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.

Feds Give Thumbs-Up to West Texas Nuclear Waste Plan

May 6, 2020

TRAVIS BUBENIK
Courthouse News Service

A view of an existing site in West Texas where a company wants to store toxic waste from the nation’s nuclear power plants. (Photo courtesy of Waste Control Specialists)

(CN) — A federal review of a plan to move highly radioactive nuclear waste to rural West Texas from sites across the U.S. has concluded that regulators should approve the plan because it would not lead to significant environmental problems.

The nearly 500-page draft report released Monday is a significant milestone that follows years of ups and downs on the proposal, which would involve shipping thousands of tons of spent fuel from the nation’s nuclear power plants to a remote facility on the West Texas-New Mexico border.

A company called Interim Storage Partners wants to eventually bring about half of the nation’s growing, problematic stockpile of high-level nuclear waste to an existing toxic waste site in rural Andrews County, Texas. Under the proposal, the waste would likely sit there for decades until the government decides on a more permanent way to dispose of it.

The company is a joint venture of the site’s current operator, Waste Control Specialists, and the American arm of global nuclear power firm Orano.

Environmental groups have long opposed the plan, arguing in part that it would threaten cities and towns across the U.S. as the waste moves by rail to the Texas site.

In recent months, the groups have hit dead ends in their attempts to fight the project in regulatory proceedings, with some advocates complaining that they felt unjustly pushed out of the debate.

In the draft report released Monday, staff of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the full commission should approve an initial 40-year license for the company to bring about 5,000 metric tons of nuclear waste to West Texas. If granted, the license could later be expanded to allow up to 40,000 metric tons.

The report concluded the plan would only cause small or moderate impacts to things like air and water quality, historic and cultural resources and public health, according to a 20-page summary.


A map of where nuclear waste would be sent to in Texas. (Image via Nuclear Regulatory Commission)
"After considering the environmental impacts of the proposed action, the NRC staff’s preliminary recommendation is issuance of an NRC license," the commission said in a statement announcing the report.

Karen Hadden, who leads the environmental advocacy group SEED Coalition and has fought the proposal for years, described the commission’s review as "woefully inadequate."

"The NRC does not seem to be taking health and safety and security concerns seriously," she said in an interview. "They’re just trying to ram this project though and it’s putting us at risk. There could be accidents, there could be leaks, there could be hijacking of radioactive material."

Hadden said her group continues to formally appeal its rejection from the regulatory proceedings. She said the group will push the commission to hold public meetings in cities like Dallas and San Antonio, where the waste could travel through, in addition to the several meetings the commission said it will hold in and around Andrews County.

While Monday’s report is a step forward for the long-simmering West Texas proposal, it’s still far from a done deal.

Regulators plan to take public comments on the draft environmental report, for a longer-than-usual period of time because of the coronavirus pandemic, and to hold an online webinar in addition to the public meetings. After that, the commission will work on a finalized version of the report and a parallel safety review of the plan that will be released in the spring of 2021. A final decision on the plan would follow.

Meanwhile, the same regulators are also considering a rival plan that would bring the nuclear waste to a different site in the same general area, but instead just across the Texas border in southeastern New Mexico.

Like with the Texas plan, a subset of the NRC recently rejected environmental groups’ protests to the New Mexico plan, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

Politics could ultimately play into the fate of the nuclear waste debate as well, as it has before.

In February, President Donald Trump seemed to backtrack on his own administration’s attempted revival of a plan to dump the nation’s nuclear waste at a site called Yucca Mountain in Nevada. The Obama administration had previously abandoned the plan after years of pushback from Nevada residents and elected officials.

In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has in the past voiced displeasure at the idea of expanding the types of nuclear waste that are stored at the Andrews County site, saying he doesn’t want Texas to become “the radioactive waste dumping ground of America.”

Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report released Monday.

Copyright © 2020 courthousenews.com

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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.

Federal officials recommend storage of nuclear waste in West Texas

May 07, 2020

By Jakob Brandenburg
KOSA/CBS7

WEST TEXAS — The federal government has taken another step toward storing the nation’s nuclear waste in West Texas.

This week, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission released a report recommending the approval for radioactive waste to be transported across Texas, and stored in Andrews County.

The existing facility near the Texas-New Mexico Border is operated by Waste Control Specialists, and a joint venture called Interim Storage Partners hopes to bring the nation’s high-level nuclear waste to the facility.

"The employees of WCS live here and are part of this community," Elicia Sanchez with Interim Storage Partners said. "We are very confident in the safety of our facility, and very excited about the opportunity that it will bring the community of Andrews."

If approved, the company would receive a 40-year license to bring about 5000 metric tons of nuclear waste to West Texas.

And while the company and its website swear by the safety of the storage process, Andrews County residents are still worried.

"Very dangerous," Elizabeth Padilla with the group ‘Save Andrews County’ said. "We’re talking about the nation’s spent fuel from nuclear reactors across the country. The waste that nobody wants. The high radioactive waste."

Those against the storage of waste say that people in Andrews aren’t the only ones who should be concerned.

To get to the facility, the nuclear waste must travel by truck or train through Texas cities

"Midland in particular it would definitely come right through the downtown area," Karen Hadden with SEED Coalition said. "This material has to be isolated from living things for a million years, and there is no way that a facility in Texas, the one that’s being looked at, could do that."

The public is now allowed to comment on the draft and attend meetings held by the NRC.

The final environmental impact statement is scheduled to be released in May of 2021.

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.

NorthStar: Vermont Yankee demolition ahead of schedule

October 18, 2019

By Susan Smallheer
Brattleboro Reformer

VERNON — Nine months into the demolition of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, NorthStar CEO Scott State says the project is already about six months ahead of schedule. He said the company has been able to make progress by "doing things differently."

State said the project was divided up into three, two-year segments, and that the company will complete the project ahead of the 2030 deadline easily and on budget.

NorthStar’s partner for the first segment of the project, Orano USA, is already cutting up the nuclear reactor’s internals and getting them ready for shipment to another partner’s waste site in western Texas.

State said he originally expected the job would be completed by 2026.

"I think we’ll be done well before 2026," he said Thursday during a tour of the Vernon site with reporters, giving an update of the $500-plus million project. "We are months ahead of schedule."

State said despite the pace, the company had recently reached 220,000 man hours on the site with no ‘lost-time accidents,’ which he said is a tribute to the company’s planning and safety culture.

"These are big logistical jobs," he said.

State said NorthStar was in negotiations with the town of Vernon about leaving untouched some buildings and components, as long as they pass a radiological survey. NorthStar’s administrative building, which sits outside the security fence surrounding the plant and the de-construction zone, is one asset the town is interested in, State said.

He said he hopes to transfer some of the "assets" to Vernon even before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission releases the entire site from federal oversight.

"This is the community’s asset," said State. "We’re not developers."

The plant’s intake structure on the Connecticut River is another item the town is interested in, said David Pearson, NorthStar’s vice president.

COOLING TOWERS

Vermont Yankee’s iconic dual bank of cooling towers are now gone, leaving a large field free of tons of debris, but still sporting a 250,000 gallon hole that was an emergency reservoir for the plant.

"We’ll fill it in," said Corey Daniels, a longtime employee at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, as he and others climbed up a now-vacant security tower installed in the hyper security days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and got a good view of the ongoing demolition and clean up of the 130-acre site.

In all, the demolition is expected to take at least six years, and possibly longer, and cost upwards of $500 million.

By comparison, Entergy Nuclear, which had owned Vermont Yankee since 2002, had estimated it would cost more than double that amount – $1.2 billion – and that included waiting 50 years or so to let the plant’s trust fund grow, and allow radioactivity to decay.

While nothing was under active demolition like the cooling tower project, which was completed in July, workers were busy moving large concrete and steel casks that would hold cut-up components of the plant’s reactor core – some of the most radioactive material, aside from the plant’s fuel.

The vast majority of the demolition will be shipped off site by rail. NorthStar rebuilt the rail line that served Vermont Yankee back when it was constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, to carry heavy loads. The radioactive materials are labeled and put into either special shielded boxes and filled with concrete, or inserted into heavy-duty canisters for the trip to western Texas.

According to Daniels, shipping by rail is much more efficient and much cheaper than trucking.

On Thursday, workers were preparing one of the 17 large boxes that would hold the pieces of the reactor vessel internals.

WHERE WILL THE WASTE GO?

At Yankee, it’s all about nuclear waste and where it will go.

The transfer of the nuclear fuel from the plant’s spent fuel pool into concrete and steel canisters was completed a year ago, shortly before NorthStar bought Vermont Yankee from Entergy Nuclear Corp., said State.

There are 58 of the giant canisters on the north end of the Yankee site, behind barbed wire and barricades – and guards. It will remain there for years, until the federal government acts to create either permanent storage for the dangerous, highly radioactive fuel (hence the security), or an interim storage site.

State said Waste Control Specialists, which he described as a partner of NorthStar’s, runs a low-level radioactive waste site in western Texas and has proposed building an interim storage site, a plan that is pending before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Holtec International, a competitor of Waste Control Specialists and the builder of the storage casks being used at Yankee, has a competing application for a nearby site in southeastern New Mexico.

State, who lives in Arizona during the winter, makes a point of coming to Vermont Yankee at least once a month to check on progress.

He said he expects the NRC to make a decision on the proposed consolidated, interim storage in about three years, and he said because the WCS site is owned by a NorthStar affiliate, Yankee’s high-level radioactive waste could be shipped quickly, rather than following a federal requirement of oldest-waste first.

NorthStar is hoping that the Vermont Yankee project brings it other nuclear demolition projects, as by State’s calculation there will be another 10 nuclear reactors shutting down in the next five years. NorthStar recently signed an agreement to demolish Duke Energy’s Crystal River reactor in Florida. That project is awaiting NRC approval, he said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.

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.