Houston Chronicle

State regulators OK West Texas nuclear waste dump

May 21, 2008, 3:19PM
Copyright 2008 Austin Bureau

AUSTIN State environmental regulators voted 2-1 today to grant a Dallas company's license to dispose of waste from nuclear weapons processing and uranium mining in Andrews County in West Texas.

Chairman Buddy Garcia and Commissioner Bryan Shaw voted to issue the "by-products" license to Waste Control Specialists, a company owned by Harold Simmons, a top donor to Gov. Rick Perry, who appoints members of the the environmental commission.

Commissioner Larry Soward dissented. He said the license application should first be reviewed in a contested case hearing because of concern by some of the agency's own scientists that the dump site is too close to ground water.

The Sierra Club and 11 residents of Eunice, N.M., which is five miles from the dump, asked for an administrative law judge to hearing evidence about the site. The executive director of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality rejected their requests, saying there was not sufficient public interest because no Texas residents sought a review.

"I don't think our responsibilities stop at the state line," said Soward. "This is a facility of Texas and we ought to determine whether it will effect public health and the environment. It doesn't say 'in Texas.'"

WCS flew about 50 Andrews County residents to the meeting, including Andrews Mayor Bob Zap. The city of Andrews is about 30 miles from the landfill. "If you went to Andrews right now you'd find that the people are cheering," he said.

A group of TCEQ geologists and engineers who reviewed the location in connection with a second license application for more hazardous radioactive waste concluded last August that the license application should be denied. They said one water table may be closer than 14 feet, making it "highly likely" that water could seep into the dump as annual rainfall increases due to climate change.

The TCEQ staff has not yet made a recommendation on the second license, for low-level radioactive waste.

WCS President Rodney Baltzer said that the company has spent $5 million since December taking more soil samples to make sure the site will remain dry. "We've been very up front with the community, and we think the results showed today," he said.


Note: emphasis added

NB: The second license application is for a LLRW disposal facility; this siting is subject to the more stringent requirements of the federal 10CFR61 regulations. The statement that LLRW waste is "more hazardous" than the K-65 residues is incorrect; the high-radium-content K-65 residues are much, much more hazardous and long-lived than typical medical LLRW.

The federal siting regulations for a by-product waste disposal facility are contained in 10CFR40 Appendix A. While 10CFR40's Appendix A, Criterion 6 only requires that a 11.e(2) by-product disposal facility not contaminate groundwater for a mere 200 years, the long-lived radioactivity present in these K-65 residues (22,600 Ci) will remain highly hazardous for at least 100,000 years. That is why a 1995 NAS/NRC panel identified these high-radium-content residues as "indistinguishable in hazard" from HLW and recommended that these residues be stabilized by the most effective means available: vitrification; see "Safety of the High-Level Uranium Ore Residues at the Niagara Falls Storage Site, Lewiston, New York".