Thursday, January 6, 2011

Texas Welcomes Nuclear Waste Dump Over The Ogallala Aquifer

The Ogallala Aquifer holds as much water as Lake
Huron, but spreads over an area seven times the
area. The Ogallala aquifer, one of the most vital
water sources for American agriculture, is the
single water source for residential and agricultural
communities across eight Midwestern states.
The Texas Low-Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission (TLLRWDCC), which manages the state's radioactive-waste dump, voted 5-2 on Tuesday to approve rules governing the process for accepting the out-of-state material.

The new rules pave the way for another 35 states states to export low-level radioactive waste to a remote 1,340-acre Andrews County landfill in West Texas along the Texas-New Mexico border. The landfill is owned by Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists, LLC.

Under the new rules the site will permanently store low-level radioactive waste—contaminated materials and equipment from nuclear plants, research laboratories and hospitals. The material includes everything from parts from dismantled nuclear-energy plants to booties worn by scientists working in labs where radioactive materials are present.

In 2007, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) staff recommended denying the radioactive waste license, saying that "groundwater is likely to intrude into the proposed disposal units and contact the waste from either or both of two water tables near the proposed facility." Radioactive contamination of water could result.

The West Texas dump, which will be the fourth such storage site in the US, is mired in controversy, in part because the dump, set to open by year's end, was conceived and built to take waste from only two states—Texas and Vermont, reports the Wall Street Journal.

Texas Commissioner Bob Wilson has opposed the radioactive waste dumping plans and the rules for some time. He voted against the rules on Tuesday, but largely because he fears the commission is unprepared to deal with the enormity of the task once the 1,340-acre site begins accepting waste from other states. The commission, he said, is largely unfunded, getting $25,000 a year from Vermont and money from Texas only to cover meeting and travel costs. In addition, he fears expanding the importation of waste will interfere with the site's capacity. He also questions whether it will be as profitable as is being predicted. "I thought it was premature," Wilson said.

Trevor Lovell, a spokesman for Public Citizen, one of the most outspoken opponents of the plan, said his group will meet Wednesday to decide the next step, but he said a lawsuit was possible. "The commission that is moving forward on this has no staff, has no bylaws, and yet they are attempting to make very substantial changes and rules that would allow in radioactive waste from the entire country," Lovell said.

Lovell also noted that the landfill is over the Ogallala aquifer that provides water to one-quarter of the country's irrigated land as well as drinking water to thousands of people. "We don't feel that it's been demonstrated that the landfill is safe," Lovell said. Critics of the new radioactive waste dumping rule say that while Simmons will rake billions of dollars from the waste dump operation over the next 15 years, Texans will get the financial burden of managing dump for 10,000 years.

Opponents charge the TLLRWDCC's rule change process and vote to allow Waste Control Specialists to dump radioactive waste from 36 states at the West Texas landfill demonstrates a conflict of interest between the TLLRWDCC, most of whose members were appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, and the site's owner, Waste Control Specialists LLC, whose main investor, Harold Simmons, is a Governor Perry's 2nd largest individual donor at almost $900,000. The Commission is comprised of 8 members, 6 of whom are Perry appointees. Opponents also charge the commission rigged the 30 day comment period to transpire during the holidays, when most people are too busy to pay much attention to matters of civic engagement, to avoid a repeat of the 2,000 comments from Texans opposed to the rule that the commission received when the rule was first proposed in 2010.

Gov. Perry nuke waste "czar" appointee Michael Ford, chairman of the TLLRWDCC, first proposed a new rule making Texas a 36 state radioactive waste dump site nearly a year ago, but polls showed a majority of Texans didn’t like the proposal. When Bill White made it an election issue, accusing Governor Perry of making the state a radioactive waste dump to benefit his donor, Waste Control Specialists owner Harold Simmons, Ford tabled the proposal.

The day after election day the TLLRWDCC voted 5-2 to repost a rule allowing out-of-state radioactive waste generators – primarily nuclear power plants from 36 states on the coasts and in the Midwest – to dump their waste at the West Texas landfill. The TLLRWDCC officially reposted the 36 state radioactive waste dumping rule the day after Thanksgiving, ensuring the 30 day comment would end the day after Christmas day.

Waste Control Specialists owner Harold Simmons stands to earn billions of dollars from his radioactive waste business at his 1,340-acre Andrews County landfill. After Simmons lost $1.4 billion from 2008 to 2009 he told Forbes he was “planning to make it back with Valhi’s [parent of Waste Control Specialists] radioactive waste disposal license.” Simmons is listed as #176 on the 2010 Forbes list of richest people on the planet, and the 55th richest in the US, with a net worth of $5 billion.

Simmons said in a February 2010 D Magazine interview, “It took us six years to get legislation on this passed in Austin, but now we’ve got it all passed. We first had to change the law to where a private company can own a license [to handle radioactive waste], and we did that. Then we got another law passed that said they can only issue one license. Of course, we were the only ones that applied.”

The D Magazine story observed: “If things go as planned, Simmons’ nuclear waste dump in West Texas will exist on a scale that is hard to imagine. Waste Control Specialists is currently licensed by the state of Texas to accept up to 57 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste from federal sources. Waste Control Specialists has the space to expand its facility to more than 20 square miles.”

Gov. Rick Perry's big donors fare well in Texas; Many of his mega-donors have won hefty contracts or appointments.

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