Fort Worth lawmaker airs concerns about low-level nuclear waste being transported on Texas roads
By ANNA M. TINSLEY
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
AUSTIN - State Rep. Lon Burnam is worried about countless trucks carrying low-level nuclear waste driving on local roads - likely Interstates 20 and 30 - on the way to a disposal site in Andrews County.
Already, Vermont is sending its waste to the West Texas site, and Burnam, D-Fort Worth, is afraid that without additional restrictions more states might follow suit.
"Over two-thirds of the nation's nuclear waste will come through D-FW on its way to Andrews County," he said. "The question is, are we taking it from two states or all of the states?"
Burnam has a bill, presented to the House environmental regulation committee Wednesday, to require the Texas Legislature - rather than a specially appointed commission - to sign off on which states can deposit their waste at the site owned by Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons.
"All this legislation does is say the buck stops here at the Legislature and not some bureaucratic agency," Burnam said. "I'm afraid that, ultimately, Texas is going to end up being the nation's nuclear waste dump."
Currently, a governor-appointed Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission generally makes contract decisions that could determine whether additional states truck their low-level waste to Texas.
Representatives of Waste Control Specialists, the company owned by Simmons that owns the Andrews County site, said they don't support Burnam's bill.
"Waste Control Specialists believes we ought to give the compact commission the opportunity to do its job," said Chuck McDonald, a spokesman with the company. "We are confident the . . . members would look out for Texas."
Burnam's proposal has gained support from groups such as the Sierra Club and Public Citizen. "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," said Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Lone star Chapter of the Sierra Club.
But it could face an uphill battle because of Simmons' political clout.
In 2006, Simmons was the third-largest donor to Republican Gov. Rick Perry, and he has given more than $3.5 million to Texas politicians or party organizations since 2000.
The bill "has slim odds" of getting Perry's signature if it passes both chambers, Burnam said. "But Perry isn't going to be governor forever."
State officials have agreed to let Waste Control Specialists accept low-level radioactive waste from Texas, Vermont and federal sources.
Among the waste accepted at the site are items from Texas' two nuclear plants, Glen Rose near Fort Worth and the South Texas Project near Bay City in Matagorda County.
As soon as May, contaminated silt from the Hudson River could be trucked to a second facility in Andrews County. Andrews County voters go to the polls in May to decide a $75 million bond program to help with site costs.
Officials have long said that extreme safeguards are taken to protect people from accidents along the routes that the waste travels. But Burnam said that isn't enough.
"They tell you these trucks will withstand certain degrees of impact," Burnam said. "If they fell off an overhead, that would be more than they could withstand.
"Do we really want to take the risk?"
And he said he fears that the state ultimately will have to pick up the bill for the site, which is why they should keep a close eye on what contaminants are taken there.
"When Harold Simmons becomes bankrupt in 12 years, the state of Texas will become financially responsible" for the site, Burnam said. "Texas is going to be stuck with the management of any nuclear waste we take, whether it's from two states or 35."
I'm afraid that, ultimately, Texas is going to end up being the nation's nuclear waste dump."
Rep. Lon Burnam,
Anna M. Tinsley, 817-390-7610
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