Texas Approves Nation's Largest Low-Level Radioactive Waste Site

AUSTIN, Texas, January 14, 2009 (ENS) – The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, voted 2-0 Tuesday to grant a double license for Waste Control Specialists to dispose of up to 28 million cubic feet of low-level radioactive waste from Texas, Vermont and the federal government in Andrews County. Commissioner Larry Soward abstained from the vote.

The site is located in west Texas near the New Mexico border.

The commission also denied the request by the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club on behalf of its Eunice, New Mexico members for a contested case hearing before an administrative law judge to decide the merits of the license.

“The agency and commissioners by their action are approving the nation’s largest commercial radioactive waste site when basic facts about the site are still inadequately understood,” said Dr. Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. “They had nothing to lose, and everything to gain by granting us the opportunity to prove in court that the site is inadequate and potentially dangerous.”

Reed said the Sierra Club will look at its legal options, including appealing the decision to State District Court.

Rose Gardner, a resident of Eunice, New Mexico and a Sierra Club member,said that her flower shop, general feed store, crops, animals and health are now at risk by the opening of a major, commercial radioactive waste site several miles from her home.

“While many people in Andrews County support this dangerous venture, it is the people of Eunice, New Mexico who will be impacted by depressed real estate prices and sales,” she said, “and the people of Eunice, New Mexico who are being asked to trust a license being issued for a site when we haven’t even studied the potential for erosion, wind-blow radioactive particles, or even know where the water table or dry line is below the site.”

Drum filled with typical low-level radioactive waste (Photo courtesy Dounrey)

Low-level radioactive waste includes items that have become contaminated with radioactive material or have become radioactive through exposure to neutron radiation.

This waste typically consists of contaminated protective shoe covers and clothing, wiping rags, mops, filters, reactor water treatment residues, equipments and tools, luminous dials, medical tubes, swabs, injection needles, syringes, and laboratory animal carcasses and tissues, according to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which states, “The radioactivity can range from just above background levels found in nature to very highly radioactive in certain cases such as parts from inside the reactor vessel in a nuclear power plant.”

In submitting its request, the Sierra Club noted that the Environmental Analysis prepared by the agency showed that basic facts about the proposed sites – its final design, radioactive safety program, the level of the water tables, saturation levels and the exact location of the “dry line” had not been satisfied by the applicant, forcing TCEQ to add conditions to the license.

The license grants Waste Control Specialists the authority to bring in low-level radioactive waste to both a State Compact Site – primarily to serve the state’s two nuclear plants – and a federal facility for Department of Energy waste.

Reed says that the site could eventually become the largest commercial low-level radioactive waste site in the world, with some wastes remaining dangerous for tens of thousands of years.

Reed warns that the proposed federal site could accept some radioactive wastes that are not even containerized, leading to potential direct spills or runoff of radioactive substances.

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