Texas radioactive waste disposal company seeking break from state fees and surcharges

At issue is whether Texas could become the disposal site for high-level radioactive waste.
April 8, 2021
By John C. Moritz, USA TODAY NETWORK

Depending on who is interpreting it, legislation moving closer to a vote in the Texas House and Senate would either shut the door to the state ever becoming home to high-level radioactive waste or carve a path to bring it in.

Two separate but similar bills — one in the House and the other in the Senate — seek to lower state fees and surcharges imposed on Waste Control Specialists that operates a storage and disposal site in Andrews County, near the border with New Mexico.

Waste Control Specialists, which stores low-level radioactive waste in a remote area of West Texas, is seeking tax breaks from the state that would total about $1.4 million a year.

Waste Control Specialists, which stores low-level radioactive waste in a remote area of West Texas, is seeking tax breaks from the state that would total about $1.4 million a year.

The site houses low-level radioactive waste from facilities such as nuclear power plants, sundry industries and from health care facilities that use x-ray and radiation therapy for care of their patients.

Unlikely bedfellows

Officials from Waste Control Specialists say they need the financial breaks that would cost the state about $1.4 million a year to remain competitive. But environmental groups opposing both bills argue that the breaks would leave Texas short of money in the event the company should go belly up, and taxpayers would be stuck with the bill for managing the site for centuries into the future.

The environmentalists have an unlikely ally in one of Andrews County’s oldest traditional energy companies and its largest private landowner, Fasken Oil and Ranch Ltd.

The bills’ authors, Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, and Sen. Brian Birdwell, R-Granbury, say they contain safeguards to prohibit high-level radioactive waste from ever being shipped to Andrews County for disposal.

"e;A person, including the compact waste disposal facility license holder, may not dispose of or store high-level radioactive waste or spent nuclear fuel in this state,"e; a section in both bills reads.

A committee has approved House Bill 2692, and it is awaiting placement on the full House calendar. A Senate committee is weighing Senate Bill 1046.

Drilling operations at risk?

Several people testifying during House and Senate committee meetings on behalf of environmental groups said the definition of “person” could be subject to wide interpretation. So did Tommy Taylor, an executive with Faskin Oil and Ranch.

And if high-level radioactive waste should somehow find its way to Andrews County, which is part of the oil-rich Permian Basin that stretches from Texas to New Mexico, Taylor said it could jeopardize the safety of drilling operations and decimate the fossil fuel industry and the Texas economy.

This (the oil and gas industry) is a significant source of income for Texas and (vital for) the security of our nation,” Taylor said.

What worries the legislation’s opponents is that Waste Control Specialists has an application pending before the federal Nuclear Regulatory Committee to build and operate a high-level waste facility in Andrews County. A federal permit would likely trump a state ban on such waste.

Former state Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat and now part of the Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness, said Waste Control Specialists cannot argue on one hand that its financial position is so precarious that it needs a break on state fees and on the other hand tell the Nuclear Regulatory Committee it has the means to build a state-of-the-art waste disposal site in West Texas.

“These guys perpetually cry wolf and plead poverty,” Burnam said. “This company is not at risk of going under.”

But Waste Control Specialists President David Carlson told the Senate Natural Resources Committee that a company in Nevada with lower operating costs is well-positioned to outcompete his firm for low-level waste disposal. He said the Andrews County site is also very expensive to operate.

“This is the most protected low-level radioactive waste site that’s ever been built,” Carlson said.

High-level waste

Among opponents of Waste Control Specialists’ permit application before the Nuclear Regulatory Committee is Gov. Greg Abbott, who said it would leave Texas vulnerable.

“According to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, the cargo currently shipped on rail lines through the Permian Basin consists primarily of “oilfield commodities such as drilling mud, hydrochloric acid, fracking sand, pipe, and petroleum products, including crude oil, as well as iron and steel scrap,” Abbott said in a Nov. 3 letter to the Nuclear Regulatory Committee.

“There are also significant agricultural commodities. In the event of a rail accident or derailment, even absent a radiological release, the resources and logistics required to address such an accident would severely disrupt the transportation of oilfield and agricultural commodities, to the detriment of the entire country.”

Asked by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, if Waste Control Specialists would consider withdrawing its federal application to satisfy bipartisan concerns, Carlson replied, “No, ma’am.”

Supporters of the legislation, including Republican Sen. Kel Seliger of Amarillo, noted that Texas is obligated by state and federal law to safely dispose of low-level radioactive waste and that Andrews County is the chosen site.

Nearly every community with a hospital or a dentist office, not to mention those with defense industry and other plants, contribute to that waste stream, they said.

Finally, Andrews County officials testified that a profitable Waste Control Specialists is vital to the remote region’s economic health. Local taxes and fees pay for parks, ambulances and recreational projects countywide, said Morse Haynes of the Andrews Economic Development corporation.

“They’re great corporate citizens,” Haynes said.

Fair Use Notice
This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a “fair use” of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond “fair use”, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Nuclear waste project in southeast New Mexico delayed as feds demand answers

Adrian Hedden
Carlsbad Current-Argus

April 2, 2021

A project to store high-level nuclear waste in southeast New Mexico was delayed as the federal government sought more answers from the company proposing to build and operate the facility as to its potential risk to human life.

Holtec International proposed to build the consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) to temporarily hold spent nuclear fuel rods from generator sites across the country as a permanent repository was developed.

Permanent, offsite disposal for high-level waste does not exist in the U.S. after such a project at Yucca Mountain in Nevada was blocked by state lawmakers.

Holtect’s project is amidst a federal licensing process overseen by the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) which released an environmental analysis last year that reported minimal impact was expected from the construction and operation of the CISF.

The initial license application was to store 8,680 metric tons (MT) of spent nuclear fuel under a 40-year term, and the company intended to file additional applications for up to 20 phases for a total of up to 100,000 MT of waste and 120 years of operation.

Following the environmental review, the NRC embarked on a review of the proposed facility’s safety and security and made numerous requests for additional information (RAIs) to Holtec in September 2020.

But in a March 25 letter to Holtec, the NRC informed the company that its responses to the RAIs submitted in October and November 2020 and again in January were inadequate and more requests were needed.

This would delay the project, the letter read, past the May 2021 deadline for completing the safety review.

NRC staff found Holtec’s responses related to soil impacts, flooding, aircraft crash hazards, some building designs and analyses of the site’s shielding, thermal and aging management were "unanswered or incomplete," the letter read.

"However, the schedule assumed that Holtec would provide timely and high-quality responses to all outstanding requests for additional information (RAIs) by November 2020, and that no follow-up RAIs would be necessary. If additional RAIs were necessary, the staff would revise its schedule accordingly," the letter read.

"Accordingly, the staff will not be able to complete its safety and security review and publish a final (safety evaluation report) in May 2021."

A second set of RAIs was planned to be sent to Holtec in the next month, read the letter, repeating the requests, providing details on the information still needed and setting a two-week deadline for responses.

The schedule for the final report would not be updated by the NRC, until Holtec responds to the inquiry.

In the letter, the NRC said it already held a clarification call with Holtec staff on the RAIs and intended to hold more meetings to ensure the agency’s questions are properly addressed.

"We expect to schedule additional calls over the next few weeks to discuss the remaining items," the letter read.

"In order to ensure your responses to the staff’s second RAI are complete and adequately resolve the remaining issues, the staff strongly recommends Holtec staff meet with NRC to discuss the proposed answers prior to their submission."

Holtec Director of Government Affairs Joe Delmar said the company planned to work closely with the federal government in answering the needed questions and displaying the safety of the facility and its nuclear waste storage system.

"The Nuclear Regulatory Commission licensing process is rigorous, thorough and transparent to ensure the protection of public health and safety and the protection of the environment," Delmar said.

"Holtec remains committed to completing the NRC’s licensing process for HI-STORE CISF and remains equally committed to providing the country a supremely safe, secure, retrievable and centralized facility for storing spent nuclear fuel on an interim basis."

New Mexico State leaders voiced strong concerns for the project, opposing Holtec’s proposal for its potential to impact existing industries in southeast New Mexico such as oil and gas and agriculture.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called the project "economic malpractice" while State Attorney General Hector Balderas filed a lawsuit against the NRC to block the facility from being licensed.

Balderas argued federal law precluded the federal government from taking ownership of the waste while in transport to the Holtec site and thus project was illegal.

Last year, the NRC rejected multiple similar contentions from environmental and watchdog groups, arguing they were not admissible or the groups lacked standing to intervene in the licensing process as members did not reside within 50 miles of the facility.

The NRC dissented with arguments from the the Sierra Club, Beyond Nuclear and Fasken Land and Minerals that the Nuclear Waste Policy Act barred the U.S. Department of Energy from taking ownership of the waste.

Those groups displayed standing under the proximity standard.

The application, per the NRC’s decision, suggested Congress could change the federal law or nuclear plant owners could take ownership and be Holtec’s customers.

"The Board rejected the argument that the ‘mere mention of DOE renders Holtec’s license application unlawful.’ The Board observed that Holtec ‘is committed to going forward with the project’ by contracting directly with the plant owners," the decision read.

"The Board held that whether that option is ‘commercially viable’ was not an issue before the Board."

Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-618-7631, achedden@currentargus.com or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.

Fair Use Notice
This document contains copyrighted material whose use has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. SEED Coalition is making this article available in our efforts to advance understanding of ecological sustainability, human rights, economic democracy and social justice issues. We believe that this constitutes a “fair use” of the copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. If you wish to use this copyrighted material for purposes of your own that go beyond “fair use”, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.

Remember That Time a Nuclear Weapons Bunker Blew Up in San Antonio?

November 2020

DAVID WOOD
Texas Monthly

On the clear, cool morning of November 13, 1963, a convoy flanked by blue Air Force police cars with flashing lights turned off the tarmac at Kelly Air Force Base, southwest of downtown San Antonio. It wound its way carefully across Interstate 410 and into the neighboring Lackland Air Force Base’s Medina Annex, slowly passing a neighborhood made up of new ranch homes.

At the center of the convoy, an ungainly vehicle called a straddle carrier, whose driver sat in a cab high above the roadway, held precious cargo slung between its four wheeled legs. The vehicle resembled a giant spider protecting its eggs.

The convoy drove into Site King, a secret area in Medina where about a hundred humpbacked rectangular bunkers made of fortified steel and concrete, known as “igloos”—each roughly the size of four 2-car garages—served as one of the country’s largest nuclear weapons installations.

Read more at the Texas Monthly website…

Texas governor opposes interim storage site

Jeremy Dillon, E&E News reporter
Energy Wire

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Texas Governor Greg Abbott.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) yesterday announced his opposition to a pair of proposed interim nuclear storage sites in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico. World Travel & Tourism Council/Wikimedia Commons

Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott added his name yesterday to the list of state leaders opposed to the storage of nuclear waste in their state.

His opposition to a pair of proposed interim storage sites in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico currently undergoing Nuclear Regulatory Commission review likely makes the prospects of those private projects moving forward untenable.

New Mexico’s Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham voiced similar concerns to both sites last year. She echoed those concerns in August (Greenwire, Aug. 10).

In a letter to President Trump yesterday, Abbott argued that the storage site’s location in the Permian Basin — one of the world’s most prolific oil plays — could have the potential to disrupt oil and natural gas production operations.

"A stable oil and gas industry is essential to the economy, and crucial to the security of our great nation," Abbott said. "Allowing the interim storage of spent nuclear fuel and high level nuclear waste at sites near the largest producing oilfield in the world will compromise the safety of the region."

The planned West Texas site from Interim Storage Partners would be next to an existing Waste Control Specialists LLC low-level nuclear waste disposal facility in Andrews, Texas.

Interim Storage Partners was not immediately available for comment.

The plan — should it receive NRC approval — would put the 5,000 tons of nuclear waste on a concrete pad in dry-cask storage containers. Subsequent additions could boost the amount to 40,000 tons. In a draft environmental impact statement, the NRC staff found the proposal would not have significant impacts on the environment (E&E News PM, May 5).

That draft EIS is in an extended public comment period as a result of the pandemic.

More than 80,000 metric tons of nuclear waste currently sits at more than 120 sites across the country without any tenable strategy from the federal government on how to address it.

That waste had originally been pegged for disposal in the controversial Yucca Mountain site in Nevada.

Both the Obama and Trump administrations abandoned those efforts over heavy state opposition to the facility going forward. Trump in a February tweet called for "innovative solutions" to the nation’s nuclear waste backlog, and the Department of Energy said it would pursue an interim storage strategy.

New Mexico’s political leaders have expressed concern that any interim storage site could turn into a de facto long-term repository, given the limited number of other disposal strategies to have emerged.

Abbott echoed those concerns in his letter to the White House.

"The proposed sites in Texas and New Mexico do not provide the deep geologic isolation required for permanent storage in order to minimize the risks of accidents, terrorism, or sabotage, which could disrupt the country’s energy supply with catastrophic effects on the American economy," he said.

Reporter Hannah Northey contributed.

60 Groups to NRC: Suspend ISP/WCS High-Level Radioactive Waste CIS Dump Proceeding, Till Covid-19 Emergency Ends

Coalition Calls for DEIS Public Comment Meetings Along Targeted Transport Routes in Texas and Beyond

NEWS FROM BEYOND NUCLEAR
For immediate release, July 14, 2020

Contact:
Rose Gardner, Alliance for Environmental Strategies (AFES), Eunice, NM, nmlady2000@icloud.com, (575) 390-9634
Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, Austin, TX,
karendhadden@gmail.com, (512) 797-8481
Susybelle Gosslee, League of Women Voters of Texas, sgosslee@airmail.net, (214) 732-8610
Terry Lodge, legal counsel for Don’t Waste Michigan, et al., tjlodge50@yahoo.com, (419) 205-7084
Wally Taylor, legal counsel for Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter, wtaylorlaw@aol.com, (319) 366-2428
Michael Keegan, Don’t Waste MI & Coalition for a Nuclear-Free Great Lakes, mkeeganj@comcast.net, (734) 770-1441
Kevin Kamps, Beyond Nuclear, kevin@beyondnuclear.org, (240) 462-3216
Stephen Kent, KentCom LLC, (914) 589 5988, skent@kentcom.com

ANDREWS, TEXAS — A coalition of 60 environmental and environmental justice groups, from 22 states, has written the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regarding Interim Storage Partners, LLC’s (ISP) proposed Consolidated Interim Storage Facility (CISF) for irradiated nuclear fuel targeting the Waste Control Specialists, LLC (WCS) site in Andrews County, Texas. See the letter, here.

The coalition’s letter to NRC advises:

All of the undersigned organizations hereby request that the Commission indefinitely extend, for the duration of the national COVID-19 pandemic emergency, the ongoing public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the ISP/WCS CISF proposed for development in Andrews County, west Texas. At the formal termination of the national emergency, as via a safe and effective vaccine available to all people regardless of socio-economic status, we request that the public comment period then be extended for a period of 180 days, post-pandemic. We further request that when in-person public comment meetings again become safely possible that the NRC conduct plenary-style, in-person public comment meetings in the following six Texas locations: San Antonio, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, El Paso, Midland, and Andrews. We also request that in-person public comment meetings likewise be held, post-pandemic, in more than a dozen cities nationwide, on impacted transport corridors in states outside Texas.

The 180-day public comment period (as opposed to NRC’s current 120-day public comment period, currently set to end on September 4, 2020), and nearly two-dozen public comment meetings in more than a dozen states, would match the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) public comment proceeding at the DEIS phase of the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada permanent repository scheme, targeted at Western Shoshone lands. This ISP/WCS CISF proposal is more than half as large as the Yucca scheme: 40,000 metric tons of irradiated nuclear fuel, versus 70,000. But because the CISF is supposedly "temporary," export shipments would double the transport risks and impacts, thus matching those of the Yucca dump targeting Western Shoshone land.

The coalition letter came after U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (TX-35th) wrote NRC, also urging public comment meetings across the Lone Star State be delayed until after the pandemic emergency — currently raging in Texas — ends, and the public comment period be held open until after the in-person meetings are completed, including in his congressional district. Similarly, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD-8th) has written NRC, urging the comment period be extended "throughout the duration of the pandemic," and to end it "no sooner than six months after this FEMA-declared emergency has passed."

Of the 60 groups on the letter, six are from TX: Energía Mía; Nuclear Free World Committee of the Dallas Peace and Justice Center; Public Citizen (Texas Office); Peace Farm; Sierra Club (Lone Star Chapter); and Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. Alliance for Environmental Strategies (AFES), a largely Hispanic environmental justice organization, is based just five miles from the WCS site, across the state line in Eunice, New Mexico.

Of these, Public Citizen Texas Office, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, and SEED Coalition have officially intervened against the ISP/WCS CISF in the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board proceeding. Rose Gardner, founder of AFES, has provided legal standing to Beyond Nuclear in its legal intervention against the WCS/ISP CISF, as well.

Terry Lodge, an attorney based in Toledo, Ohio, represents Public Citizen and SEED Coalition. Wally Taylor, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, serves as legal counsel for Sierra Club.

Rose Gardner of Alliance for Environmental Strategies (AFES) in Eunice, NM said: "NRC has not even yet set up meetings in New Mexico or Texas for the public to comment on the ISP/WCS DEIS, and unfortunately this proceeding comes at a time when the whole nation, including New Mexico and Texas, are under stress and even dangerous conditions which do not allow for the common folk to even go to the grocery store or a doctor. NRC must stand down and postpone these meetings, as well as extend the comment period. The most vulnerable in our communities would be put at risk if these hearings were held now."

Gardner added: "I also admit that I am unable to concentrate on the dangers associated with the storage of high-level radioactive waste just five miles from my home even though that should be an important thing to discuss as this could possibly impact the futures of everyone in this area. NRC must take into account that these are not normal times and that regular communities are encountering abnormal situations every day that we never thought we would have to deal with. Living in the oil patch is especially difficult now because jobs are being lost and companies are pulling out of town at an amazing rate. I don’t even know where we will be in two weeks as the dangerous contagious coronavirus pandemic seems to be getting worse, not better."

Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition based in Austin, TX said: "A private company seeks to profit by dumping the nation’s deadliest nuclear reactor waste in West Texas, a massive environmental injustice. The facility could get licensed by NRC, an agency that’s been ignoring the voices of thousands of Texans and people across the country who live along transportation routes. So far the process has been a sham. Well-documented health and safety concerns were tossed out by hearing judges. The NRC must start listening, and hold real public meetings on the DEIS, once the Covid-19 risks are over. More than 5.4 million Texans have been represented by county and city resolutions opposing nuclear waste dumping."

Hadden added: "These voices must count and the NRC must stop ramming massive deadly waste projects through at a time when many people are struggling just to keep their families healthy and fed."

Don’t Waste Michigan, et al. legal counsel Terry Lodge said: "The NRC’s official position, that potentially tens of thousands of extremely dangerous radioactive waste shipments are not even worth discussing in a scientific and public manner, is a dramatic red flag. There is zero justification to rush this ill-considered cash cow to licensing. The NRC must not be allowed to take advantage of the pandemic to ramrod a decision in the shadows."

Wally Taylor, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter’s legal counsel, said: "The DEIS for this project implicates so many issues and requires intense study, and probably expert review and opinions, that 120 days is clearly not enough time to submit the thorough and technically based comments that the NRC will require. ISP/WCS, and the NRC, want to fast-track this process to prevent genuine public input. We will not allow that to happen."

In its letter, the locations along major transport routes where the coalition urges NRC to hold public comment meetings include: Andrews, TX; Atlanta, GA; Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH; Dallas/Fort Worth, TX; El Paso, TX; Detroit, MI; Houston, TX; Kansas City, MO; Miami, FL; Midland, TX; Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN; Nashville, TN; New York, NY/Newark, NJ; Omaha, NE; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; San Antonio, TX; San Luis Obispo, CA; St. Louis, MO; Salt Lake City, UT; and Tampa, FL.

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Beyond Nuclear is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit membership organization. Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abolish both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic. The Beyond Nuclear team works with diverse partners and allies to provide the public, government officials, and the media with the critical information necessary to move humanity toward a world beyond nuclear. Beyond Nuclear: 7304 Carroll Avenue, #182, Takoma Park, MD 20912. Info@beyondnuclear.org. www.beyondnuclear.org.