March 28, 2012
The QueQue Blog
San Antonio Current
In 1992, an earthquake measuring 4.7 on the Richter scale struck Lea County at the Texas-New Mexico border, a stone’s throw from today’s radioactive waste dump operated by Waste Control Specialists in western Andrews County. While a Eunice dispatcher reported "minor damage to structures, but nothing major," a Texaco gas plant outside Eunice, New Mexico, was knocked offline, according to an Odessa American story at the time. Earthquakes are only one of the reasons to be concerned about the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission‘s vote last week allowing Waste Control Specialists to receive radioactive trash from across the country.
The site sits uncomfortably close to the Ogallala Aquifer (some say on top of the aquifer, but the company disputes this), the nation’s largest aquifer that stretches all the way to South Dakota. It was this liquid proximity, and the multitude of application rewrites the company of Governor Perry’s million-dollar donor Harold Simmons was allowed, that led to some within the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to resign in protest.
Even after the application was finally approved, WCS was allowed to slip a key provision regarding financial assurance should things go wrong. It’s a point Karen Hadden, executive director of the SEED Coalition, brought to the TLLRWDCC meeting in a letter signed onto by a number of other groups, including Austin Physicians for Social Responsibility, Public Citizen, Environment Texas, and San Antonio’s Esperanza Peace & Justice Center and Southwest Workers Union. "Serious environmental contamination problems have occurred at many existing low-level radioactive waste facilities and clean up cost will run into billions of dollars," Hadden wrote. Yet strangely, the TCEQ allowed WCS to exchange stock in a sister corporation, Titanium Metals, in exchange for financial assurance for its first five years of operations. Worse still: Liability related to the dump’s waste reverts to the state of Texas after only 30 years. If only radioactive waste were as short-lived.
Hadden’s letter notes that the history of radioactive waste disposal in the United States, marked by an untold number of leaks, includes instances where spent fuel rods — known to include some of the most toxic and longest-lived radionuclides, including Uranium-235‘s 700 million-year half-life — were illegally buried. In spite of the risks, the Commission’s decision was a unanimous one. Perhaps because Perry re-stacked the commission and booted Bobby Gregory, who had voted against expanding the compact in the past, in exchange for a favorable vote cast by one of the Commission’s newest members, former CPS Energy CEO Milton Lee.
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