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In West Texas, spent fuel storage seeks a foothold

February 24, 2017

Edward Klump, News reporter
E&E News

Waste Control Specialists LLC storage waste
Waste Control Specialists LLC operates a facility licensed to dispose of low-level radioactive waste in Andrews County, Texas. The company is in the process of seeking a license for an interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel. Photo by Edward Klump.

ANDREWS, Texas — Tucked inside a Mexican restaurant, surrounded by newfound allies and a sizable buffet, Elizabeth Padilla appeared eager for an evening of activism.

Just days earlier, she heard details of Waste Control Specialists LLC’s plan to welcome high-level radioactive waste to West Texas. Padilla was alarmed and decided to speak out, even if Andrews County — where she lives — could see a financial boost that might delight residents.

"Is it really worth the risk of our children, of our future generations?" Padilla asked. "They’re pretty much putting a price on that risk."

It was a little past noon on Feb. 15. In eight hours, Padilla would stand before an estimated 300 people in a local assembly center and voice her opposition as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission held a public meeting.

Rod Baltzer, CEO at Waste Control Specialists (WCS), sat in the front row that night. He listened to Padilla and others condemn the project and worry about radioactive leaks and accidents. He and supporters offered rebuttals, arguing high-level waste will be safe — just like existing low-level waste already at the site.

Baltzer acknowledged later it’s hard not to take things personally, but he preaches a professional and methodical approach. He’s based in Dallas, while about 170 people work at the WCS site in Andrews County.

"For us, it’s really about the science, it’s about the technology, it’s highly regulated," Baltzer said, adding, "We’re not going to do anything that’s going to damage our lives, our families, our friends."

Elizabeth Padilla and her husband, Jesus, attended a public meeting about nuclear waste in Andrews County, Texas, this month. Photo by Edward Klump.

The fight is over the fate of spent fuel — often referred to in the WCS debate as high-level radioactive waste — from U.S. nuclear reactor sites. It’s tangled up in conversations about energy and the economy, ethnicity and income, politicians and regulators, transportation and water resources.

The debate likely won’t end soon. Leaders and influential voices in Andrews County have been lining up to support WCS. Many critics, on the other hand, want high-level waste to stay at existing sites until a better solution emerges.

This is where the plan intersects with discussions to revive Yucca Mountain as a potential long-term repository in Nevada (E&E News PM, Feb. 21). WCS sees its proposal as complementary because Andrews County would have a consolidated interim spent fuel storage facility.

Meanwhile, WCS is dealing with a proposed sale of the company as the NRC works on environmental and safety reviews for the high-level plan. NRC approval could come in 2019, meaning the site might be accepting high-level radioactive waste in 2021.

Last week, locals turned out from the county, both for and against the WCS plan. Critics also came from New Mexico and Midland, Texas, and beyond. At one point, Baltzer asked supporters to stand — and they outnumbered opponents. A separate NRC meeting was held Feb. 13 in New Mexico and another yesterday in Maryland.

Baltzer said the storage discussion is now a "national game" with national opponents.

Representatives from Beyond Nuclear and the Nuclear Information and Resource Service — both based in Maryland — were at the Andrews County meeting.

Also in town were Karen Hadden and her husband, Tom "Smitty" Smith, who had driven days earlier from Austin, Texas. She is executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. He is the longtime director of Public Citizen’s Texas office.

They connected with Padilla, 28, through a local church, and she became a key face at the NRC’s Feb. 15 meeting, accompanied by her husband and young children and signs.

"She’s a gifted organizer and a really good speaker," Smith said before the night was over.

A day in Andrews

The city of Andrews sits less than an hour’s drive from both Midland and the New Mexico border. It’s the seat of Andrews County, which had about 18,000 people in a 2015 census estimate.

A sign in the area sets the tone: "Andrews Loves God, Country And Supports Free Enterprise." The city and county were named for Richard Andrews, whom a Texas State Historical Association handbook calls "the first man to die in the war for Texas independence in 1835."

The region is steeped in the oil business, and pumpjack sightings are not uncommon. Andrews County also is a place Donald Drumpf dominated in November, claiming about 80 percent of the vote. Economic diversity remains on the minds of people here.

The waste site’s growth often is linked to Harold Simmons, a Republican donor and billionaire who essentially controlled WCS’s parent. Simmons died in 2013. He supported former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R), who’s now in line to be Energy secretary under Drumpf. While governor, Perry helped advance WCS’s work in low-level radioactive waste disposal.

Andrews is in West Texas, less than an hour by car from New Mexico and Midland, Texas. Photo by Edward Klump.

Liz Stottlemyre, director of the Andrews County Library, is up to speed on projects as a board member of an area industrial foundation. She voiced support in an interview last week for continued development at WCS, though she said Simmons isn’t a household name here.

"Most people in town, if you asked them, probably wouldn’t know who he was," said Stottlemyre, 62.

On the morning of Feb. 15, a few folks were gathered at Buddy’s Drive In, an Andrews institution known for its steakfingers (think chicken strips).

Suzette Baird, 69, is a manager at the restaurant, which she labeled "pro-Drumpf." She said people’s livelihoods depend on oil and other energy businesses, and she had no issue with seeing WCS trying to expand.

"We’re energy, and we don’t care where it comes from," Baird said.

Not far away, Marc Boswell, 64, was in an office at the Andrews Church of Christ, where he’s an elder. He was in favor of low-level waste and didn’t see much reason to be concerned about high-level plans at this point.

"The local people have been very supportive of it in the past," he said of WCS.

But not everyone in the area knew about the expansion plan, including Priscilla Doss, 38, and Robert Machuca, 29. When told about the pending proposal for high-level waste, Doss said it stirred thoughts of Erin Brockovich, whose battle against contaminated water in California was chronicled in a movie starring Julia Roberts.

Doss and Machuca worried the waste site might be threatened by a range of incidents. That could include grass fires, an explosion tied to the oil industry or a train derailment. Doss declared herself "100 percent" against high-level waste in the area, while Machuca said he’s concerned.

"You’re going to have your little kids playing outside," whether in Texas or New Mexico, said Machuca of Seminole, Texas. "Something happens, that wind’s blowing."

Doing ‘the nation a favor’

At lunch, nuclear critics gathered to share their views on WCS’s plan with a reporter and one another. Padilla called Andrews County a great place to educate children and relayed worries about what nuclear waste accidents could mean.

Hadden, sitting nearby, described her role as helping to boost awareness so residents understand the magnitude of what’s planned by WCS. She wasn’t impressed by a county commission’s resolution in 2015 that supported the idea of interim storage of high-level waste in the area.

"It’s bothered me a lot that Andrews is painted as being supportive of this based on a vote by just the county commissioners," she said.

Litigation over the WCS plan remains possible from some critics. Meanwhile, Hadden said other parts of the state would be vulnerable to rail lines carrying radioactive material. She would be excited the following week to see a county commission in Bexar County, which is home to San Antonio, back a resolution saying the county doesn’t support high-level waste moving through the area on the way to a site in Texas or New Mexico.

Humberto Acosta, 66, is an Andrews resident who’s been on the WCS case for a while. He’s adamant nuclear waste should stay where it is, and he said many people don’t know what’s happening. He also thinks the idea of using rail is primitive, citing derailments and track vulnerabilities.

"It’s like having cars and trucks and choosing a donkey," he said.

Hadden and Smith have long warned of the dangers of climate change, while Acosta said he doesn’t believe in global warming because the Earth renews itself. Acosta also is a Drumpf supporter, but he’s not sure the president will be involved in what he expects to be a win for WCS at the NRC.

"I suspect that it’s a done deal," he said, adding that high-level waste would hurt the area’s attractiveness.

As Feb. 15 drew later in the afternoon, Julia Wallace, executive director of the Andrews Chamber of Commerce, was working on her thoughts. She’d speak personally that night as someone who backs the WCS expansion as a safe project with the right geology.

"It would do the nation a favor to have it kind of centralized and be able to provide security for it," she said.

Wallace said other businesses could be attracted, including research and development. Over about four years, WCS said the county collected about $8.6 million as part of a deal that allowed low-level radioactive waste disposal in Texas.

Wallace was critical of concerns coming from New Mexico, which has its own hopes of pushing a waste proposal. And she criticized Public Citizen and the SEED Coalition as being generally unsupportive of drilling and pipelines.

"Everything that we do out here, they oppose it," Wallace said. Hadden countered later that wind and solar developments could offer a different path toward diversity.

The view from WCS

At the WCS storage site in Andrews County, the company is seeking to store potentially 40,000 metric tons of uranium over eight phases. That’s 5,000 metric tons per phase.

The NRC indicated that WCS’s interim facility, if licensed, would be authorized for an initial phase. The company would need to seek amendments to store more fuel. The waste, which might come at first from decommissioned reactor sites, would be put in storage modules on concrete pads once at the interim site, according to the NRC.

Baltzer expressed hope Congress will pass legislation to essentially fund consolidated interim storage to act as a supplement to Yucca Mountain. Once a permanent spot is open, he said, waste could be sent to that location. WCS has said high-level waste might remain at its site for 40 to 100 years, while some critics say it would be there indefinitely.

Rod Baltzer, CEO of Waste Control Specialists
Rod Baltzer, CEO of Waste Control Specialists, explained some of the features of his company’s site in Andrews County this month. Photo by Edward Klump.

Meanwhile, a top lobbyist for WCS said he’s eager to work with Rep. John Shimkus, an Illinois Republican who’s crafting nuclear waste legislation, and a quartet of bipartisan senators to ensure the Texas facility plays a key role under the Drumpf administration.

Shimkus is hoping to move a bill through the House by mid-August that would address issues related to Yucca Mountain as well as interim storage. Finding common ground on the latter is what Tim Smith, the WCS lobbyist, hopes to accomplish. He’s looking for WCS to advance as the Yucca Mountain process continues.

"The million-dollar question is, probably: What is the linkage between interim storage and Yucca Mountain?" Smith said.

For WCS, a key part of the strategy is authorizing language to clarify the Energy secretary’s authority to take possession of nuclear waste from a private facility for interim storage. Smith also is looking to convince newcomers at the Department of Energy that private facilities can move at a faster clip than the federal bureaucracy.

Baltzer said the WCS site was modeled to account for changes over time, including significantly more rain. He pointed to natural features, including red bed clay, and engineering that make the site attractive for the waste business. He downplayed worries about terrorists who might try to launch a rocket at a high-level spent fuel cask.

"It’s actually been designed to withstand that kind of impact," Baltzer said.

While WCS previously indicated it would stick with low-level facilities, the CEO has said the company solicited feedback from the area after a blue ribbon commission saw a possible role for an interim storage facility that’s now proposed.

The role Perry may play in aiding WCS isn’t clear in many people’s minds in Andrews County. Texas legislation during Perry’s tenure as governor helped WCS cultivate its low-level radioactive waste disposal operations. Perry also signed a letter in 2014 describing a potential role for high-level radioactive waste in the state.

Perry saw significant support from Simmons, according to Andrew Wheat, research director at Texans for Public Justice, which tracks money in politics. He said Simmons personally donated about $1.2 million to Perry’s various gubernatorial campaigns.

"Rick Perry was our longest-serving governor in Texas history, and he developed, I think, a well-earned reputation for running a crony capitalist administration," Wheat said.

Now, with Perry expected to head up DOE, WCS "is again looking like it’s in the catbird seat," Wheat said.

But Chuck McDonald, a spokesman for WCS, countered that Simmons was an active contributor to Republican candidates late in his life.

Suggesting crony capitalism, McDonald said, "demeans Mr. Simmons, who had strong, personal political beliefs and he obviously had the resources to act on those, and that’s why he gave money." McDonald said it would be an asset to have an Energy secretary who’s familiar with nuclear waste issues.

Still, Baltzer said WCS continues to see operating losses given substantial costs and not enough volume. It’s looking for savings through a proposed sale to Utah-based EnergySolutions Inc. Currently, WCS is part of Valhi Inc.

Microphone issues

So what’s more important for WCS — getting high-level waste or getting sold?

"Getting sold is probably more important because without that I’m not sure I’ll have the continued ability to invest in high-level waste," Baltzer said.

The Department of Justice sued last year to halt the EnergySolutions-WCS deal, citing worries about the impact on competition. The case is pending.

Back at the assembly center in Andrews County on Feb. 15, the night’s formal meeting had a rocky opening around 7 p.m. local time when the microphone system didn’t work properly.

David Rosen of Midland told everyone the episode was the "elephant in the room" because testing couldn’t prevent problems earlier in the program.

"Accidents occur and equipment fails," Rosen said.

Padilla drew cheers and applause when she spoke publicly that night.

"We do not want the high-level radioactive waste coming from all around the country," she said, adding, "I do not give you my consent."

In his comments, Baltzer said WCS has been part of the community since the mid-1990s, expanding from hazardous waste operations to radioactive disposal. He said it’s not sited over any drinking water source. Still, critics worry aquifers in the region could be contaminated over time.

WCS workers and supporters stood to tout the company’s role in the region during the meeting, while a college student spoke about the importance of nuclear energy.

Charlie Falcon, principal at the Andrews Education Center, said WCS has donated more than $300,000 to a local education foundation while funding some $200,000 worth of scholarships over the years.

Rose Gardner, a New Mexico resident, was among those in opposition. She said she’s worried about insurance liability in the event of spills while noting a significant Hispanic population in the region.

"We are a bunch of Mexican-Americans, and we don’t deserve to be treated in this manner," she said.

After the meeting, Baltzer said the waste "won’t be forgotten and abandoned on the side of the road" even if corporate changes happen down the line.

As the clock pushed past 11 p.m., some of the nuclear critics gathered in a hotel lobby to wind down and discuss what might be ahead.

Public Citizen’s Smith remained hopeful that night, even if many people expect WCS to get its proposed licensing. Smith said one or two people can spark an entire community.

"Time after time, what I’ve learned is that the only thing that beats organized money are organized people," he said. "And we’re starting to see that principle at work here."

Reporter Hannah Northey contributed from Washington, D.C.

Twitter: @edward_klump Email: eklump(at)

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.

Bexar County commissioners say no to nuclear waste shipments

February 22, 2017

By Brendan Gibbons
San Antonio Express News

Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert
Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert Photo: Marvin Pfeiffer /San Antonio Express-News / Express-News 2016

On Tuesday, Bexar County became the first county in Texas to officially oppose having high-level nuclear waste pass through the county on its way to a West Texas waste site.

The commissioners unanimously approved a resolution opposing shipments of nuclear fuel rods from more than 62 sites across the U.S., most of them operating or closed reactors used to produce power.

If the waste storage site in Andrews County is approved, the fuel rods could start being shipped to the Waste Control Specialists facility on the Texas-New Mexico line starting in 2021.

Despite the resolution, Bexar County commissioners have no say over the waste site, which is under review by the the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Last year, WCS applied for an NRC license to accept 5,000 tons of the waste, which would likely be transported in steel canisters via rail. WCS officials have said they eventually hope to accept up to 40,000 tons over 40 years

That would likely require shipping 3,000 canisters of waste, NRC official James Park said at a public meeting in Andrews County last week. Each canister is heavy enough to require its own train car, with three to five cars per train, according to NRC and WCS officials.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Tommy Calvert, who sponsored the resolution, cited the vulnerability to terrorist attack, train derailments and lack of financial support for rail in Texas all as reasons to say no.

"With our history of derailments and lack of infrastructure support, it’s not ready for prime time," he said. "It’s just too risky."

Calvert said his office has received 84 constituent emails opposing waste shipments, more than on any other issue since he took office in January 2015.

After fuel rods become too thermally cool to efficiently generate electricity in a nuclear reactor, they remain dangerously radioactive for tens of thousands of years. A freshly spent fuel rod emits enough radiation to kill a person directly exposed to it without shielding, according to the NRC.

"This is the really hot stuff," said Tom "Smitty" Smith, an activist who recently retired from running Public Citizen’s Austin office and has long been involved with nuclear issues in Texas. "We don’t think you ought to consent to having this waste come through Bexar County," he said.

Some expert reviews have found the cansiters can withstand drops, punctures, explosions and submersion, though a 2006 report by the National Research Council states they are vulnerable to "very long duration, fully engulfing fires."

Smith urged commissioners to formally intervene in the NRC’s review of the waste site application, which he argued would give Bexar County "a seat at the table."

"We haven’t decided on that," Judge Nelson Wolff said after the meeting. "Our primary concern is the transportation coming through the city."

Precinct 2 Commissioner Paul Elizondo said they would have to confer with the District Attorney’s office to see if the county has standing to intervene.

The deadline for formally intervening is March 31. The NRC will accept public comments on WCS’ application until March 13. The public can post comments on its website,, under the "Public Meetings and Involvement" section.

The NRC will also hold an online public meeting about WCS from noon to 3 p.m. Thursday to be webcast at, Twitter: @bgibbs

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.

We Do NOT Consent – Public Scoping Meetings

Waste Control Specialists (WCS) wants to dump 40,000 tons of deadly high-level radioactive waste, parking lot style, and store it for 40 to 100 years in the desert, where climate extremes and fracking abound. What could go wrong?

There were two NRC scoping meetings on the WCS’ radioactive waste storage license, one in Hobbs, NM (Feb. 13th) and one in Andrews, TX, (Feb. 15th).

The message came through loud and clear from local and regional folks – WE DON’T WANT IT! Last year The DOE tried to tell the rest of the country that Andrews wants this waste – but the people in targeted communities never got to vote and 90% of the people we’ve talked to are opposed.

Andrews County Commissioners passed a resolution in 2015 in favor of the ill-conceived plan that hardly anyone knew about until recently, which is hardly "informed consent."

Rose Gardner and her family have been speaking up and taking action for years. Rose spoke to the Mayor and City Council of Eunice on Valentines’ evening, and spoke at both the Hobbs and Andrews NRC meetings – on the 13th and 15th. All this during the busiest time of the year for her as a florist. Eunice is the closest city to the WCS site – only 5 miles away. The proposed Eddy Lea Energy Alliance (Holtec) consolidated storage project would be nearby as well.

Humberto Acosta has led efforts in Andrews for two years now, joined by Agustino Cordova, who is 80 years old and full of life and fire. Elizabeth Padilla is a young Mom from Andrews. She and her family and friends have now jumped in and become involved, and others in the community are speaking out now as well. Former State Representative Lon Burnam has made numerous trips to the West Texas region to organize and connect people.

David Rosen and others in Midland and Odessa organized two local meetings and a press conference, and then participated in both hearings. They made a huge impact too, and have raised concerns about the risk of radioactive waste trains and water contamination. Muralist Noel Marquez gave a beautiful and empowering speech in Hobbs and brought friends in from Roswell.

Susybelle Gosslee got support from the National League of Women Voters for her strong statement of opposition to radioactive waste dumping and she delivered it beautifully, to the applause, standing ovation and sign waving of an appreciative crowd.

Diane D’Arrigo from Nuclear Information and Resource Service and Kevin Kamps from Beyond Nuclear were invaluable, helping get information out to concerned citizens, speaking powerfully and providing detailed accurate information to reporters. We’re so grateful to them for their key role and for coming all this way to help out. Tom “Smitty” Smith and Public Citizen were also key in organizing, strategizing and getting materials and information out.

The star of the night in Andrews was young Raymond Ramos who took the microphone and spoke boldly, with his mother supporting him with an arm around him. It was moving and powerful.

Opponents of radioactive waste dumping were strong in numbers, organized, vocal and clear in the message of It’s an honor to know and work with everyone involved, and to learn so much from amazing local people.

Houston, DFW, San Antonio and El Paso are all at risk since trains carrying deadly cargo could rumble through these and other cities. A single train car could contain as much plutonium as the bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

If we work together we can stop the unnecessary transport of high-level radioactive waste!

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Nuke waste may be hauled through Texas

February 5, 2017

S.A. could be on trains’ route

By Brendan Gibbons STAFF WRITER,

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing a permit that would allow a Dallas-based company to store high-level nuclear waste brought from reactors around the country. The waste would most likely be shipped via commercial rail.

In the high, dry plains of West Texas sits a hazardous waste site operated by Waste Control Specialists, a company that wants to begin storing high-level nuclear waste from dozens of power plants across the country.

For that waste to get to the facility in Andrews County on the Texas-New Mexico border, it would first travel on thousands of miles of railroad tracks, according to a WCS spokesman and a Federal Railroad Administration document. That could include rail lines that pass through San Antonio, Dallas and Houston, though the specifics so far are hard to come by.

WCS’ site already is one of eight in the U.S. permitted to take low-level radioactive waste, mostly from hospitals and laboratories. High-level waste, which only comes from nuclear reactor fuel or reprocessed fuel, is radioactive enough to kill a person directly exposed to it, so it’s stored in metal canisters inside of concrete casks that can weigh more than 100 tons.

WCS wants to begin accepting high-level waste by 2021. On Jan. 27, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, an independent agency, declared WCS’ application complete, starting the clock on period for public input that ends March 13. The NRC will hold public hearings in Andrews on Feb. 15 and in Hobbs, New Mexico, on Feb. 13.

Trying to build grass-roots opposition to the new permit, husband-and-wife clean energy activists Tom "Smitty" Smith, who recently retired from running Public Citizen, and Karen Hadden of the SEED Coalition have been visiting Texas cities telling local politicians and news media that the waste could travel through their communities on its way to Andrews. Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert added his voice to theirs in a statement last April.

Officials with WCS and federal agencies that regulate the waste shipments are not giving out details about the exact routes, most likely because of security concerns. The waste would have to be shipped under an agreement between WCS and the Energy Department, which technically owns the waste.

"You’re jumping way ahead of the process," WCS spokesman Chuck McDonald said by phone. "We’ve got a license application to get a (consolidated interim storage facility) license. And then we want to construct and operate a facility. If that would happen, DOE would have to take title to this waste and then the contract would be at DOE. All that would have to happen but that hasn’t happened yet."

Information on the metal canisters and concrete casks used for transport is easier to find. The manufacturers, AREVA Inc. and NAC International, are working on the application with WCS. An independent 2006 report by the National Research Council committee states that these kinds of casks can withstand drops, puncturing, explosions, submersion and other calamities, though they may be vulnerable to "very long duration, fully engulfing fires."

Small amounts of nuclear waste from research reactors in other countries already have been shipped to sites in South Carolina and Idaho, federal documents show. Federal agencies are supposed to work with rail carriers to use the "highest-rated" tracks, coordinate with state and local governments and conduct crew training and inspections, according to an FRA oversight plan.

"The transportation is the No. 1 issue people ask about, but when they actually get a chance to see it, they actually feel pretty confident because it’s highly regulated," McDonald said.

Hadden and Smith prefer to focus on the what-ifs.

"You’ve got this stuff going out in the middle of the desert with temperature extremes," Hadden said. "You’ve got intense storms and flooding, lightning, wildfires. … I don’t think the casks are at all robust enough."

Accidents are not unheard of in the nuclear waste field. The wrong brand of cat litter caused a two-year shutdown of the DOE’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, an underground storage site for defense-related radioactive waste outside of Carlsbad only 43 miles from WCS, in an area sometimes referred to as New Mexico’s nuclear corridor.

In 2014, a barrel of waste at that site burst, releasing radioactive materials, after someone packed it with organic cat litter instead of the inorganic brand they usually use, according to a DOE investigation. The site reopened Jan. 9.

Still, two independent experts who worked on the 2006 waste transportation study committee told the San Antonio Express-News that the cask systems used for spent nuclear fuel storage and transport can withstand nearly any real-world calamity, including a terrorist attack.

"I became convinced in my association with the committee that you could do it safely," said Melvin Kanninen, a San Antonio resident and mechanical engineer formerly with Southwest Research Institute. "And even if a terrorist decided to do some damage, he’d have a hard time doing it."

WCS’ site now has become part of the debate over what to do with spent nuclear material being stored at 67 sites in 34 states, including the South Texas Project in Bay City, the nuclear power plant partly owned by CPS Energy.

The fuel is kept in concrete-lined pools of water 40 feet deep or in above-ground casks. Spent fuel only 10 years out of the reactor still emits 20 times the amount of radiation per hour it would take to kill a person all at once, the NRC reports.

So far, the U.S. has no viable permanent disposal site for this waste, which continues to emit unsafe levels of radiation for hundreds of thousands of years after it has grown too thermally cool to efficiently generate electricity.

Hadden thinks the real priority should be on finding a permanent site.

"We don’t think it should be moved until that site is found and developed because it’s a huge risk to transport this, and it should only get transported once," she said.

Other countries also have struggled to find a long-term site. Canada, Germany, Japan and South Korea store it at the reactor site, while France and the United Kingdom reprocess theirs into new fuel.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration says U.S. waste adds up to 70,000 metric tons, more than three times the weight of the USS Lexington, the decommissioned battleship floating in Corpus Christi Bay. In its current permit, WCS asked to take 5,000 metric tons.

Only one other company has a similar permit for high-level nuclear waste — Private Fuel Storage, which received approval in 2006 after nine years of NRC review. The site has not been built, NRC spokeswoman Maureen Conley said.

Another company, Holtec International, is expected to file an application in March for another site in Lea County, New Mexico, across the Texas border from WCS.

For 30 years, the Energy Department’s goal was to store the waste inside the hollowed-out Yucca Mountain in Nevada until a permanent disposal site could be found. The DOE spent $15 billion developing the site, but the Nevada congressional delegation, led by for now-retired Democratic Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, has successfully blocked it.

In the coming weeks, the Senate will vote whether to confirm former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who has supported WCS in the past, to lead the DOE.

From 2000 to 2011, Perry’s campaigns took in at least $1.1 million from Dallas billionaire and WCS owner Harold Simmons, who died in 2013. As governor, Perry wrote a letter in 2014 supporting WCS’ permit application for high-level waste storage.

At Perry’s recent confirmation hearing, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nevada, asked him if he supported a requirement that the Energy Department, if it does decide to use Yucca Mountain, get Nevada’s consent.

"I’m going to work very closely with you and the members of this committee to find the answers to these challenges," Perry said. "I think that we can find a solution, both in the interim and long term, (for) our nuclear waste."

Federal campaign records appear to show no donations from top executives of WCS or its parent company, Valhi Inc., to Perry’s 2012 and 2016 presidential campaigns.

WCS is fending off a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit that would block the proposed acquisition of WCS by EnergySolutions, which also disposes of low-level waste.

The government contends that the $367 million deal would stifle competition, which has led to lower disposal costs for commercial customers. Twitter: @bgibbs

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.

Speakers encourage NRC to rethink waste storage plan

February 16, 2017

By Trevor Hawes,
Midland Reporter-Telegram

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
Photo: Waste Control Specialists

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

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