Opinion: Officials should deny interim storage of high-level waste in Andrews
Lon Burnam, Karen Hadden and Kevin Kamps | Aug. 6, 2021 Midland Reporter Telegram (MRT) mrt.com
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) may soon approve Interim Storage Partners’ (ISP) license application to store 40,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste above ground in Andrews County at Waste Control Specialists’ low-level radioactive waste dump site, located near the Ogallala Aquifer.
The NRC has published the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Safety Evaluation Report. NRC commissioners will then vote on ISP’s license application, and they are clearly in favor. In legal proceedings, NRC staff and judges have ignored numerous safety and health-related concerns that were backed up by expert witnesses.
The NRC has behaved similarly in the Holtec International proceeding, which is just a few months behind ISPs. Holtec is targeting a site between Hobbs, New Mexico, and Carlsbad, New Mexico. Its plan is to store up to 173,600 tons of high-level radioactive waste about 40 miles from the WCS location. The Permian Basin could become a very high-risk radioactive waste sacrifice zone, threatening all other businesses, industries and agriculture in the region.
Nuclear waste from both U.S. coasts would be dumped on the southwest. Ninety percent of reactors are in the eastern half of the U.S., but California Democrats, including Congressman Mike Levin, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein are leading efforts to dump on Texas and New Mexico. They want the waste out of Southern California and don’t care how it leaves or where it goes as long as it is out of their backyard.
Opposition to high-level radioactive plans is growing. The legal efforts of anti-nuclear and environmental groups and oil and ranch interests are almost done with the rigged NRC kangaroo court. We’ll soon get our day in real court, namely, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the second highest court in the land. The NM Attorney General has even filed a lawsuit in federal district court there, opposing both high-level radioactive waste facilities.
Federal law currently prohibits the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) from taking ownership and liability for commercial nuclear reactor fuel at an interim facility until a permanent geologic repository is operating, which will take at least until mid-century. Yet ISP and Holtec are looking to DOE — that is, federal taxpayers — to pay all the costs of interim storage, including a handsome profit margin to themselves. This effectively illegally transfers title of the waste.
This wise prohibition was put in place to keep “temporary storage” sites from becoming de facto permanent storage, what we call “parking lot dumps.” Waste containers are sure to fail, whether due to natural disaster, terrorist attack or just plain old corrosion. Once they do, catastrophic releases of deadly radioactivity could occur.
We anticipate an eventual legal victory but will also need to defend against Congressional changes to the law. Holtec, ISP and nuclear industry lobbyists have been working for years on amendments that would weaken existing law.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has said that the Biden administration plans to move forward with “consent-based” consolidated interim storage. If that’s the case, Texas and New Mexico should be immediately removed from consideration. Both governors have expressed strong opposition to both proposed dumps which straddle the shared border. Bipartisan opposition to dangerous nuclear waste plans is expanding, not just throughout the Permian, but across the nation since thousands of high-risk radioactive waste shipments would travel through major cities on trains, barges and trucks, if either proposed site opens.
Hardened On-Site Storage (HOSS) is a long overdue alternative to the proposed storage facilities. Whether in wet indoor storage pools, or shoddy outdoor dry casks, existing on-site storage of spent nuclear fuel at reactors remains vulnerable to catastrophic radioactivity releases. HOSS is a 20-year old recommendation by hundreds of nuclear watchdog groups in all 50 states, but Congress hasn’t listened. Under this plan, vulnerable spent fuel pools would be emptied, and dry casks would be significantly improved. Safety, security, health and environmental protection would be maximized, and NRC rubber-stamping shortcuts would be halted.
The waste at existing reactor sites should be safeguarded using HOSS. At some sites, waste may need to be moved a short distance, for example to get it off coastlines, but transport should be minimized in order to reduce risks. Readers can ask elected officials to take action to stop consolidated interim storage facilities in the Permian Basin dead in their tracks. The southwest should not be turned into the nation’s radioactive wasteland.
Lon Burnam is from Fort Worth and with Public Citizen [and is a Board Member of the Peace Farm] ; Karen Hadden is from Austin and with Sustainable Energy & Economic Development (SEED) Coalition, and Kevin Kamps is from Takoma Park, Maryland, and with Beyond Nuclear.