Perry backs storage site for Texas nuclear waste

04/02/2014 5:14 PM

04/02/2014 7:05 PM

Gov. Rick Perry is pushing lawmakers to establish a location in Texas for storing the state’s high-level radioactive waste.

Citing a report from the state’s environmental agency, Perry tells Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus in a letter that Texas is suited to store spent nuclear fuel from the state’s four commercial reactors and that a solution is needed.

Texas waste is now stored on site by the utilities that operate the reactors. But Perry wants to develop a single storage location until a national repository for nuclear waste is established.

In Perry’s March 28 letter, the state’s longest-serving governor chided the federal government for its inaction on dealing with the issue of high-level waste.

“The citizens of Texas — and every other state currently storing radioactive waste — have been betrayed by their federal government,” he wrote to the two lawmakers last week.

Perry was referring to Nevada’s conflict-ridden Yucca Mountain site, which utility companies in the U.S. have paid billions toward building. It doesn’t appear viable at this point, so spent fuel in the U.S. is currently stored in pools or in dry casks at the more than 100 commercial nuclear reactors. Texas’ share of those billions is about $700 million, the letter states.

“Potential economic impact”

The letter from Perry is the second time this year a high-ranking state official has weighed in on the topic. In January, Straus directed lawmakers to “determine the potential economic impact of permitting a facility in Texas.”

Perry urged Dewhurst and Straus to relay the high-level radioactive waste report, which Perry asked for in September, by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to appropriate committees in the House and the Senate.

There is currently no disposal site in the United States for spent fuel rods from reactors across the country — including Texas’ four reactors at Comanche Peak in Glen Rose and the South Texas Project near Bay City. In November, a federal court ruled that the U.S. government had “no credible plan” to permanently dispose of high-level waste. The court’s decision came after the federal government collected billions of dollars from utilities for decades to fund the Yucca site.

Texas is already home to a disposal site for low-level radioactive waste, which includes contaminated protective clothing, mops, filters, reactor water treatment residues, equipment and tools. Chuck McDonald, spokesman for Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists, which operates the low-level site in Andrews County, said the company is talking to officials there.

“We would certainly take a hard look at it,” he said of a high-level storage site.

Bigger mission

An interim storage site likely would keep the high-level waste for numerous decades before it would eventually be buried permanently at a yet-to-be-determined geological repository.

Officials in Loving County in West Texas are interested in having a high-level waste storage site, as is the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance LLC, which is made up of officials in Carlsbad and Hobbs, and Eddy and Lea counties in southeastern New Mexico.

“We have no choice but to begin looking for a safe and secure solution” for high-level waste in Texas,” Perry’s letter states.

Cyrus Reed with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club said there is no rush in Texas to store spent rods. The four reactors still have ample storage capacity, he said. And were Waste Control to build a storage facility for Texas’ high-level waste, that could change.

“It can evolve into the national solution,” Reed said, referring to how Waste Control went from taking only low-level waste from Texas and Vermont, members of a compact, to accepting it from dozens of other states after lawmakers voted to allow it.

Earlier this week it was reported that the Waste Control Specialists’ site in Andrews County would receive, at least temporarily, 420 truckloads of radioactive waste dating back from the 1940s from the federal government’s nuclear weapons program.

The waste is from the Los Alamos National Laboratory. The laboratory has been under pressure to remove the waste from its grounds since a series of wildfires raged very close to the facility in 2011.

Under a deal with the state of New Mexico, the laboratories promised to send the waste away by June 30.

This report includes material from the Star-Telegram archives.

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