First new “low-level” nuke dump in US in over 40 years controversial right-wing billionaire-owned company buries waste despite technical and legal challenges
A new sacrifice area in West Texas on the New Mexico border opened up to commercial nuclear waste on 27 April 2012. It is the first “full service” dump in US since the 1980 Low Level Radioactive Waste Policy Act passed seeking new sites, and the first since the Barnwell, South Carolina dump opened in 1971. After decades of searching, cajoling, maneuvering, and a billion dollars or more spent in 18 or more states, the nuclear industry has managed to find a new hole in the ground to bury its waste. Waste Control Specialists (WCS) joins the original 6 “low-level” waste dumps in the US that opened in the 1960s and 70s and the Utah EnergySolutions site.
Four of these sites are closed. The EnergySolutions (formerly Envirocare) dump in Utah, started taking abandoned radioactive waste in 1988 and kept expanding to take more kinds of nuclear and hazardous waste. But the Utah legislature has never let it accept the more concentrated Classes B and C “low-level” radioactive waste (some of which can give a lethal dose if exposed without shielding). WCS can take Classes A, B and C, commercial and weapons waste, mixed radioactive and hazardous, and hopes to expand to take even more.
Waste Control Specialists (WCS) is a subsidiary of Valhi, owned by multibil-lionaire Harold Simmons, one of the 50 wealthiest people in the U.S. and a major political donor in Texas and nationally. Simmons, who was a key funder of the “swiftboat” ads against former Presidential candidate John Kerry, and gave millions to Mitt Romney Super PACs, has used his influence from the start--first getting the state to change the law to allow a private company to own and run a nuclear waste site, then in getting a state license even though the full technical review team unanimously rejected it for not protecting the water. Three members of that team quit in disgust when the license was granted by the political appointees that head the agency. It was granted with over 90 “conditions” that it had not met.
Interestingly, while the application was under review by one state agency, the Texas Water Development Board chan-ged the location of the Ogallala Aquifer, moving the mapped boundary from the WCS site to miles away, at least partly based on information provided by WCS geologists. WCS sued a critic who charged the site threatens the aquifer and he has since become silent on the issue. The Ogallala Aquifer, one of the world’s largest fresh water aquifers, extends from Texas and New Mexico through the farm belt of the U.S. up to the Dakotas. Local residents who ques-tioned or challenged WCS have been harassed.
The Lone Star Sierra Club is still fighting for a hearing on the licensing. The court ruled that a contested case hearing should be held but the state and WCS have appealed. Waste is being buried even though the appeal is pending. Ironically the first waste to be buried was from a company outside the Texas-Vermont Compact. The dump had been touted to be exclusively for waste from the two Compact states only and its licensed capacity is less than the amount needed by generators in those two states. Regardless, the Texas and Vermont governors’-appointed Compact Commission approved taking
“out-of-compact” waste, at the behest of WCS.
Prior to this, intensely radioactive nuclear weapons waste from the Depart-ment of Energy (DOE)’s Fernald site (K-65 ore from the Belgian Congo) was buried there under a different license. Under the Texas law passed specifically to enable this private dump, commercial compact waste had to begin being disposed before more DOE weapons waste can be buried.
This translates into billions of dollars in contracts from weapons sites across the country in addition to the commercial waste from TX, VT and generators from all the other states which the compact commission is approving with a rubber stamp. Simmons and WCS will make big bucks. Andrews Country gets 5%. The nuclear industry has the illusion of a solution to its waste problem. The water, air, environment and the species that depend on them pay the price.