Texas Is Considering Accepting High-Level Radioactive Waste, and Environmentalists Are Pissed

homernuclear1.jpg
A rendering of a possible nuclear storage facility in West Texas.
The United States has never quite figured out what to do with its spent nuclear fuel, some 68,000-plus highly radioactive tons of which is sitting in temporary storage at the nation's 104 nuclear power plants. The plan has been to bury the stuff in a secure geological formation deep underground, but, with Nevada's Yucca Mountain now effectively off the table, it's not clear where that will be.

On Friday, Texas House Speaker Joe Straus put the Lone Star State on the short list, instructing the House Committee on Environmental Regulation to study the disposal of high-level radioactive waste and its potential economic impact and recommend state and federal legislation to make that happen in Texas.

On a certain level, this makes sense. Texas, after all, has large underground formations in arid, sparsely populated areas along with broad, lax environmental regulations and, with its embrace of Waste Control Specialists' facility in Andrews County, a proven willingness to serve as a dumping ground for lower-level radioactive waste.

But the news caught environmentalists by surprise. It also made them angry.

"Every other state in the nation that's looked at this has rejected high-level radioactive waste just too dangerous and the risk of site failure is too grave," Public Citizen's Tom "Smitty" Smith tells Unfair Park this morning.

A certain amount of NIMBYism is understandable when it comes to storing humongous quantities of spent nuclear fuel, which will remain dangerously radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years.

But Smith and his colleagues at the Sierra Club and the Sustainable Energy & Economic Development Coalition say they have two big reasons to be worried.

One is that Andrews County, the site they see as the most likely depository for the high-level waste, is too dangerous. There is water in monitoring wells that could become contaminated, and it's adjacent to an aquifer serving eight states, Smith says.

The other is that they don't trust Waste Control Specialists, which they view as the company most likely to benefit from Texas deciding to accept high-level radioactive waste. The company skated through the regulatory process for the Andrews County facility, which was greased by WCS founder Harold Simmons' generous contributions to Governor Rick Perry and other Republicans.

Given the composition of the House Committee on the Environment (five of seven members voted last session to ease the rules on WCS' facility), that seems plausible. (The Texas Observer's Forrest Wilder reports that a second company, Austin-based AFCI Texas, is also interested.)

It seems even more likely when one considers the "economic impact" that Straus asked lawmakers to consider. According to The New York Times, somewhere between $15 and $30 billion are paid annually to dispose of the low-level radioactive waste that WCS' Andrews County facility accepts. High-level waste, Smith says, would be "far more profitable."

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.


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70 comments
pantsonfire
pantsonfire

Note to "groundwater" scare-o-phobes:  The southern edge of the Ogallala is 10 miles north of the Waste Control Facility.  The waste is entombed within high density concrete and placed within another tomb, and then another tomb.


So massive and so over-designed by TCEQ are these nested tombs that it is far more likely that the entire waste cell will sink into the molten core of the earth than ever "leak" uphill 10 miles.

paulpsycho78
paulpsycho78

China did something worse...hell I dont know man..fuck it..gimme another bud light

paulpsycho78
paulpsycho78

Solution..Garland..they wouldnt even fucking notice.

EnviroEngineer
EnviroEngineer

The author of this article needs to explain how he got the idea that anyone has proposed disposal of spent nuclear fuel (more accurately, "used nuclear fuel, or UNF) or high-level waste (HLW) in Texas. Or anywhere else for that matter. Outside of Yucca Mountain ("I'm not dead yet!") there are not yet other sites under serious consideration (well, maybe in New Mexico).


Note that UNF and HLW are distinct from low-level waste (LLW), the so-called "greater than class C" waste (GTCC), Dept of Energy's analogous "GTCC-like waste, or depleted uranium, for which new rules are being drafted at this moment. While those may be considered for disposal in a suitable facility, I have yet to learn of anyone proposing disposal of HLW or UNF in Texas.


It is important for a reporter to get his/her facts straight, and not simply to rely on exciting the readership by making a story sensationalist.

chloechloe
chloechloe

Why are our state leaders willing for our state to be a dumping ground for known toxic material? Sheesh.

alex.adamcik
alex.adamcik

Why not dig a hole and dump it on bikini Island. The place is already radioactive over the thresh hold of humans.

alex.adamcik
alex.adamcik

Why not dig a hole on bikini Island and dump it. The place is already radioactive over the thresh hold for humans. I mean I can see the problems with transporting it but seems legit. 

roo_ster
roo_ster

Andrews County Texas is a good location.  I suggest the backup solution be to dump the waste at the foot of all those (sometimes) power generating windmills in W Texas.

ruddski
ruddski

Environmentalists, like leftists, were born pissed.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz
Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

Texas turns down billions in fed funds that would ensure millions in the state a health coverage, but eagerly goes after radioactive waste.  Uh..... 

holmantx
holmantx topcommenter

New York already transports its sewage cake -  produced after human, residential and industrial wastes are combined in wastewater treatment plants - at Sierra Blanca.  Run by the Mafia, New York finally stopped dumping it in the ocean so they now dump it in Texas (lots of jokes on that one).

 Kettleman City in central California is a lot bigger radioactive dump than Andrews, BTW.

joecook
joecook

We had to know this was coming-there were many warnings.  Surely we will not be foolish enough to ruin our aquifer for quick money now.

P1Gunter
P1Gunter

I feel as though this article would be more complete if it explained what exactly high level waste is as opposed to low level waste.

Montemalone
Montemalone topcommenter

Do you hear that?

It's Harold Simmons doing his Monty Burns from beyond the grave.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@EnviroEngineer  C'mon, he can't even get basic numbers right, like how many power plants we have (72, not 104, which defies logic, since it's in the report linked in the very same sentence.  Apparently the idea that a single plant has multiple reactors boggles him.)


He's not actually doing any reporting, he's just cribbing the Austin Statesman story and adding enough random statistics (which he gets wrong anyways) to avoid an obvious copyright violation.

LeroyJenkem
LeroyJenkem

@alex.adamcik With that logic, we could dump it on Lewisville, and guarantee that nothing of value was lost.

EnviroEngineer
EnviroEngineer

@ruddski  Well, we certainly were born skeptical, and that is a Good Thing. But people need to realize that NOT properly treating and disposing waste is environmentally irresponsible. It's how my whole field of environmental engineering came to be. Consider that burial in a suitable waste disposal site IS the environmentally responsible thing to do, here.


You can't just do nothing. And if you'd argue that we should stop the generation of radioactive wastes altogether, then you need to be prepared to forego nuclear medicine diagnostics, engage in destructive testing of all manner of materials that can be tested radiologically, and start choking on more coal-fired power plant effluents in the air, including CO2. 


Oh, and we'd need to stop the cleanup of other contaminated sites that are in really bad locations, and stop the decomissioning of nuclear power plants, too. All that stuff has to go somewhere. It had best go somewhere that is suitable, lest we be cleaning it up yet again.

Lorlee
Lorlee

@ruddski No, born with a brain that can assess the possible devastating damage that happens when the water we drink is irreparably damaged.  Piss is what you might be forced to resort to.


rusknative
rusknative

@Myrna.Minkoff-Katz maybe Mexico will accept our radioactive waste in exchange for all of their illegals coming over here and sending illegal wages back to Mexico.

ScottsMerkin
ScottsMerkin topcommenter

@holmantx  NY already dumped Myrna on us, they can keep the rest of their waste :P

chloechloe
chloechloe

@joecook Have you seen the crap leadership our state has? They are all about quick money, not the problems it might create for it's citizens down the road.

LeroyJenkem
LeroyJenkem

@P1Gunter That's actually a very good point, considering how many times the definition of "low level waste" has been changed in the last twenty years. As a general rule, you can look at high-level waste as anything pumping out gamma particles as opposed to alpha or beta particles. Before the standard was changed around 2001, low-level waste usually included contaminated gloves, insulation, and anything else acting as a good alpha particle emitter, where it would ultimately stop emitting as the radioactive source decayed, but it needed to be dealt with all the same. Around then, a lot of low-level waste that really needed to be stored for years was suddenly treated as standard trash, suddenly making it available for standard waste disposal. High-level waste, though, are generally gamma emitters (spent reactor fuel pellets and the like), and that stuff isn't going into the garbage for another 30,000 years or so.

EnviroEngineer
EnviroEngineer

@bvckvs @EnviroEngineer  

I would say that there are in fact responsible ways to dispose of radioactive waste in Texas. Maybe even high-level waste or used nuclear fuel. 

You can't just say that it cannot be done without doing an unbiased and defensible risk analysis. Let the risk analysis speak for itself, and let's all assure that the analysis defensible, and let the chips fall where they may. 

If one cannot leave emotions, politics, fear and loathing, and preconceived notions out of the issue, one needs to leave the room.

paulpsycho78
paulpsycho78

@LeroyJenkem @alex.adamcik Au contraire, Garland wants a piece of the cesspool dump action...Garland has a relative monopoly on all dump activity

rusknative
rusknative

@Lorlee @ruddski piss is what environmental liberal ranting activists love to dish out....it fills their brains.

EnviroEngineer
EnviroEngineer

@LeroyJenkem @P1Gunter  This is incorrect. First off, the definitions for waste classification have not changed much over the years, and high-level waste (HLW) includes many types of emitters, alpha, beta, and gamma, as does low-level waste (LLW). 

It is true that the article is incomplete without these definitions, and that just adds greatly yo public confusion on the issue.

The 70,000 tons of waste that is cited in the top of the article is referring to "spent nuclear fuel", or more properly "used nuclear fuel" (UNF), which is actually somewhat different from HLW. So, the article contributes to the confusion. 

Be that as it may, we as a society do need to find a place for radioactive wastes, and some states are naturally (geologically) better than others. Texas happens to have some sites that are pretty good for this type of disposal, meaning low human exposures for a very long time.

The point could also be made that the "humongous" amount of waste is nothing compared to the waste streams from coal, for example. It's quite manageable, from a technical aspect. What is unmanageable is the politics.

EnviroEngineer
EnviroEngineer

@bvckvs  

No blinders on, here. Eyes wide open. Bringing the technical side to the table. 

Do not presume to know my politics, which are irrelevant. I've lived in TX long enough to be familiar with how things work.

EnviroEngineer
EnviroEngineer

@everlastingphelps @rusknative @Lorlee @ruddski  I would not paint all liberals or enviroanmentalists with the same brush. I, for one, am politically very liberal, and philosophically an environmentalist, and yet I am good at math AND science AND engineering. It's a deadly combination!


I just chose to not rant, but actually understand the problem and do something about it.


This has nothing to do with liberal or conservative politics.

everlastingphelps
everlastingphelps topcommenter

@rusknative @Lorlee @ruddski  The problems they have with science usually come back to an inherent inability to do math.  Like this -- somehow they forget that the waste already exists, just spread out all over the country.


A liberal is usually just a libertarian who is incredibly bad at math.


(I didn't originate that -- Scott Adams realized this about environmentalists years ago.)


http://dilbert.com/blog/entry/economics_of_solar_power/


http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748704868604575433620189923744

EnviroEngineer
EnviroEngineer

@rusknative @everlastingphelps @Lorlee @ruddski  

It has meaning, and the implications are minor for the future of the planet, but potentially quite grave for the future of humanity. If we care about the future of humanity, we must make an effort to stop contributing to global warming. If we don't, then we can go ahead and make a lot of people miserable. Our policy and actions will make a difference here.

But, none of that has much bearing on the issue at hand.

EnviroEngineer
EnviroEngineer

@everlastingphelps @Lorlee @ruddski  

Water can, however, become expensive to clean up. And there are cases where it really cannot be cleaned up. So, while it may be true that contaminated water can always be returned to pure water through something like distillation, groundwater drinking water supplies can indeed be irreparably damaged. It is a valid concern.

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