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Help Stop Nuke Waste Loophole; Show Support for HB 3423

Rep. Lon Burnam’s bill, HB 3423, will be heard on Wednesday, April 1st, in the House Committee on Environmental Regulation hearing at 10:30 AM or upon adjournment, in E1.014. If you are able to come, we’re trying to get as many people as possible to register their support of this bill (by filling out a witness affirmation form). That’s right, officially registering your opinion on a bill is as simple as filling out a card.  The bill closes the Compact Loophole, and requires other states who want to send radioactive waste here to get legislative approval first.

The Compact Agreement was originally between Texas, Maine and Vermont.  Maine pulled out of the Compact, and now Texas and Vermont are able to send their radioactive so-called “low-level” waste to be stored at the Andrews County dump in West Texas. A loophole in the Compact Agreement allows any state to send radioactive waste to Texas. We don’t need to be the nation’s nuclear dump!

The license for that dump was recently issued by the TCEQ, and the agency wrongly denied the opportunity for a contested case hearing (read: locals were not allowed to voice their opposition in any formal environment). Three long-term scientists at TCEQ recommended denying the permit — and actually left their jobs for ethical reasons once the permit was approved. The science is NOT solid for the Andrews County radioactive waste dump – and there are concerns that radionuclides could come in contact with underground water. It is possible that contamination could spread to the Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies eight states, including the nation’s wheat growing region.

96% of the radioactive waste slated  for the site would be from nuclear reactors — everything except the fuel rods. Radionuclides in the waste are dangerous today and remain dangerous for thousands of years. A recent Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruling reclassified depleted uranium from reprocessing, putting it into a less hazardous (Class A) category. Now up to 1.4 million tons of depleted uranium could go to the West Texas site and/or Clive, Utah sites.

If you can’t make it in person, calls to the Environmental Regulation committee in support of Burnam’s bill are needed! If you are a constituent, please let them know that.

Rep. Byron Cook (Chair) – 512-463-0646, [email protected]
Rep. Warren Chisum (Vice-Chair) – 512-463-0736, [email protected]
Rep. Lon Burnam – 512-463-0740, (it’s his bill, give him a call to say thanks.)
Rep. Jim Dunnam – 512-463-0508, [email protected]
Rep. Jessica Farrar – 512-463-0620, [email protected]
Rep. Kelly Hancock – 512-463-0599, [email protected]
Rep. Ken Legler – 512-463-0460, [email protected]
Rep Marc Veasey – 512-463-0716, [email protected]
Rep. Randy Weber – 512-463-0707, [email protected]

For further background on the Andrews County dump, check out Forrest Wilder’s article from the last Texas Observer, Waste Texas: Why Andrews County is so eager to get dumped on. Or if you’re more the auditory type, listen to the podcast.

Check out the press release after the jump.

Bill in House Committee Tomorrow could Close Loophole on Radioactive Waste flowing to Texas

Citizens: Don’t turn Texas into nation’s nuclear dumping ground

(Austin) A diverse group of citizens of New Mexico and Texas, together with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, SEED Coalition and Public Citizen prepared today to support legislation that will protect Texas from becoming the nation’s nuclear dumping ground.

House Bill 3423 by Representative Lon Burnam of Fort Worth could close a loophole in Texas law that currently allows various sources across the nation and potentially, the world to send “low level” radioactive waste to a permanent dump site in Texas. The federal ‘Compact’ law ratified in 1998 intended to limit the concentration of radioactive waste anywhere in the nation. Presently, only the State of Vermont is a member of the Texas Compact and only Texas and Vermont low-level radioactive waste is allowed to be disposed of in Texas.

HB 3423 would prevent the importation of radioactive waste from states that did not join the Texas Compact. The bill would require future legislative action for other wastes to come to Texas. It would close the loophole in the law that currently allows the Governor-appointed Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission to ok contracts with any state, entity or party to import radioactive waste.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) recently granted the second of two controversial licenses to Waste Control Specialists (WCS) to accept waste just inside the Texas border from the rural town of Eunice, New Mexico. The company plans to accept what is termed “low-level” radioactive waste from — not just the Compact states of Texas and Vermont — but also from federal sources and states across the nation, as well as byproduct material from uranium mining in Texas and processing in Andrews County.

“Texas is poised to become the national dumping ground for radioactive waste with virtually no input from the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission — an elected body that’s accountable to the public,” said State Representative Lon Burnam. “Whatever Harold Simmons [WCS owner and lobbyist] decides to dump on us, his permit is up in 15 years. After that we — the state of Texas would be stuck with the bill – millions of cubic feet of radioactive waste.”

Under the present license, WCS could import up to 28 million cubic feet and 9.5 million curies into Andrews County, Texas. Sierra Club has appealed the WCS license to state district court because of concerns about the potential for airborne and groundwater contamination and safety.

“Texas law contains a contradiction that has to be fixed. The Compact law states that only waste from the Compact state of Vermont can be imported into Texas. The problem is that the law also allows a governor-appointed committee to contract with any waste dealer,” noted Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We think Texas state lawmakers should have the power to debate and decide whether or not Texas
should become the dumping ground for nuclear waste.”

WCS has already imported truckloads of federal, Department of Energy radioactive waste originally from its Fernald, Ohio facility under a different license.

Now, under an agreement WCS hammered out last year with the Swedish-owned company Studsvik Inc., the company plans to accept class B and C waste that once was bound for the Barnwell site in South Carolina. According to regulatory filings in Texas and Tennessee, Studsvik will treat the waste at its Erwin, Tennessee, facility, reducing its volume, and then ship it to Andrews for “storage” in underground vaults. WCS claims it is authorized to store the waste indefinitely, even though the company’s license with the state environmental commission, with a few exceptions, allows the company to only store radioactive waste for no more than a year. Citizens and environmental groups are concerned that WCS plans to permanently dispose of
this non-compact waste at their facility.

With nuclear plants throughout the U.S. concerned about where to send their radioactive material, and with no solution to high-level waste, the now-licensed Andrews County site would likely become the dumping ground of choice for low-level radioactive waste, depleted uranium and other types of radioactive waste from throughout the nation.

“WCS has been scheming for years to get a radioactive waste dump in place. Then they could open it up to waste from around the country and potentially the world,” noted Karen Hadden, executive director of the SEED coalition. “Unless we close the compact loophole, we will be at the mercy of the Governor-appointed Compact Commission to protect us.”

In addition to the waste currently authorized under the license, including from Texas’s two existing nuclear plants, the South Texas Project near Bay City in Matagorda County and Glen Rose near Fort Worth, plus Vermont Yankee, the following waste streams among others could potentially be imported to the WCS site if the Compact Commission approved them by a simple majority vote and the TCEQ approved a license amendment:

• Radioactive waste from the Central Compact States of Nebraska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas and Louisiana;
• Depleted uranium from the Louisiana Energy Services Uranium Enrichment Plant in New Mexico and other existing and historical depleted uranium (A recent preliminary Nuclear Regulatory Commission ruling reclassified depleted uranium from reprocessing, putting it into a less hazardous (Class A) category. Now up to 1.4 million tons of depleted uranium could go to the West Texas site and/or Clive, Utah sites if the ruling stands)
• Historical radioactive and byproduct waste from Ohio and New York known as K-65 waste
• New waste from proposed nuclear reactors in Texas and throughout the U.S.
• The Studsvik scheme to process radioactive waste from S. Carolina, store it in Andrews County and then dispose of it once the Compact Waste facility
is constructed.

HB 3423 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Environmental Regulation Committee tomorrow afternoon, Wednesday, April 1 in Room E1.014 upon adjournment of the House — usually between Noon and 2:00 pm.

For more information, about the WCS facility and its plans for Andrews County, see http://www.texas.sierraclub.org/Conservation/brochureWCS.pdf

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