Texas Commission Votes to Receive Low-Level Waste from 34 More States

January 14, 2011

On January 4, a Texas commission decided to increase the number of states allowed to use the Waste Control Specialists disposal site located on the New Mexico-Texas border. The low-level waste dump in Andrews County was designed and built to be used only by Texas and two small New England states. With its vote, the seven-member Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission opens the site for 34 more states to use it for the disposal of low-level waste, consisting in part of materials and equipment from nuclear plants, research laboratories and hospitals. www.tllrwdcc.org Other waste that is more highly contaminated, such as spent fuel from power plants, will not be disposed of at the site.

Spokespersons for the nuclear industry were pleased with the Commission's decision. www.nei.org Texas stands to take a portion of the disposal fees and will receive a $136 million fund that would help address any future liabilities.

Environmentalists and nuclear activists, on the other hand, have long opposed opening up the 1,338-acre site for permanent storage. One concern is that contamination of the ground water could result. In 2007, staff of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality recommended denying the radioactive waste license because the scientific evidence demonstrated that groundwater was likely to intrude into the disposal units.

Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of the Texas office of the consumer watchdog group, Public Citizen, believes that the Commission violated the rules of the public comment process. He said, "We're going to consult with our lawyers and probably sue them." www.citizen.org/Page.aspx?pid=1327

It is likely that a series of court appeals will be needed to settle the differences.

In the wake of the decision to open up the west Texas site, Ed Ellis, president of the San Luis & Rio Grande Railroad, is prepared to show how waste shipments from Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) might travel on his railroads to the disposal site. Although contractors will make final decisions on routes and carriers, Ellis points out that another one of the railroad lines that he heads has carried several thousand carloads of non-radioactive dirt from other locations to the Texas site.

Ellis claims that the proposed transfer facility south of Antonito, Colorado, could help expedite the handling of LANL waste to Texas. But it would be a circuitous route requiring at least 660 miles and five transfers to deliver the LANL waste that originates only 300 miles north-west of the disposal site as the crow flies. Waste from the Laboratory would travel by truck north 100 miles to Antonito, be transferred to rail, and then roll east to Walsenberg. There the waste would be transferred to the Union Pacific line, roll south at some point to Monahans, Texas, be transferred to the New Mexico Rail, and then travel north to Eunice, New Mexico. www.iowapacific.net/texas-new-mexico-railroad.htm That stop is five miles west of the Waste Control Specialists site.

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