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Nuclear waste in the oil patch? Feds spark clash with Texas

09/15/2021

By Edward Klump
E&E News/EnergyWire

A site in West Texas now has a federal license to store spent nuclear fuel, setting up a potential showdown with state leaders who oppose the prospect of attracting high-level radioactive waste from across the country.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced the license for Interim Storage Partners LLC to build and operate an interim storage facility in Andrews County, Texas, on Monday — just days after Texas Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill seeking to restrict nuclear waste storage in the state.
Yesterday, Abbott tried to use the new license in the Permian Basin oil patch to hammer President Biden, though an application for the site was filed in 2016, and the Trump administration didn’t kill the project.

“The Biden Admin. is trying to dump highly radioactive nuclear waste in west Texas oil fields,” Abbott said on Twitter. “I just signed a law to stop it. Texas will not become America’s nuclear waste dumping ground.”

David McIntyre, an NRC spokesperson, declined to comment on the governor’s criticism but said in a statement this week that the “licensing decision was made according to the applicable federal statutes and regulations after thorough, multi-year technical and environmental reviews.”
The drama is being watched by the electricity sector, as nuclear power plants continue to store spent fuel on-site without a permanent U.S. repository. Yucca Mountain in Nevada has failed to garner enough sustained support to be an option (E&E Daily, July 22). In the meantime, backers of the Interim Storage Partners, or ISP, site in West Texas and a separate project in eastern New Mexico from Holtec International have pursued interim storage proposals that could last for decades.

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Protestors to Nuclear Regulator Commission: Keep Nuke Waste out of Texas

Sept. 13, 2021
For Immediate release

Contacts: Karen Hadden, Karendhadden@gmail.com, 512-797-8481,
Hon. Lon Burnam, lonbunram@gmail.com, 817-721-5846
Susybelle Goslee, sgosslee@airmail.net, 214-732-8610

MEDIA ADVISORY

Protestors to Nuclear Regulator Commission: Keep Nuke Waste out of Texas

Arlington, Texas – Protesters gathered outside of the Regional Headquarters of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in Arlington, Texas today to oppose the agency’s expected approval of a license to store dangerous nuclear reactor waste in West Texas.

Overwhelming opposition to the plan has been demonstrated over and over again, most recently with the passage of HB 7 unanimously in the Texas Senate and by a 119-3 vote in the House. Such a strong bipartisan vote is rare these days in Texas. The Governor signed the bill on September 9 and it went into effect immediately.

“The NRC should listen to the voices of our governor, legislators and millions of Texans and halt licensing of a facility that would put our health and safety at risk. Strong bipartisan votes are a clear message from the Texas Legislature to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. When it comes to importing deadly radioactive waste to Texas: We Don’t Want It!,” said SEED Coalition Director Karen Hadden. “We will keep fighting even if the license is issued. We have legal challenges in the courts and will continue organizing. We hope the Texas Attorney General fights to protect us as well.”

“The U.S. Nuclear regulatory Commission is likely to issue a license today to store up to 40,000 metric tons of the nation’s most dangerous nuclear reactor waste in Andrews County, Texas. With the passage of HB 7, the state can deny the permits necessary to dump new waste at the site. We hope the feds have heard the message: We don’t want it!” said Tom “Smitty” Smith, former director of Public Citizen’s Texas Office.

“The recent bill at the Texas Legislature will help support our legal case opposing licensing for high-level radioactive waste storage, which is now at the DC Circuit Court of Appeals,” said Cyrus Reed, Conservation Director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. SEED Coalition, Beyond Nuclear and a coalition of oil and gas industries led by Fasken Oil and Ranch also have cases on appeal.

Opposition to the nation’s high-level waste coming to Texas for storage has been expressed in a recent resolution by Andrews County, which could host the facility if the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licenses a facility.

Five other counties and three cities passed similar resolutions, representing 5.4 million Texans. School districts, the Midland Chamber of Commerce and oil and gas companies have joined environmental and faith-based groups in opposing the dangerous plan. Governor Abbott has written strong letters to the NRC and a bipartisan group of Congressional Representatives spoke out as well. Letters and a recent press release are online at www.NoNuclearWaste.org. The enrolled version of HB 7 is online here.

“Licensing of the proposed high-level radioactive waste storage facility does not mean it will get built. We will continue to fight for protection of the health, safety, environment and economy of Texas,” said former State Representative Lon Burnam.

Debate over radioactive waste storage in West Texas revived by Greg Abbott’s special session agenda

Aug 24, 2021

By Emily Caldwell
Dallas Morning News

Much of the high-level nuclear waste from around the country that would be headed for a proposed facility in Andrews County could be transported through North Texas.

WASHINGTON — The debate over plans for a new facility in West Texas that would store spent nuclear fuel from around the country has been rekindled after Gov. Greg Abbott included efforts to limit high-level radioactive waste in the state on his special session agenda.

Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, represents Andrews County, where a company called Interim Storage Solutions has applied to build a facility to store spent nuclear fuel, which qualifies as high-level waste, until the federal government can establish an ultimate long-term site — though it’s unclear when that would be, and could take years.

With heavily used interstate highways and railways running through the Dallas-Fort Worth area, including the Interstate 20 corridor, environmental groups have warned for years that high-level waste could flow through D-FW on the way to Andrews County if the facility is approved.

Read more at the Dallas Morning News website

State lawmakers again try to ban most dangerous nuclear waste as feds consider allowing it at West Texas site

August 23, 2021

Texas Tribune

A failed regular session bill sought to give a financial break to a West Texas nuclear waste disposal company. Now, lawmakers have removed what opponents called a giveaway and are again trying to pass a bill to stop highly radioactive materials from coming to Texas.

Andrews Waste site
The entrance to the Waste Control Specialists site where low-level radioactive and hazardous waste is being stored. The company is seeking a federal license to store the highest level of nuclear waste, but lawmakers are trying to ban that. Credit: Eli Hartman for The Texas Tribune

After failing this spring, Texas lawmakers are again trying to ban the most dangerous type of radioactive waste from entering the state — at the same time as a nuclear waste disposal company in West Texas pursues a federal application to store the highly radioactive materials.

Environmental and consumer advocates for years have decried a proposal to build a 332-acre site in West Texas near the New Mexico border to store the riskiest type of nuclear waste: spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants, which can remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years. Strong political interests in Texas, from Gov. Greg Abbott to some oil and gas companies operating in the Permian Basin, have opposed the company’s application.

But a bill that sought to ban the highly radioactive material failed during the regular legislative session that ended in May. That bill, filed by State Rep. Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, whose district includes Andrews County where the existing nuclear waste company Waste Control Specialists operates, included a big break on fees for the company. Some lawmakers also thought the previous bill’s language wasn’t strong enough to actually ban the materials.

Read more at the Texas Tribune website

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.