September 15, 2001
Douglas MacMillan and Aaron Gregg
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s approval of the planned facility opens a new front in a decades-long battle to find a home for the country’s nuclear waste
A private company has won federal approval to build an expansive nuclear waste site in Texas, even as residents, state lawmakers, environmentalists and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) rail against it.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on Monday issued a license for Andrews, Tex.-based Interim Storage Partners to store as much as 5,000 metric tons of radioactive waste. It’s one of two proposed storage sites — the other is in southeastern New Mexico — that has been under agency review for several years.
The approval opens a new front in a decades-long battle to find a home for 85,000 tons of nuclear waste accumulating at dozens of nuclear power plants across the country. Fears about the dangers of nuclear material, which scientists say remains hazardous to humans for many years, have stifled plans to build repositories, including a proposed waste dump in Nevada’s Yucca Mountain that was shelved by President Barack Obama.
Such concerns are fueling the opposition in Texas, where environmental activists have forged a rare alliance with oil interests and powerful state Republicans to prevent the site from moving forward. They worry that transporting and storing “high-level” nuclear waste, including contaminated fuel rods, exposes the state to the threat of a radiological incident or potential for groundwater contamination.
“Our concern is that the waste will sit there, the cement around it will crack, leaks will develop, and radioactive contamination will result,” said Karen Hadden, the executive director of the SEED Coalition, an Austin-based advocacy group.
In a direct challenge to federal regulators, Abbott signed legislation last week preventing federally approved waste facilities from obtaining local construction and wastewater permits. The governor has framed the license as an unwelcome incursion by the Biden administration, which he accused of “trying to dump highly radioactive nuclear waste” in Texas oil fields.