Is Texas Becoming the New Yucca Mountain – Radioactive Waste Repository by Dribs and Drabs?

Los Alamos National Laboratory has stored transuranic waste, debris, soil, tools and clothing contaminated primarily with plutonium that has been generated by its activities above ground for years. In 2011, the largest forest fire in the history of New Mexico came within 3.5 miles of this waste causing the state of New Mexico to ask Los Alamos to ship 3,706 cubic meters of above-ground waste from the lab to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) located 26 miles southeast of Carlsbad, N.M by June 30 of this year.

A month ago we reported on a fire at the 15 year old WIPP site in our blog about a Texas interim charge tostudy 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“.  We followed up two weeks later with a report about radiation alarms going off at the same site. 

WIPP has been closed indefinitely while they investigate the fire and the radiation leaks.  In the meantime, we have learned that New Mexico plans to ship the last 20 percent of the Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear waste to the commercial Waste Control Specialists (WCS) site in Andrews, Texas starting April 1st.

What we want to know is:

  • Who authorized the importation of waste that had been slated to go to WIPP?
  • What routes are being used and are the federal requirements for designating routes for this type of waste being met?
  • Have any increases in financial assurance been required as a result of accepting TRU waste from Los Alamos?
  • Is WCS seeking to import TRU waste through license amendments?
  • Wildfires are the reason given for why the waste must be moved, but the same year Los Alamos experience wildfires close by, the WCS site also had wildfires nearby. While WCS may have “a fire truck” onsite, there is only a volunteer fire department in Andrews and Texas is about to enter its wildfire season.
  • The Transuranic (TRU) waste is highly radioactive weapons waste that is supposed to be buried a half mile underground at the WIPP site. Is there any evidence that it is safe to store the TRU waste above-ground, even temporarily?

If waste outside of the compact’s license can be re-routed to WCS without so much as a “by your leave” how are Texans to be reassured that all possible care is being taken on behalf of our welfare and well-being?  And are we going to become the nation’s high level radioactive waste repository by dribs and drabs rather than by thorough review of the suitability of a site?