For Immediate Release
Federal Investigation of Texas’ Radioactive Waste Dump Urged
NRC and EPA Called Upon to Examine Radioactive Waste Site and Licensing Process, Risks of Groundwater Contamination and Potential Risks to the Ogallala Aquifer, Which Lies Beneath Eight States
AUSTIN - Environmental groups today asked the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory
Commission (NRC) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to
investigate the radioactive waste storage and disposal programs
administered by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) for
the West Texas radioactive waste site owned by Waste Control
Specialists (WCS). The groups say the TCEQ has failed to protect public
health, safety and the environment by repeatedly and brazenly abusing
its legal authority and disregarding warnings of its technical staff
about the site's hazards. Further, citizens have not had adequate
opportunities to participate in the licensing processes.
The groups are calling on the NRC to consider terminating or
suspending the TCEQ's authority to regulate the storage and disposal of
low-level radioactive waste and radioactive byproducts in Texas. The
groups also are asking the EPA to review the potential impact on the
water supply and take action if necessary.
The request, available at www.TexasNuclearSafety.org,
was filed by Public Citizen and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra
Club along with state Rep. Lon Burnam (D-Fort Worth) and individuals
from Andrews, Texas, and Eunice, N.M., who live near the WCS facility in
Andrews County. The matter is urgent because WCS has been pushing the
Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission to let it
import radioactive waste from at least 36 other states. The commission's
decision about accepting the additional waste was postponed earlier
this year and likely will be taken up after the November election.
"Some of the hottest radioactive waste that exists, including nuclear
reactor containment vessels and poison curtains that absorb reactor
radiation, could be buried in the proposed radioactive waste dump. There
is not a single radionuclide that can't go to the so-called ‘low-level'
site, and many of them remain hazardous for literally millions of
years," said Karen Hadden, executive director of the SEED Coalition.
"Radioactive waste dumps around the country have leaked. Cleaning up
contaminated groundwater is difficult and expensive. Texas taxpayers
could be on the hook for cleanup costs if the site and groundwater
become contaminated or if there are transportation accidents," Burnam
The "low-level" site has not been built yet. Nuclear weapons waste
from Fernald, Ohio, already has been buried at the adjacent byproduct
facility at the WCS site in Andrews County in West Texas.
TCEQ employees recommended a license for the "low-level" radioactive
waste dump be denied - the review team unanimously recommended denial of
the license - and several quit in protest when their recommendations
went unheeded and the facility was licensed. In an interoffice memo,
TCEQ technical staff who reviewed the permit said that it was "highly
likely" that radioactive waste would leak into groundwater and noted
that WCS had failed to comply with state rules regarding depth to the
water table so that groundwater will not reach the waste.
"The ‘low-level' radioactive waste license was issued despite a
unanimous staff recommendation to deny it," said Tom "Smitty" Smith,
director of Public Citizen's Texas Office. "Notwithstanding the staff
recommendation, then-TCEQ Executive Director Glenn Shankle ordered that
the draft radioactive waste license be drawn up. Six months after
resigning from the agency, Shankle registered as a lobbyist for WCS, the
company seeking to build the dump. How can we rely on a decision made
by someone who goes to work for the regulated company six months later?
Could his decision have anything to do with the fact that he may have
been angling for a job with WCS?"
According to Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit group that tracks
money in politics, WCS owner Harold Simmons has contributed $620,000 to
Gov. Rick Perry since 2001. Perry appointed the six Texas members of
the Compact Commission, whose vote on the upcoming radioactive waste
import rule will determine whether Texas becomes the nation's
radioactive waste dumping ground or whether radioactive waste will be
limited to that of Texas and Vermont, the two Compact Agreement
For several years, the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club has
raised environmental and public health concerns regarding the
radioactive waste dump but was denied a voice in the process.
"We fought to have hearings regarding WCS' radioactive waste dumps,
but the TCEQ blocked the hearings," said Cyrus Reed, conservation
director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. "We represent
citizens who live within five miles of the radioactive waste dump. Under
federal case law, a hearing would have been granted, but Texas denied
these citizens the opportunity for discovery and a hearing. We have
appealed the decision, but both appeals remain pending."
Risks of groundwater contamination are of huge concern. Maps have
been in flux while hot debate centers on whether the WCS site is
directly over or connected to the Ogallala, a huge aquifer that provides
drinking water for nearly two million people. The aquifer lies beneath
eight states and provides water for more than a quarter of the country's
irrigated land. WCS acknowledges that the Dockum Aquifer and the OAG
(Ogallala, Antlers and Gatuna) formation are important to the site,
according to a presentation a WCS geologist made at a Compact Commission
"Radioactive waste contamination of any aquifer is a disaster," Smith
said. "If the massive Ogallala Aquifer were to become contaminated, the
result could be a disaster of unprecedented magnitude, affecting
millions of people throughout the nation."
"Groundwater contamination risks, political influence, questionable
TCEQ licensing decisions, lack of enforcement and the blocking of public
hearings are key reasons that the NRC and EPA should investigate the
evidence regarding Waste Control Specialists' radioactive waste dump,"
Hadden said. "It is important that the federal agencies investigate
these issues fully before the Compact Commission makes a decision that
could lead to Texas becoming the nation's radioactive waste dumping
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.