Don’t make Texas the nation’s radioactive waste dump

Friday, December 10, 2010

By Karen Hadden/Guest Column
San Antonio Express News

Texas is at risk of becoming the nation’s radioactive waste dumping ground. The Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission is pushing forward a rule that essentially invites 36 or more states to dump radioactive waste in Texas. It would go to the Waste Control Specialists’ site in Andrews County in West Texas.

The commission should instead limit the site to waste from the Compact states — Texas and Vermont. Financial and safety risks are being ignored in the rush to approve the rule, which has no limits on volume or curies of radiation. Texas has liability for imported radioactive waste and 15 state legislators have asked for time to review the increased financial and environmental risks, but the Compact Commission is trying to vote on the import rule right away.

Radioactive waste could travel by rail and on major highways throughout our state and no one has analyzed whether emergency responders throughout Texas are equipped to deal with accidents involving radioactive waste.

Everything but the fuel rods from nuclear reactors can go to a "low-level" radioactive waste dump, including nuclear reactor vessels, poison curtains that absorb core radioactivity, and radioactive sludges and resins. No radioactive element is excluded. Exposure to radiation can lead to cancer and birth defects and the materials remain hazardous for hundreds to millions of years.

Staff at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality recommended denying the Compact site license. They said "groundwater is likely to intrude into the proposed disposal units and contact the waste from either or both of two water tables near the proposed facility."

The Compact site is already pressed for space. It’s licensed for 2.3 million cubic feet of waste, but Texas and Vermont need three times this space to dispose of five nuclear reactors when they’re decommissioned. Why bring in waste from around the country and force expansion of the site?

Is Waste Control Specialists trying to create a "volume discount" rate for dumping radioactive waste on Texas? A private company headed by Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons would profit while Texas’ taxpayers would bear increased financial and safety risks. Existing U.S. radioactive waste dumps have leaked and clean up will cost billions of dollars. Why increase the risks of contaminating Texas’ soil and water by bringing in waste from around the country?

It’s not too late. Other compacts have excluded "out-of compact" waste and Texas could close the gate too. Citizens can urge elected officials to insist on limiting the radioactive waste coming to Texas. Comments on the Compact Commission Import rule can be sent to until Dec. 26. The import rule vote should be halted until waste limits are assured and the legislature has a chance to analyze financial, health and safety risks to Texans. If you don’t want Texas to become the nation’s radioactive waste dump, the time to speak up is now.

Karen Hadden is executive director of the SEED Coalition.