Posts Tagged ‘radioactive waste’

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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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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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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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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With the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission (TLLRWDCC) approving rules that open up of the WCS dump site to out of compact waste, we may soon see low level radioactive waste from Nebraska Public Power District’s nuclear facility heading to Texas.

The deal between WCS and Nebraska’s Cooper Nuclear Station still must be finalized, but the waste they are looking to send would include radioactive resins, filters and other equipment.  Currently, low-level waste from Cooper Nuclear Station is stored in on-site pools that also hold used nuclear fuel rods because no other disposal site took either out of compact waste, or did not take the “hotter” C level waste.

With the opening up of the Texas waste site, you can bet other nuclear power plants around the country are looking to free up space in their spent fuel pools as these aging plants near the end of their planned life.  Many of these plants are at a point where they are looking to get relicensed, and with the lack of a national respository for the spent fuel rods, will need to show that they have adequate on site storage for another 20 years of spent fuel.  Removing “low-level” radioactive waste from on site is going to be important to that process, and Texas is looking good to them as an option to making that happen.

While there was concern about there being enough room at the WCS site for Texas and Vermont (the two states in our Compact), the commission set aside space for our two states, however you can be sure other states will be clamoring for what’s left.  Then what – an expansion of the site?

Oh, just another thing to ponder over.  The San Antonio Current reported in their Que Que blog that in 1992, an earthquake measuring 4.7 on the Richter scale struck Lea County, New Mexico, just across the Texas-New Mexico border from the radioactive waste dump operated by Waste Control Specialists in western Andrews County.

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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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The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is seeking public comment on proposed revisions to its policy statement on volume reduction of low-level radioactive waste (LLRW).

The proposed revisions would urge licensees to minimize the volume of waste they produce since such a focus will extend the operational lifetime of the existing commercial low-level disposal sites and reduce the number of waste shipments.

The revised policy statement, however, would also recognize that volume reduction is only one aspect of an effective program for managing radioactive waste.
According to the draft policy statement, licensees should consider all means available to manage waste in a manner that is secure, and protects public health and safety. Such means include waste minimization; short-term storage and decay; long-term storage; use of the alternative disposal provision in NRC regulations at 10 CFR 20.2002; use of waste processing technologies; and use of licensed disposal facilities.

About 96 percent of all LLRW is generated by nuclear power plants. The remainder is generated by fuel cycle facilities such as uranium enrichment plants, and materials licensees such as hospitals, research institutes and universities.

Public comments will be accepted through Sept. 14. They may be submitted through the federal government’s rulemaking website at www.regulations.gov, using Docket ID NRC-2011-0183; or by mail to Cindy Bladey, Chief, Rules Announcements, and Directives Branch (RADB), Office of Administration, Mail Stop TWB-05-B01M, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Washington, DC 20555-0001.

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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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Earlier this week, NPR reported on the anticipated arrival of nearly 1,000 tons of nuclear waste from Germany at Oak Ridge, TN. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a plan in June for an American company to import and burn low-level nuclear waste from Germany.  The radioactive residue left over from the process will be sent back to Germany for disposal.  That’s a lot of travel for waste, and Germany isn’t the only country looking for means of disposing of its radioactive waste.

Located just outside Knoxville, Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942 to help build the atomic bomb and has become a world-renowned center for nuclear research. Operations there generate a great deal of radioactive waste and some of that waste ends up at EnergySolutions’ Bear Creek incinerator plant in Oak Ridge.

With the recent permitting of WCS in Texas, there are now four low-level waste facilities in the U.S, Barnwell in South Carolina, Richland in Washington, and Clive in Utah are the others. The Barnwell and the Clive locations are operated by EnergySolutions, the Richland location is operated by U.S. Ecology and the Texas site is operated by Waste Control Specialists.  WCS, Barnwell and Richland accept Classes A through C of low-level waste, whereas Clive only accepts Class A. The Department of Energy (DOE) also has dozens of LLW sites under management which includes the Bear Creek incinerator.

When you start to talking about managing the rest of the world’s waste, the German waste looks like the beginning of what could be a large flood of material from other countries.  And given the blank check the Texas legislature handed WCS this past legislative session, you can bet they will be back at the table trying to get a piece of that operation.  Let’s hope the Texas legislature stands firm in their resolve to not accept foreign radioactive waste, ‘cause there is a lot of it that could come our way.

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The Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission will meet Saturday, August 20, 2011, at 10:30 AM in the James Roberts Center, 855 Hwy 176 East, Andrews, TX 79714.  Don’t know yet what they will have on their agenda, but they say it will be posted in the Texas Register and on the Commission website when available.

Click here to read more about legislation that passed this session, opening the state wide to accept radioactive waste from around the country and giving Waste Control Specialists, the operator of the Texas waste site, carte blanche for much of the regulation of this site.

Have Questions?  Contact the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission

Telephone: 512-820-2930
Mailing Address:
3616 Far West Blvd., Ste. 117, # 294
Austin, Texas  78731
NOTE:  This is a mailing address only and not the physical location of the Commission.

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Critiques of nuclear generation have generally revolved around safety risks and high construction fees, but relatively little attention has been paid to what happens when a nuclear plant powers down for good.

Costs Can Reach Over $1 Billion

Nuclear plants must be decommissioned at the end of their useful life, and operating licenses are generally for 40-60 years. The costly, labor-intensive process involves two major actions: nuclear waste disposal and decontamination to reduce residual radioactivity.

There are currently 104 commercial nuclear power plants operating in the US, most of which were built in the 1970s and are slated for decommissioning during the next three decades.

At least one nuclear plant now running will be shut for good in the next several years, namely Exelon Corp’s Oyster Creek plant in 2019. Before then, we could see Entergy Corp’s Vermont Yankee plant shutter as early as next year, should the state’s veto of a license already granted by the NRC hold up in court.  And New York State politicians continue to wield whatever pressure they can to keep Indian Point from winning a license extension in ongoing proceedings.

South Texas Nuclear Project (STP) in Matagorda County licenses expire in 2027 and 2028, they recently applied for a license renewal which would extend the life of the plants 20 years, and they would expire in 2047 and 2048 respectively.  The license renewal application is being contested and you can click here to find out how you can listen in to the 1st Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB) hearing on this license renewal application.  However, even if the license renewal is approved, there is a possibility that at some point before the license expiration dates, the costs of repairs could exceeded the value of the plant, and dismantling it could offer a better financial option.

As of April 2011, there were 23 nuclear units in various stages of decommissioning. Only ten out of the 23 have been completely cleaned up.

Decommissioning costs typically run at $500 million per reactor unit. But actual costs vary based on size and design, and some have reached over $1 billion — that is between 10 percent and 25 percent of the estimated cost of constructing a nuclear reactor today.

About 30 percent of the cost of decommissioning goes towards waste disposal.

A decommissioned plant creates several different streams of waste

  • Spent nuclear fuel rods are kept in dry storage or in spent fuel ponds at the reactor sites. An average nuclear plant generates 20 metric tons (44,092 lbs) of used nuclear fuel annually, or 1,200 metric tons over a plant’s 60-year lifespan. Every 3 to 5 years, one-third of the fuel assembly rods in the reactor are removed and stored in storage pools for about 10 to 20 years. During this period, the fuel loses much of its radioactivity and heat.  After that period, the fuel can be stored in large sealed metal casks that can be cooled by air. Typically a 1000 MWe reactor will discharge about 2 metric tons of high level waste each refueling. A PWR will discharge 40 to 70 fuel rods; a BWR will discharge 120 to 200 fuel rods.
  • Anything contaminated with lower levels of radiation — pipes, tools, workers’ clothing, reactor housings, really, pretty much everything but the spent fuel rods — are sent to special low-level nuclear waste facilities around the country. The remaining non-radiated waste can be disposed of in regular landfills.

Three pathways to decommissioning

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission offers utilities three options for decommissioning plants.

  • The first option is immediate cleanup after the plant shuts down.
  • In the second option, called SAFSTOR, the plant is closed and awaits cleanup at a later time, offering plants extra time to increase their decommissioning funds.While there is a requirement for operators to set aside funds for decommissioning, some plants have had to shut down before they had sufficient decommissioning funds and once they shut down, the revenue stream dries up.  This means they must wait until their funds accrue sufficient interest to begin decommissioning.The NRC gives utilities up to 60 years to complete decommissioning.This waiting period adds flexibility for plant owners with multiple reactors that shut down at different times. Once all the reactors cease operation they will be decommissioned together to save money and resources.

Of the 13 reactors currently being decommissioned, six chose immediate decontamination and seven remain in SAFSTOR conditions.

  • No U.S. plant has ever chosen the third decommissioning option, called ENTOMB.Workers would begin by moving the fuel rods into dry storage casks removing 99.9 percent of the plant’s radiation, but which currently must be stored on site.  Next, they use solvents and filters to clean up other contaminated surfaces.The other radioactive material onsite is sent to low-level waste facilities, and the plant is left to sit for decades.With ENTOMB there is no requirement to build extra containment buildings because the NRC postulates that most of the radiation will already be gone, though plant operators would continue to monitor the site for security.After 80 to 100 years, the plant would be safe enough to enter while wearing street clothes, and workers could dismantle the plant with just “a plasma torch and dust mask”.Still utilities don’t like the ENTOMB option because they don’t want to deal with the long-term liability.

Radioactivity for Volume

Low-level radiation waste comes in three varieties: Class A, B and C. Class A waste contains the lowest levels of radiation.

There are three low-level nuclear waste facilities in the United States — in Clive, Utah; Barnwell, South Carolina and Hanford, Washington. Clive only accepts Class A waste; the other two sites accept Class B and C waste but only from select northwestern and eastern states.

The new low-level waste facility under construction in Andrews County, Texas will accept Class A, B and C waste, and originally limited its intake to nuclear waste from Texas and Vermont, but the Texas legislature just opened the site up to take waste from outside the original compact, meaning it could take waste from anywhere in the United States.  However, a study by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality indicates the site only has the capacity to take the low-level radioactive waste from the six Texas and Vermont reactors.

When Barnwell and Hanford started restricting their operations, nuclear plants adjusted their practices. Operators began changing filters more often to selectively create Class A waste that could be sent to Clive.  As a result, Class B and C now make up less than 15 percent of low-level nuclear waste.

So after nearly 60 years, with 104 nuclear reactors approaching the end of their useful life, it remains unclear how this country is going to deal with the decommissioning waste.  How foolish would a nuclear renaissance be in the face of this unsurmounted problem?  The industry continues to insist, over-optimistically, that we will find a long-term solution, yet ,pessimistically, doesn’t think we can find a replacement renewable energy source in the same time frame.  The industry dost protest too much, methinks.

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Guest Submission by Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition

NOTE: SB 1504 is up for third reading on the House floor later today. 

On May 17, 2011 the Texas House voted 108 Ayes to 36 Nays to pass SB 1504, which will allow WCS’ Andrews County radioactive waste dump to accept wastes from around the country. We’d been able to make some improvements in the bill on the front end and there are some limits on Out of Compact waste, an amazing accomplishment in light of our current legislature. There was also good debate on the floor, which will help in having oversight and scrutiny of the radioactive waste dump in the future. Still, this bill is bad news… It has already passed in the Senate.

In an act of utter disgrace to Texas, 108 House members voted in favor of allowing radioactive waste from around the country to be dumped in Texas. They should have instead limited the site to Texas and Vermont waste. The SB 1504 vote shows many Representativesʼ disregard for health and safety and their willingness to pander to a Dallas billionaire and his waste empire.

It is disgusting to see supposedly educated legislators vote down basic amendments that would allow a study of transportation risks and whether emergency responders are trained and equipped to deal with an accident involving radioactive waste. Some legislators, including Reps. Lon Burnam, Jose Menendez, Roberto Alonzo and Pete Gallego deserve huge credit for trying to improve the bill, but overall, money ruled the day instead of common sense and decency.

Bill info can be found by searching the bill number at www.capitol.state.tx.us

The Vote

As shown by Texas Legislature Online: Legislative Session: 82(R) Unofficial Bill: SB 1504

Disclaimer: This vote has not been certified by the House Journal Clerk. It is provided for informational purposes only. Once the vote is certified, it will be recorded in the journal according to Rule 5 of the House Rules and made available on this web site.

RV# 1140 — Unofficial Totals: 108 Yeas, 36 Nays, 2 Present, not voting

Yeas – Aliseda; Alvarado; Anderson, R.; Aycock; Beck; Berman; Bohac; Bonnen; Branch; Brown; Burkett; Button; Callegari; Chisum; Christian; Coleman; Cook; Craddick; Creighton; Crownover; Darby; Davis, J.; Davis, S.; Deshotel; Driver; Eiland; Eissler; Elkins; Fletcher; Flynn; Frullo; Garza; Geren; Gonzales, L.; Gooden; Guillen; Hamilton; Hancock; Hardcastle; Harless; Harper-Brown; Hartnett; Hilderbran; Hochberg; Hopson; Howard, C.; Huberty; Hughes; Jackson; Johnson; Keffer; King, P.; King, S.; King, T.; Kleinschmidt; Kuempel; Landtroop; Larson; Laubenberg; Lavender; Legler; Lewis; Lozano; Lyne; Madden; Mallory Caraway; Margo; Martinez; Miller, D.; Miller, S.; Morrison; Muñoz; Murphy; Nash; Oliveira; Orr; Otto; Parker; Patrick; Paxton; Peña; Perry; Phillips; Pickett; Pitts; Price; Quintanilla; Riddle; Ritter; Schwertner; Scott; Sheets; Sheffield; Shelton; Smith, T.; Smith, W.; Smithee; Solomons; Taylor, L.; Taylor, V.; Truitt; Veasey; Weber; White; Woolley;  Workman; Zedler; Zerwas

Nays – Allen; Alonzo; Anchia; Burnam; Cain; Carter; Castro; Davis, Y.; Dukes; Dutton; Farias; Gallego; Giddings; Gonzales, V.; Gutierrez; Hernandez Luna; Howard, D.; Isaac; Kolkhorst; Lucio; Marquez; Martinez Fischer; McClendon; Menendez; Miles; Naishtat; Raymond; Reynolds; Rodriguez; Simpson; Strama; Thompson; Turner; Villarreal; Vo; Walle

Present, not voting – Gonzalez; Mr. Speaker(C)


According to a story by KHOU-Channel 11 out of Houston, radiation has contaminated the underground pipes, water tanks, and plumbing that provide drinking water for much of Central Texas and the Hill Country, much to the consternation of  concerned city officials in the region, who have tested the pipes with Geiger counters.

The City of Brady city made the discovery when it recently dug up older steel water pipes from the ground in an attempt to replace them.  When the city brought the older pipes to a local recycling scrap yard, the scrap yard turned them away as “too radioactive” to recycle.   Could this be even more radioactive waste that will be traveling through Texas to the WCS dump in Andrews County?  Check out the KHOU story at Texas drinking water makes pipes and plumbing radioactive.

Check out these news stories on the bill.

Texas House OKs taking in more radioactive waste

Texas House OKs plan for radioactive waste dump owned by Dallas billionaire Simmons

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Senate Bill 1504 (by Seliger: R-Amarillo and Hinojosa: D-McAllen) the riskiest bill for the environment this session will be heard on the Texas house floor on Tuesday, May 17th.  If passed in its current form, the risks include:

  • Risk that we won’t have enough space for our own waste
  • Risk of an unfunded taxpayer liability
  • Risk from a radioactive rollover
  • Risk that we might contaminate the nation’s largest aquifer, which is nearby

This bill divorces the risk from the profit in the Texas radioactive waste industry putting the liability for a private radioactive waste disposal site on the taxpayers of Texas while putting billions into the pockets of a Texas billionaire.

It’s time to call our legislators- Click here to find out who represents you in the Texas House of Representatives (make sure you select” House” as your District Type”) and give your state legislator a callTell them NO on SB 1504.

A report released April 28th by Public Citizen’s Texas office finds that we could expect a substantial increase in radioactive transportation accidents.  According to WCS’s own transportation study, Texas can expect to have 4,500 trucks rumbling across the state on I-10, I-20, I-30, I-40 and I-27 each year.  That works out to 1,000 trucks per highway, or 3 per day.  The state is simply not prepared to deal with the possibility of a radioactive roll over at an emergency response level or at a financial liability level.  In the event of a transportation accident involving radioactive waste, Texas would have only $500,000 available to cover emergency response, health care and property damage costs, that amount is far too little.

Concern about taxpayer liability is also spelled out in the report which claims that the dump site being constructed in Andrews County does not have adequate capacity to receive waste from outside the state.  It cites a 2000 study by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (see http://www.tceq.state.tx.us/assets/public/permitting/llrw/entire.pdf for a copy of the study) and an estimate produced by the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, both showing the site to be short on capacity for just the Texas and Vermont waste it was originally intended to handle.

We are recommending to members of the Texas Legislature that they vote against SB 1504 and not allow importation until the risks have been addressed and capacity at the site exists.  It has taken 30 years to start construction on a site for our own waste. SB 1504 would likely send us back to the drawing board if we don’t have space for our own waste.

The people of Texas are at risk from a leak at the site, which is located dangerously close to the Ogallala Aquifer and is only 150 feet from groundwater.  If the dump site located in the west Texas county of Andrews were to leak, the cleanup cost could be anywhere from three to 50 times the amount set aside by the site operator, Waste Control Specialists (WCS). Two examples of radioactive leaks – include one in South Texas that garnered a $384 million cleanup bill, and another in New York that is estimated at $5 billion.

You can help!

Call your legislator and tell them to not put the cart before the horseTell them NO on SB 1504.When the legislature voted to let a private facility run our Compact Facility, they told us that this would help prevent it from becoming a national dumping ground, and we believed you.  Now SB 1504 is doing just the opposite.  The legislature should first look at taking our Texas waste and study the capacity of the site before turning us into the national dumping ground. Vote No on SB 1504.

Click here to read a copy of the report. (more…)

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In spite of, Governor Rick Perry’s designation of this past Easter weekend as official days of prayer for rain, Texas is expected to break its yearly record for the number of acres burned by wildfires, with officials warning that today through Wednesday would see a high risk of fresh blazes.

2006 set the previous record of acres burned in one entire year at 1.94 million. So far this year, the figure is 1.84 million, and we’re just in April.  We’ve still got summer and a lot of the fire season left.

Meanwhile, a state report has found that many of the Texas counties that endured the worst damage from this month’s wildfires received only a small portion of the more than $128 million the state awarded to volunteer fire departments over about a decade for training and equipment.

According to the State Firemen’s & Fire Marshals’ Association, there are 1,042 volunteer departments in Texas with about 28,000 firefighters and these make up the first line of defense for many of the counties that have been battling wildfires recently.

The sunset commission’s analysis, which was released in January and is currently being considered by the Texas Legislature, found counties with a low risk for wildfires had received a greater share of the $128 million handed out through the Texas Rural Volunteer Fire Department Assistance Program than many of those with the highest risk.  Specifically, 59 of the 74 counties determined to have a high risk for wildfires got less than $1 million in grant money for their volunteer fire departments from 2001 through 2009.

Three of the high-risk counties that received less than $1 million — Tom Green, Andrews and Palo Pinto — have been significantly affected by the current fires.

Andrews County is home to WCS’s hazardous waste dump, that could soon be open to “low-level” radioactive waste coming into the state from all over the country.  In addition to radioactive waste disposed of at the site, thousands of truckloads of radioactive waste could be traversing the Texas countryside over roads in counties prone to wildfire.  If an accident happens while our first responders are working to the point of exhaustion at local wildfires, I shudder to think about the consequences to the folks near an accident and the liability to the state.  I think the Governor needs to expand the parameters of his call to prayer.

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WCS and the Frying Pan Ranch wildfire

As fires rage throughout Texas, we should remember that besides brush, farm land and homes, wildfires are a danger to many industrial sites.  According to today’s Texas Forest Service incident management situation report, a wildfire designated the Frying Pan Ranch fire in Andrews Co. has been contained, but not before scorching 80,907 acres.

While a remote and sparsely populated area, this corner of Texas is home to the controversial Waste Control Specialists’ (WCS) low-level radioactive waste disposal site.  Currently, two bills are moving through the Texas legislature (HB 2184 and SB 1504) which could open this site up to waste from the rest of the U.S. without significantly reducing the liability to Texans should there be a transportation accident or should there be a leak at the site.  I haven’t even seen anything about what issues are at stake in the event of an incident of wildfire.

Environmentalists have been calling on the legislature to improve HB 2184 and SB 1504 by slowing things down until:

  • We have a capacity study completed
  • We have analyzed the risk of a major leak
  • We have analyzed the fiscal liability to the State of Texas for a major leak
  • We have examined the transportation routes and the readiness of first responders and our ability to handle the costs of a transportation accident
If you are concerned about this radioactive waste dump, contact your representative and tell them to make sure we don’t move forward without making sure that Texas taxpayers don’t end up holding a big bag of radioactive liability.
Click here if you don’t know who your representative in the Texas House is.

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