste before the study mandated by the committee substitute for HB 2184 has been completed
  • The substituted bill only allowed for 1.2 million curies of imported waste at the site
  • In 2007, the site in Barnwell, SC received nearly 1.1 million curies
  • What would we do if the study demonstrated that the site does not have excess capacity but the license holder had already imported 1.2 million curies of waste?

Where does the 3% come from?

  • Currently, 70% of the site capacity would be reserved for party state generators, leaving 30% for imports
  • The bill ensures that the 30% reserved for imports is not filled immediately, requiring a minimum of 10 years to fill that capacity with imported waste

While none of the amendments were added to the bill that came out of the committee, there is still opportunity to make sure that a final version of this bill is more protective of the health, well-being and pocketbooks of regular Texans.