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NRC expected to release reports for Andrews site this month

July 27, 2021

Caitlin Randle,
MRT.com/Midland Reporter-Telegram

Andrews County waste dump site

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is expected to release a Safety Analysis and final version of the Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed nuclear waste site in Andrews County by the end of this month, according to activism group Beyond Nuclear.

Kevin Kamps with Beyond Nuclear told the Reporter-Telegram the NRC has told the group those reports will be released in July. After those reports are made public, the NRC will decide whether to approve Waste Control Specialists’ application to store high-level nuclear waste.

Kamps said the NRC will likely make a decision on that application in mid-September.

“Somewhere in there, hopefully sooner rather than later, our side will get its day in federal court on all our appeals,” he said in an email.

Beyond Nuclear, SEED Coalition, Sierra Club, Fasken Oil and a coalition of oil royalty owners have filed suit against the NRC in the hopes of preventing the Andrews site and other proposed sites; appeals of those cases are in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C., Circuit, according to Kamps.

Numerous local leaders have spoken out against the proposed Andrews site, including representatives from Fasken Oil and Ranch and the Midland County Commissioners’ Court. Gov. Greg Abbott and U.S. Rep. August Pfluger have also vocalized opposition to storing high-level waste in Andrews.

Andrews County Commissioners came out against the project as well, voting on July 15 to sign a resolution stating their opposition to the storage of high-level nuclear waste in the county. The commissioners faced pressure from residents during two packed Commissioners’ Court meetings.

Andrews County Judge Charlie Falcon noted during the July 15 meeting that the resolution would not necessarily affect the NRC’s decision.

WCS, in partnership with Interim Storage Partners, filed an application in 2016 to store high-level nuclear waste in Andrews County for 40 years before the waste would be moved to a permanent repository.

The NRC released a draft Environmental Impact Statement in May of 2020 regarding the application to open a high-level waste site. In that report, NRC staff recommended approval of the application, stating that the impact of constructing and operating a waste site at the proposed location was found to be minimal.

Caitlin Randle is a general news reporter for the Midland Reporter-Telegram.

License Application of Interim Storage Partners LLC, Docket 72-1050

RE: License Application of Interim Storage Partners LLC, Docket 72-1050, and License Application of Holtec, Inc., Docket 72-1051, for a Consolidated Interim Storage Facilities

Both proposed projects are illegal under the Nuclear Waste Policy Act since no U.S. repository exists. Both would result in transport of radioactive waste through Texas. We ask that you deny both licenses. Bringing this nuclear reactor waste to Texas and New Mexico would result in dangerous de-facto permanent dumps.

Governor Abbott has expressed concerns about potential impacts to the Permian Basin, the world’s largest producing oilfield. Abbott said the region would become a “prime target for attacks by terrorists and saboteurs. This location could not be worse for storing ultra-hazardous radioactive waste… I urge the NRC to deny ISP’s license application.” Read Governor Abbotts letter.

Resolutions opposing consolidated interim storage were passed by five Texas counties and three cities, as well as by the Midland Chamber of Commerce. Collectively this represents the voices of 5.4 million Texans. Read the Dallas County resolution.

Additionally, Andrews County Commissioners voted unanimously on July 15, 2021, high-lets oppose high-level radioactive waste storage in their county, which would host the proposed ISP site.

Texans at the local, state and federal level do not consent to having our state become a nuclear waste dumping ground! Please prevent nuclear disasters that risk our health and safety and imperil our businesses and economy.

We urge the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deny the license applications of ISP and Holtec International for Consolidated Interim Storage of high-level radioactive waste in Texas and New Mexico.

Radioactive waste storage bill derailed in the Texas House on a technicality

May 5, 2021

Some saw the legislation as a "Trojan horse" that would bring high-level radioactive waste to Texas. But the bill’s author disputed that argument.

John C. Moritz
Corpus Christi Caller Times

AUSTIN — Contentious legislation that would have given financial breaks to the company that operates the storage site for low-level radioactive waste in remote West Texas was derailed Wednesday on a procedural technicality in the state House.

The maneuver to knock down House Bill 2692 short-circuited what had been expected to be a freewheeling floor debate over whether the bill would have provided a backdoor to bringing the most dangerous waste from decommissioned nuclear power plants to Texas.

Federal regulators are reviewing plans to sell retiring nuclear reactors to nuclear waste management company for quicker decommissioning. Questions have been raised about whether the companies have the experience and funds to do the job.

The legislation’s author, state Rep. Brooks Landgraf, a Republican who represents the site in Andrews County, insisted it would expressly ban such waste from Texas. And he said he was "mystified" that anyone would interpret it otherwise.

"We want to make sure safety is a top priority … not only at the facility but (while waste is) transported to the facility," Landgraf said before the bill was scuttled.

The legislation was designed to grant Waste Control Specialists, the company that operates the Andrews County site, a break on surcharges and fees levied by the state on the revenue it takes in to handle the waste. The company said it needs the breaks to remain competitive in the face of out-of-state competition.

But even before the measure was brought to the House floor, it was the subject of intense lobbying on behalf of the company and by forces seeking to defeat it.

In something of an odd alliance, several environmental groups opposed to reducing the surcharges and fees, much of which goes into a fund to ensure that the dumpsite will be safely maintained in perpetuity, were joined by oil and gas interests active in drilling in the energy-rich Permian Basin, which includes Andrews County.

Fasken Oil and Ranch, a family-owned company that is one of the largest private landowners in Andrews County, mounted an intensive campaign through a nonprofit entity called "Not Our Trash" that ran TV ads in several Texas markets against the bill.

In a news release announcing the ad campaign, the group called Waste Control Specialists a private waste company that "is lobbying to unravel good law" that has been on the books for more than a decade in the effort to reduce its fees and surcharges.

Texas Capitol
Texas Capitol Dome: Austin Price/The Texas Tribune

"By gutting important safety regulations and dumping radioactive waste in an open pit, they are turning a blind eye to that contaminated material potentially being carried by the wind onto our grazing lands, our ranches and farmlands, and our communities," said Fasken executive
Tommy Taylor, who also is president of the nonprofit.

Dave Carlson, the chief operating officer for Waste Control Specialists, said in a statement to the USA TODAY Network that such claims were misrepresenting what the legislation would do.

"This bill does not make any changes to the safety of the facility, the most robust low-level waste facility ever constructed," Carlson said. "The existing statute puts the Texas facility at an overwhelming competitive disadvantage to the primary competitor. You’d be hard pressed to find another company who pays 31% of its revenue in taxes in this state or in any state."

Karen Hadden director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, called the bill "a nuclear Trojan Horse."

“When you open it up you find that the ban on high level nuclear waste is written deceptively and won’t work," she said. "It will double the amount of permitted waste, weaken state regulations and cheat the state of the money it will need to clean up the mess.”

The Andrews County site does handle low-level radioactive waste from nuclear plants and other facilities. But Landgraf, when he began explaining the legislation to House members, also noted that it also receives radioactive materials from x-rays used in medical and dental offices from virtually every community in Texas along with materials used in manufacturing and even from oil and gas drilling.

Still, he acknowledged the concerns of the bill’s opponents and promised to revise some of its provisions on the fly in the effort to alleviate them.

But state Rep. Tom Craddick, the House’s longest serving member who represents Midland in the heart of the Permian Basin, made reference to Waste Control Specialists’ 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, Craddick told Landgraf just before he pointed out the procedural flaw that derailed the bill. In short, the official bill analysis that explains the details of legislation to House members was found to be misleading and missing key details. That meant House rules prevented members from debating it it and taking a vote.

It was not immediately clear whether the House bill could be revived and perhaps considered in the final four weeks of the 2021 legislative session. A similar measure is pending in the Senate, but it has been removed from the chamber’s agenda, a signal that it lacks the votes needed to be considered for debate.

Carlson, after the bill was derailed in the House, said his company intends to press forward on the matter.

"Our interests and the state’s interests are aligned and we are committed to working closely with the our community, our regulators and the state of Texas to ensure the facility remains viable, safe and an asset to the state’s economy," he said.

John C. Moritz covers Texas government and politics for the USA Today Network in Austin. Contact him at jmoritz@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @JohnnieMo.

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.

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.