A rendering from Waste Control Specialists shows plans to store highly radioactive waste from nuclear reactors above ground at its West Texas site. Courtesy of WCS.

Sept. 23, 2021

A high-level radioactive waste dump in West Texas cleared another hurdle last week but it’s getting pushback from environmentalists, oil and gas stakeholders as well as state lawmakers.

On Sept. 13, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a license to Interim Storage Partners LLC to construct and operate a “temporary” facility in Andrews County for the nation’s spent nuclear fuel. Interim Storage Partners is a joint venture of Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists LLC and Orano USA, a subsidiary of the France-based global nuclear fuel cycle company.

The approval came just days after Governor Gregg Abbott signed a bill into law that bans highly radioactive materials from coming into the state.

Today, the Texas Attorney General’s Office sued the NRC on behalf of Governor Abbott and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality over the approval of the Andrews nuclear waste site, according to the Midland Reporter-Telegram.

Lon Burnam, leader of Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness, said the proposed nuke dump was already on shaky legal ground, even before House Bill 7 was passed.

“It is not even legal to consider this site in West Texas because the legal requirements are to have a planned permanent repository,” Burnam told Green Source DFW.

To date, the high-level radioactive waste from spent fuel has been stockpiling at the nation’s active and decommissioned nuclear reactor sites. The only way for the highly toxic material to become harmless is through decay, which can take hundreds of thousands of years, according to the NRC. 

The Department of Energy is required by law to locate a permanent storage site for the 85,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste that's still amassing. However, plans for a permanent disposal site at Yucca Mountain in Nevada have been shelved after fierce political opposition. 

Waste Control Specialists already stores low-level radioactive waste, such as medical equipment and protective clothing, at its West Texas facility. 

According to the Washington Post, the company’s state licenses to accept low-level waste were approved in 2007 and 2008, despite opposition from local environmental groups. TCEQ engineers and geologists resigned over the issuance of those licenses because they considered the Andrews site geologically unfit for radioactive waste disposal, according to local news reports.

With the NRC's green light last week, the company is now authorized to store up to 5,000 metric tons of highly radioactive waste for 40 years. WCS plans to expand its facility to accept up up 40,000 metric tons of spent fuel. Each expansion would require a license amendment with additional NRC safety and environmental reviews. 

Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness along with Austin-based Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, the Sierra Club, Public Citizen Texasthe League of Women Voters of Texas and the Dallas Peace and Justice Center are among the organizations that have been fighting the proposed nuke dump since the permit was submitted by Interim Storage Partners in 2016.

They have a host of objections including the disbelief that it will be a “temporary” storage facility. 

“The producers of nuclear waste want to offload the problem that they've created and make it a U.S. taxpayer problem,” said Burnam. “Once the waste is there, there will be no economic incentive to move it out of Texas.”

“The producers of nuclear waste want to offload the problem that they've created and make it a U.S. taxpayer problem,” said Burnam. “Once the waste is there, there will be no economic incentive to move it out of Texas.”

Environmentalists also point out that the waste will be shipped on rail cars through major metro areas, including Dallas-Fort Worth. Then WCS’s plan is to store it above-ground in canisters on a “parking lot” exposed to extremes of weather.

Another cause for concern, the facility sits near the Ogallala Aquifer, the nation's largest aquifer, which stretches from Texas to South Dakota. 

Some oil and gas companies in West Texas also consider it a threat to their interests and have actively fought back against the dump.

Meanwhile, activists in New Mexico are fighting a similar plan for a high-level radioactive waste facility proposed by Holtec International in Lea County. A decision on that application is currently expected in January 2022. 

“I think we're going to be able to stop it,” said Burnam of the Texas facility. “It's just going to take a whole lot of time and money and effort. And it is an issue that will never go away as long as we keep creating more waste.”


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High-level radioactive waste could roll through DFW if West Texas dump site OK'd

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