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.)