Speakers encourage NRC to rethink waste storage plan
February 16, 2017
By Trevor Hawes firstname.lastname@example.org,
Midland County Democratic Party chairman was among those to express concerns about Andrews site
Waste Control Specialists bury some of the 3,700, 20,000-pound canisters of radioactive byproduct material from the Fernald uranium processing plant in Fernald, Ohio. The Low Specific Activity pad at Waste Control in western Andrews County began storing the canisters in 2005 and the disposal was conducted in 2009, according to WCS information
ANDREWS — It was nearly a full house at the James Roberts Center on Wednesday night as more than two dozen people gave comments both for and against the proposed high-level nuclear waste storage site at the site of Waste Control Specialists’ low-level radioactive site.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission conducted its second of three public comment meetings as part of the scoping process for a federally required environmental impact study. The first was Monday in Hobbs, New Mexico.
WCS wants to take high-level nuclear waste from decommissioned nuclear power plants across the nation and store it temporarily above ground. If approved, the NRC would offer an initial 40-year license to store the material in special casks.
Midlander David Rosen, chairman of the Midland County Democratic Party, was among the first to speak. Rosen shared his concerns about the site, illustrating his point by drawing a comparison between technical difficulties with microphones at the event and catastrophes that can happen if any of the waste containers fail.
"Right at the beginning of the presentation, equipment failed," he said.
"It was tested for hours. It was no one’s fault that it failed. The employees are of WCS are highly conscientious, but accidents occur and equipment fails."
He said that in his 40 or so years of experience in the oilfield, he has seen accidents that have been detrimental to people’s lives, and he encouraged the NRC panelists to think no less of the impacts failures in handling the high-level nuclear waste would have on West Texas.
Tom "Smitty" Smith, longtime director of Public Citizen Texas, also spoke. "I don’t think this is the right site; I think it’s too risky," he said, reiterating points he made at a press conference in Midland last week.
Smith worries that the site will become the de factor permanent storage site for the waste. "What happens if it never goes away?" he asked the panel. The Department of Energy is mandated by law to find permanent storage for the nation’s spent nuclear waste but has failed to do so.
Smith also asked if the canisters are "tough enough to do the job" and what happens when they degrade. "Does WCS have the capacity to repackage those containers on-site?"
He also encouraged the NRC representatives to deeply investigate the transportation implications should there be a leak.
The comments weren’t all negative, however. A local school principal said WCS had donated thousands of dollars to the local education foundation and has offered scholarships to students.
Yvonne Mantiel, a WCS employee, said her company is committed to operating a safe facility and that employees have a "healthy respect" for the families in the area. She said there were no promises an incident would never occur but that WCS is will work diligently to address the problem. "Our lives and our livelihoods depend on it," she said.
WCS President and CEO Rod Baltzer said his company is one of the most regulated businesses in the area and that there haven’t been any environmental impacts from current operations at the site.
When addressing why taxpayers should pay for movement and storage of waste, Baltzer said, "Taxpayers are already on the hook for this waste."
Midlander Deborah Ann Borgen said the money would be better spent on the Department of Energy permanent-storage obligation. "Why are you going to put forth all this time, money and effort to bring it out for short-term storage. It doesn’t make sense," she said. "Why not take all of this money, time and effort to develop true, long-term storage deep in the earth in igneous rock?"
More than 30 people offered comments to the NRC. The scoping period ends March 13, and the NRC encouraged the public to submit their comments.
More information is available at nrc.gov.
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