Federal Government Says License Application Is Incomplete, Highlighting Folly of West Texas Radioactive Waste Dump Proposal

For Immediate Release:
June 30, 2016

Contact:
Tom “Smitty” Smith, Public Citizen, smitty@citizen.org, 512-797-8468
Karen Hadden, SEED Coalition, karendhadden@gmail.com, 512-797-8481

WCS Application Lacks Needed Storage Cask Safety and Site Security Information

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The federal government’s conclusion that Waste Control Specialists’ (WCS) omitted key safety and security information from its license application for a high-level radioactive waste dump at its Andrews County site in Texas highlights the dangers of the proposal, Public Citizen and SEED Coalition said today.

WCS seeks to expand its existing low-level waste site to take high-level radioactive waste from across the country. If approved, spent fuel rods from nuclear reactors around the country would be transported to Texas and stored for 40 years or longer, risking the possibility of creating a de-facto permanent disposal facility.

In a June 22 letter to WCS, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) determined that the license application for the proposed West Texas high-level radioactive waste storage site lacks sufficient technical information, including information regarding storage cask safety and how the site would be secured. WCS’ response is due in late July. The NRC can then decide whether or not to accept the application for technical review.

“WCS failed to provide a lot of the information required by the NRC to assure this is a safe site. Why should we trust a company that can’t get its paperwork complete to safely construct and operate a facility that could hold up to 40,000 metric tons of lethal nuclear reactor waste for 40 or more years?” asked Tom “Smitty” Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. The NRC also pointed out that WCS had failed to look at cumulative impacts of the radioactivity from contributions not only from the proposed facility but also other facilities in the region. WCS operates a “low-level” and a federal radioactive waste site at their same Andrews County location and LES operates a reprocessing facility nearby.

“The NRC pointed out many holes in the WCS license application, some involving important safety issues. WCS was asked to explain in detail how they would inspect radioactive waste canisters for damage when they’re received,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of SEED Coalition. “The company’s application said that casks will be visually inspected, but more information was requested by the NRC about the equipment, procedures and monitoring systems that would be used. These processes are needed to assure shielding from radiation and that waste remains confined. The plans can’t be half-baked.”

The proposed high-level radioactive waste site is located on the border of Texas and New Mexico, near the Ogallala Aquifer. The NRC asked for more information about WCS’ water diversion berms and how aquifer contamination would be prevented.
The NRC also said that:

  • The application lacks adequate information about how accidents involving radioactive waste storage casks would be prevented.
  • The application doesn’t account for degradation of the canisters
  • Details are needed regarding the site’s emergency plan.
  • Current information about the vegetation and wildlife near the site is lacking,
  • More information is needed projections of population growth and predicted demographics of local communities.
  • More information is needed regarding the site’s weather assessment and water diversion berms in relation to flooding.
  • The application said that temperatures can reach 110 degrees, but some casks list a normal ambient temperature range up to 101 degrees F.

“Not only is the application incomplete, but it’s also premature,” said Hadden. “Since no one wants radioactive waste in their backyard, the Department of Energy – DOE – is looking for communities to “volunteer” to take it. The agency is still developing a “consent-based siting” process for radioactive waste storage and disposal. They’ve held six meetings elsewhere, but never talked to people in targeted Texas / New Mexico communities or held a hearing in either state.” Based on the fact that Andrews County Commissioners agreed to WCS’ plan last year, it is often assumed that people there have consented to receiving the waste, but residents of the 11,000-person city never got to vote.”

“Dumping the most dangerous radioactive waste on largely Hispanic communities that do not consent and lack resources to fight back is extreme environmental injustice,” said Hadden. The targeted communities didn’t generate the waste or benefit from the electricity produced. Why should they get dumped by the whole country now and have to suffer with health-threatening waste in their backyard? ”

WCS’ plan would likely involve more than 10,000 shipments of radioactive waste generated across much of the United States over 20 or more years. One DOE report found that a radiation release could render 42 square miles uninhabitable and that it could cost more than $9.5 billion to raze and rebuild a single square mile of a major city’s downtown area. A 2014 Texas state report said that “spent nuclear fuel is more vulnerable to sabotage or accidents during transport than in storage because there are fewer security guards and engineered barriers, and that the consequences could be higher since the waste could travel through large cities.”
“This week two trains in Texas collided head on, creating a huge fireball and causing at least two deaths. What would have happened if one of these trains had been hauling radioactive waste?” asked Hadden.

“The incomplete WCS license application to store high-level radioactive waste from around the country reflects disregard for people throughout Texas who would be put at radioactive risk,” said Tom “Smitty” Smith. “Andrews County Commissioners should rescind their approval of this project and only reconsider it if and when WCS can prove they can handle this waste safely.’

###

Two Train Crew Members Found Dead After Texas Crash

National Transportation Safety Board investigators arrive at scene to determine cause of crash

two trains wreck in Texas
BNSF said Wednesday that the remains of two crew members have been recovered a day after two of the company’s trains collided in Panhandle, Texas, starting a fire. One other employee is in the hospital and another is presumed dead.

Photo: Sean Steffen/Amarillo Globe-News /Associated Press

June 29, 2016

By Imani Moise
Amarillo Globe-News /Associated Press

Two railroad employees were found dead and a third is still missing following a fiery train collision in Panhandle, Texas.

BNSF Railway Co. said Wednesday that the remains of two crew members have been recovered. Of the two other employees involved in the crash, one is in stable condition at a local hospital and another is presumed dead by local officials.

"The entire BNSF family is terribly saddened by this event and we extend our deepest sympathy and thoughts to the families and friends of the employees involved in this incident," said BNSF Chief Executive Carl Ice in a statement.

BNSF said the crew members’ families have been notified, but it isn’t releasing the names.

Two trains operated by BNSF were traveling toward each other on the same track and collided around 8:25 a.m. on Tuesday approximately 27 miles northeast of Amarillo, Texas, according to the railroad. The trains were carrying a combined 195 loads, and many of the containers were damaged.

Six investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Panhandle around 2 p.m. Wednesday to determine the cause of the accident. Senior investigator Richard Hipskind said the team would examine the data reports, human performance and equipment among other factors as part of the investigation.

Digital video recorders were present on both trains and may be used in the investigation.

"Our mission is to understand not just what happened but why it happened and to make recommendations or changes to prevent it from happening again," Mr. Hipskind said in a press conference.

The investigation may last up to five days, Mr. Hipskind said, and the NTSB won’t publicly speculate about what caused the accident while they are on the scene. The search for the third crew member is ongoing but has been made difficult by strong winds and smoldering wreckage, he said.

Nearby residents were evacuated, a Panhandle city spokeswoman said. A diesel fire caused by the collision was contained at approximately 7 p.m. Tuesday, said Sgt. Dan Buesing of the Texas Highway Patrol, a part of the Texas Department of Public Safety. Late that day, authorities shifted the focus of their investigation on the four crew members from a search and rescue to a recovery mission.

Apart from the railway and the land immediately surrounding the collision, Sgt. Buesing said no other property was damaged.

The National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Railroad Administration are conducting independent investigations to determine the cause of the accident.

The railroad has said that a new safety technology known as positive train control was slated for installation later this year along the area of track where the crash occurred, something intended to prevent these types of accidents.

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Stop Fukushima Freeways

For Immediate Release
October 27, 2015

Contact: Karen Hadden – SEED Coalition
512-797-8481, karendhadden(at)gmail.com

New Map shows Texas would be a Corridor for
Extremely Dangerous and Radioactive Nuclear Waste Shipments;
Risk of Radioactive Wrecks Could Double if Texas Becomes an " Interim
Storage Site"

Austin, TX – Over 1000 nuclear waste shipments would cross through Texas if plans for the country’s first nuclear waste repository in Nevada move forward. Today, SEED Coalition and No Nuclear Waste Aqui released maps of the likely routes radioactive shipments would use, joining dozens of environmental and clean energy groups across the country. The groups want state residents to weigh in with Congress about the dangers.

According to the map, highly radioactive waste fuel from South Texas Project and Comanche Peak nuclear power plants, and from reactors outside the state, would pass through the Texas on major highways and railways and be transported through Houston, San Antonio, Amarillo and the Dallas/Ft. Worth areas. Each shipment would contain several times more radioactive material than was released by the Hiroshima bomb blast, with 20 to 50 tons of irradiated fuel assemblies in each canister. Department of Energy studies completed in the 1990s confirmed that accidents in transporting the waste to Yucca Mountain would be a certainty, due to the large number of shipments that would be required. The shipments would also be vulnerable to attack or sabotage along the hundreds or thousands of miles that each cask would travel. DOE estimated that 357 rail casks and 857 truck casks would be shipped across Texas.

"Texas is not ready for mass transportation of nuclear waste," said Van Horn resident Patricia Golden, a spokesperson for No Nuclear Waste Aqui. " First responders are not trained to handle a radioactive waste accident. We have all witnessed horrible train derailments and explosions in recent months. On Saturday a train derailed in Texas due to torrential rains in Corsicana. An accident involving nuclear waste could force thousands of people to evacuate their homes, schools, and businesses and radioactively-contaminate huge tracts of land," Golden concluded.

Rose Gardner of Eunice, New Mexico lives only 5 miles from the Waste Control Specialists site that could be used to store high-level radioactive waste on an " interim storage" basis, for 40 – 60 years. " A 93-car train derailed near Gallup, New Mexico just last week. Bringing high-level radioactive waste through our community risks our health, our lives and our land. We do not give consent for the transport or storage of this deadly waste here."

Some members of Congress want to force a nuclear waste dump to open in Nevada, over the objections of President Obama, the state of Nevada and the Western Shoshone Nation. The president has defunded the proposed Yucca Mountain repository since 2010, effectively abandoning the controversial project. Nevada believes the site is not suitable for storing nuclear waste and opposes the project. Nevada controls the land and water rights the federal government would need to complete the project. To overcome that obstacle, Congress would need to enact a law overriding the state’s rights. Doing so would then open the door for nuclear waste shipments to begin, and would likely increase the chances of " interim storage" in Texas or New Mexico.

"Congress should support the people of Nevada and abandon Yucca Mountain," said Karen Hadden, director of SEED Coalition. " It is unconscionable to risk the lives of people in Texas by transporting nuclear waste throughout our state just to dump it at Yucca Mountain, a site that science has not shown to be safe. The least risky path for now is to store radioactive waste securely on the site where it was generated, not put it on our roads and railways, traveling through our communities," concluded Hadden.

"We’re calling on Texas leaders to oppose Yucca Mountain and ensure that transportation of nuclear waste only occurs when there is a scientifically proven, environmentally sound, and socially responsible long-term management plan," said former State Representative Lon Burnam of Ft. Worth. " The nuclear waste problem can never truly be resolved until nuclear power plants are permanently shut down and stop generating deadly radioactive material." Large-scale nuclear waste transport would also occur if, as some in Congress advocate, a "centralized interim storage" site for high-level radioactive waste were created. In that case, the waste would either have to move twice (once to the interim site, and then to a permanent site), thus doubling the risks or the " interim" site would become a de facto permanent waste dump– without going through the necessary scientific characterization.

Texas is at risk of becoming a " centralized interim storage site" since two companies are proposing storage sites in West Texas. " Even the TCEQ’s report on high-level radioactive waste warns that Texas could become a de facto permanent waste site," said Tom " Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen’s Texas office. " Thorough scientific study is needed to research whether a suitable site even exists. Politics and generating false " consent" is not the right way to site a repository for high-level radioactive waste and will lead to disaster. We have a simple message – No Nuclear Waste Aqui."

No Nuclear Waste Aqui on home

More information and related documents:

http://www.nirs.org/fukushimafreeways/stopfukushimafreeways.htm

Representative transportation routes for the state of Texas
Representative transportation routes for the state of Texas

Report: http://www.state.nv.us/nucwaste/AffectedStates.pdf
States Potentially Affected by Shipments to Yucca Mountain, Nevada. By Fred Dilger, PhD. 2015. Report
prepared for the State of Nevada Agency for Nuclear Projects.
Based on data from U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) – Final Supplemental Environmental Impact
Statement for a Geologic Repository for the Disposal of Spent Nuclear Fuel and High-Level Radioactive
Waste at Yucca Mountain, Nye County, Nevada (FSEIS), Appendix G.

www.RanchersCoalition.org, www.NukeFreeTexas.org www.NoNuclearWasteAqui.org

Additional Contact Info:
Former State Representative Lon Burnam, D-90, Ft. Worth, 817-721-5846
Patricia Golden, Van Horn, TX 432-284-0478
Rose Gardner, Eunice, NM (5 miles from WCS site) 575-390-9635
Humberto Acosta, Andrews, Texas 432-661-2011
Tom " Smitty" Smith, Public Citizen Texas, 512-797-8481
Karen Hadden, Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, 512-797-8481