Nuclear waste dump foes argue case at Texas hearing

Friday December 10, 2010

By BETSY BLANEY / Associated Press
Lubbock Avalanche-Journal

LUBBOCK, Texas — Opponents of a plan to allow nuclear waste from 36 other states to be buried near the Texas-New Mexico border raised their concerns Thursday at a public hearing, complaining that the rules are being rushed through the approval process.

Craig McDonald of Texans for Public Justice was among the 25 people who argued against the proposal during the meeting of the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission in Austin. He called it a "rush to radiation," suggesting the 30-day comment period that ends Dec. 26 doesn’t allow nearly enough time to weigh the issues, particularly because it comes during the holiday season.

"In the development of the timeline for this rule the commercial interests have been placed well ahead of the public interest," he said. "Public safety and fiscal responsibility demand a much more thorough examination of the consequences of the adoption of this rule."

But Rick Jacobi, a licensed nuclear engineer speaking on behalf of the company that operates the site, Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists, said the commission has given the public ample time to comment.

"This rule has been more than thoroughly reviewed, debated, discussed, amended and considered by both the public and the commission," Jacobi said.

A previous set of rules withdrawn for revisions this summer had allowed for a 90-day comment period.

Opponents of the plan far outnumbered the supporters at the meeting and expressed concerns about the potential dangers of transporting the waste and the threat to the Ogallala Aquifer and other groundwater sources should radiation leak from the site. Supporters of the site say the Ogallala is not beneath the property.

The eight-member commission made up of appointees by the governors of Texas and Vermont approved the wording of the proposed rules last month. Those states have a compact that allows both states to bury nuclear waste at the privately operated site in West Texas.

Waste Control Specialists, which got its license to dispose of low-level nuclear waste last year, has yet to receive final approval from Texas environmental regulators to build the compact’s disposal facility 30 miles west of Andrews.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is considering an amendment to the company’s disposal license that would modify the design and construction of the compact’s site and change its environmental monitoring.

Texas and Vermont have already been given clearance to bury at the site once the facility is built. Federal waste will be disposed at the site but in a separate location on the property.

In the early 1980s, the federal government started urging states to build low-level nuclear waste landfills, either on their own or in cooperation with other states in compact systems Since then, South Carolina entered into a compact with New Jersey and Connecticut, agreeing to dispose of nuclear waste at a landfill that later accepted waste from dozens of other states.

Should the proposed rules be adopted by the commission, low-level radioactive waste from 36 other states could be also dumped at a privately run facility in a remote region of West Texas. Requests for importation or exportation would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

The waste would become the property of Texas once the disposal facility accepts the low-level waste, and the state would be liable for any possible future contamination after the facility closes.

If the more recent proposed rules are approved, the new disposal site would start taking worker clothing, glass, metal and other low-level materials currently stored at nuclear power plants, hospitals, universities and research labs.

The commission hasn’t yet set a date for its next meeting.