Company’s Texas nuclear waste plan

Article: The Texas Observer, by Forrest Wilder

In December Forrest Wilder of The Texas Observer wrote a piece on how a privatized radioactive waste fantasy in West Texas is fast becoming a reality. The article relayed the concerns of experts at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality who warn that Waste Control Specialists‘ radioactive waste landfill site (see it on Google Maps) near Andrews in West Texas could prove an environmental and health disaster. Some of the state’s scientists and engineers, in no uncertain terms, caution that the site, situated near two water tables, is probably unsuitable for disposal of radioactive waste.

Wilder obtained from TCEQ a copy of the agency’s working draft (pdf, 500k) of the license for the low-level radwaste dump. This “initial draft license” – as the agency is calling it – runs to 53 pages and contains more than 200 stipulations. These license conditions are largely an attempt to fix problems, small and large, that the TCEQ identified with WCS’ proposal. For example, WCS has been unable to conclusively show that the waste will not come into contact with groundwater, raising the specter of radioactive contamination of the Ogallala Aquifer and the smaller Dockum Aquifer. As a fix, TCEQ has put into the license requirements that WCS monitor water elevations during excavation of the landfill, among other conditions.

WCS has had three years to prove that the site is safe but have been unable to do so to the staff’s satisfaction. TCEQ has three options: they could reject the application; keep working with WCS to see if they can live up to the standards in the law; or issue a license anyway. It appears the agency higher-ups have opted for the latter and will attempt to plug the holes after the fact.

The amount of waste and radioactivity levels permitted by the initial draft license are enormous: up to 2.3 million cubic feet and 3.9 million curies of radioactivity for state “compact” waste (material from decommissioned nuclear reactors in Vermont and Texas) and 26 million cubic feet and 5.6 million curies for federal waste (largely Department of Energy Cold War-era leftovers). That’s 28 million cubic feet – about a third the volume of Reliant Stadium in Houston – and 9.5 million curies in all. (A curie is a measure of radioactivity. To put it into perspective, the medical waste from diagnosis and treatment procedures shipped annually from most states gives off a fraction of one curie of radiation, according to the Nuclear Information and Resource Service.)

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11 Responses to Company’s Texas nuclear waste plan

  1. the Grit says:


    Well, it’s better than the alternative plan which, if I was correctly informed, is to mail the waste around the country until our Postal Service looses it.

    the Grit

  2. matt says:

    Or shoot it out into space so it eventually lands back down here on our heads.

  3. Pete Smith says:

    Andrews is so close to the border, I wonder if the guys in New Mexico have any say in this. And issues with the Rio Grande catchment would affect Mexico too.
    That said, I’m confident WCS know what they’re doing. Rumours they’re only in it for the generous incentives from the Andrews Economic Development Corp are obviously unfounded 🙂

  4. matt says:

    Who’s incentiving who is always a good mystery game to unravel. 🙂

  5. Pete Smith says:

    I blame the federal government. In 1980 they delegated low-level radioactive waste disposal to the states, and since then no new landfill sites have been opened. The states have made ten unsuccessful attempts to develop new sites at a total cost of $1 billion.
    Nuclear waste disposal is one of those key infrastructure functions that should never be privatised. Farming it out to the private sector just leaves you open to graft, corruption and corner-cutting.

  6. matt says:

    I agree entirely that key operations within the nuclear industry should not have been privatised. This is govt off-loading difficult decisions so that when things go wrong they can say, ‘not us mate, blame them over there’. And then to make matters worse they go and fine the business concerned.

    This is essentially the way the so-called Anglo-American economic model has gone. Utilities and transport infrastructure projects are a privatisation favourite as we all know. As these companies have moved into the developing world, encouraged by the World Bank, we find a difficult environment in which to operate. Water companies have been failing because not only are they not investing enough, customers find water billing an alien concept and many refuse to pay.

    The greed and recklessness of some private companies is astounding. Northern Rock is a classic case in point but isn’t the only bank. They just got caught in the headlights of an American money making pyramid scam of massive proportions. Should the UK taxpayer be bailing out other banks with this latest idea of a £50b emergency fund? No way! Let them wither in their failure to resist blatant and unsustainable greed.

  7. Pete Smith says:

    I have to admit, when I say “company” in the title I thought it must be the CIA 🙂

  8. Pete Smith says:

    I feel a bit sorrier for Northern Rock than you seem to, though not much. The Rock is just another margin seller in the usury market, but more heavily dependent than most on international money markets to fund their loan business. Unfortunately, the whole international financial circus depends on trust and confidence to keep the wheels turning. The hedge funds and the other increasingly inventive ways of packaging debt and selling it on have come back to bite everybody.
    Bring back the good old days of ‘Captain Mainwaring’ bank managers who looked after the bank’s money as if it were their own, and would only give you a loan if you begged.

  9. the Grit says:

    Hi Pete,

    Unfortunately, if you leave something to the Government, then it’s still open to graft, corruption and corner-cutting, and also removes the ability of citizens to seek redress of wrongs through the court system. Plus, on top of that you’re also likely to increase the cost of the service. Perhaps we should leave the disposal of nuclear waste to some charitable organization?

    the Grit

  10. matt says:

    Hey good idea Grit. Fund Greenpeace & FoE to do the dirty work. 🙂

  11. the Grit says:

    Hi matt,

    Whatever it takes 🙂

    the Grit

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