Texas Gov. Greg Abbott objects to nuclear waste facility proposed in Permian Basin
“The proposed ISP facility imperils America’s energy security because it would be a prime target for attacks by terrorists, saboteurs, and other enemies,” read [Gov. Abbott’s] letter. “Spent nuclear fuel is currently scattered across the country at various reactor sites and storage installations.”
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott continued to voice his disapproval against nuclear waste storage in the Permian Basin region in a letter last week to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) opposing such a project in Andrews, Texas.
Interim Storage Partners (ISP), a joint venture between Waste Control Specialists and Orano USA, was formed in 2018 to request the NRC resume evaluation of an application submitted originally in 2016 to build a consolidated interim storage facility (CISF) that would hold spent nuclear fuel rods temporarily at the surface while a permanent repository is developed.
Abbott has been a frequent critic of the concept of a CISF and of siting such a facility in the Permian Basin, writing a letter to President Donald Trump in September to oppose CISFs in both Texas and New Mexico.
Supporters of the project cited the economic impact and diversity they could bring to communities dependent on the volatile extraction industry, while opponents questioned their safety and the risk nuclear storage could pose to local industries such as agriculture and oil and gas.
A draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was issued by the NRC in May that found the project would have “minimal” impact on the environment and surrounding natural resources.
In the Nov. 3 letter, Abbott said he consulted with state agencies such as the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Texas Department of Transportation before urging the NRC to deny the license application.
The facility if approved would store up to 40,000 metric tons of high-level nuclear waste under a 40-year license in eight phases.
But Abbott argued the waste’s storage could “imperil” oil and gas production in the Permian – one of the world’s large oilfields that straddles the Texas-New Mexico border with 250,000 active wells on the Texas side.
He worried a nuclear waste facility in the area would make it a target for terrorist attacks.
“The proposed ISP facility imperils America’s energy security because it would be a prime target for attacks by terrorists, saboteurs, and other enemies,” read the letter. “Spent nuclear fuel is currently scattered across the country at various reactor sites and storage installations.
“Piling it up on the surface of the Permian Basin, as ISP seeks to do, would allow a terrorist with a bomb or a hijacked aircraft to cause a major radioactive release that could travel hundreds of miles on the region’s high winds.”
Abbott also questioned if the facility would be temporary as the license application suggested.
The application sought a 40-year license term with an option for a 20-year extension, but Abbott worried a permanent repository would still not be ready to accept the waste after 60 years.
A permanent, underground repository at Yucca Mountain, Nevada began in 1987 but the project was halted after opposition from state lawmakers and was defunded by the administration of former-President Barrack Obama.
“The Draft Environmental Impact Statement simply assumes that a permanent geologic repository will be developed and licensed before those 60 years are up, without addressing any contingency for the spent nuclear fuel if such a repository is not ready when ISP’s license expires,” the letter read. “Those rosy assumptions are unsound.”
The waste would be transported via rail from nuclear reactors and generator sites across the country, passing through several surrounding communities before arriving at the proposed facility.
Four Texas counties along the possible routes: Bexar, Dallas, Midland and Nueces along with the City of San Antonio recently passed resolutions prohibiting nuclear waste from being transported through their communities.
If an accident were to occur in transport, Abbott worried that even without a radiological release, the “specialized emergency response” required would disrupt other local industries such as extraction and ranching.
“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,” the letter read.
“In light of the grave risks associated with the proposed ISP facility, the absence of a permanent geologic repository, and the importance of the Permian Basin to the country’s energy security and economy, I respectfully and emphatically request that the NRC deny ISP’s license application.”
For many of the same reasons, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham stood in opposition to a CISF in southeast New Mexico proposed by Holtec International in an area near the border of Eddy and Lea counties.
Lujan Grisham called the project “economic malpractice” as it could threaten oil and gas and agriculture – also two of New Mexico’s top industries.
“Any disruption of agriculture or oil and gas activities as a result of a perceived or actual nuclear incident would be catastrophic to New Mexico, and any steps toward siting such a project could cause a decrease in investment in two of our state’s biggest industries,” Lujan Grisham wrote in a September letter to the NRC.
In 2015, Andrews County passed a resolution supporting the ISP project, citing the benefit it would bring to the local economy.
Interim Storage Partners spokesperson Adrian Patenaude said the company would consider input from all stakeholders on the project.
“ISP’s approach has always been transparent, informative engagement with all stakeholders about the consolidated interim storage project,” Patenaude said.
NRC spokesman Scott Burnell said Abbott’s letter was received during the ongoing public comment window for the project and would be considered in the licensing process.
“The governor’s letter arrived during the comment period for the draft EIS,” he said. “The NRC will respond directly through our normal processes and consider the letter’s comments as the staff finalized the EIS.”
Adrian Hedden can be reached at 575-628-5516, firstname.lastname@example.org or @AdrianHedden on Twitter.