Texas’ burgeoning nuclear footprint in the struggle to dispose of high-level radioactive waste

Highly radioactive waste can reach temperatures of several thousand degrees Fahrenheit, but the obscure legislation governing its storage and disposal sparked a debate that burned even hotter.

House bill (HB) 7 from Rep. Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) would prohibit the interim storage of high-level radioactive waste in Texas with certain exceptions. Highly radioactive waste or used nuclear fuel is a by-product of nuclear fission – the process of splitting a uranium atom when a neutron hits it.

Nuclear power plants repeat this process over and over and the reactions give off heat, which then boils water to create steam, which in turn turns turbines that generate electricity in power plants.

Landgraf’s bill specifically targets the storage of such waste in a future consolidated interim storage facility in Andrews County, which the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) is expected to issue an interim storage license this month. This project in West Texas is owned by Interim Storage Partners (ISP), jointly owned by Waste Control Specialists (WCS) and Orano USA. WCS currently operates a deep storage facility in the same area.

If approved, the ISP’s West Texas facility would be licensed to store used nuclear fuel for interim storage for up to 40 years, but the facility itself would not be built until several years after the license was approved. The license application was first filed in April 2016.

The enterprise Estimates The project will generate “more than $ 4 million in manpower annually” during construction and operation.

When asked to comment on the debate, ISP representatives led the way The Texan to his frequently asked Questions Website page specifying the licensing procedure.

Landgraf announced the bill back in March, stating: “My constituents are on board with low-level storage, as used rubber gloves and hospital gowns are little cause for concern. But highly radioactive waste, like spent nuclear fuel, is a horse of a completely different color. “

HB 7 is an attempt to exclude the issue of this license.

Texas has two nuclear power plants, one in Bay City and another in Glen Rose, that generate about 10 percent of the state’s electricity.

But there are hundreds of other nuclear-related facilities across Texas, from medical laboratories and hospitals to university research centers. Besides, America’s entire nuclear arsenal is assembled and disassembled in the Pantex factory in Amarillo.

Both the University of Texas and Texas A&M University have nuclear reactor facilities on their campuses – and both universities and the state’s two power plants store the radioactive waste on site. Each of these institutions is carved out of the prohibition of the draft law.

Despite some disastrous incidents only one of them has led to deaths or drains of health problems for those affected, the nuclear industry has become effective not only to generate electricity safely and efficientlybut also in the storage and disposal of this generation’s waste.

And that one case, Chernobyl, was one episode of mechanical failures that led to an uncontrollable surge in power, which was then exacerbated by bureaucratic misconduct by the Soviet Union and its communist party.

“As always, the challenge in the nuclear debate is emotion, not science, and this is a classic case,” said Dale Klein, vice-chancellor for research at the University of Texas and former chairman of the NRC.

He continued, “If people have really dealt with the security problem, it is not as much a security problem as the emotions sometimes guide you.”

“But the Department of Energy does not exude confidence because it should have a permanent landfill for high-level waste by 1998.”

This site, which was supposed to be on Yucca Mountain in Nevada, was never realized and the United States still does not have a permanent landfill. The only ones that exist or are under development are in Finland, Sweden and France.

The benefits of nuclear energy go beyond generating electricity. In addition to generating electricity for the power grid, a similar concept is used to Treat cancer as with the upcoming establishment at Abilene Christian University (ACU). MD Anderson in Houston also has proton therapy Facility.

Tony Hill, aka senior physics researcher with ACU, testifying to the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Economic Development in support of HB 7 – but expressed concern that the bill would not allow ACU to move forward with its establishment.

“I definitely do not support Texas becoming a high-level radioactive waste dump,” said Hill, “but I fear that language could potentially prevent us from moving forward and prevent Texas from moving forward with advanced nuclear options.”

Radioactive waste is not limited to fission. It can and is created in processes as different as oil and gas excavation – but this waste is to be assigned to a lower classification.

The storage process is intensive and is closely monitored by the NRC. As classified According to the NRC, this process generates two amounts of radioactive waste: low, which is divided into classes A, B and C, and high.

The lower classes of low level waste include items that may be contaminated during the nuclear process, such as clothing, mops, and other industrial items. The higher classes of low level waste consist of components of the reactor core or other aspects of the fission infrastructure. And highly active waste is the spent nuclear fuel or the fuel rods in which the uranium pellets sit.

The high level waste or spent nuclear fuel, which makes up less than five percent of the radioactive waste in the entire process, can be recycled and reused – a process that France pioneered in “closing” its nuclear fuel cycle. But the US is not yet recycling its spent nuclear fuel like France is, so storage in the States is central.

The spent fuel is stored by submerging the spent fuel in concrete containers with steel linings for at least five years underground. It can then be transferred to a “dry cask” container, where it can rest for up to 40 years.

HB 7 met with little resistance and the bill passed the House of Representatives 94 to 32, but the dispute came over an amendment by MP Tom Craddick (R-Midland).

The first version of Craddick’s amendment would have proposed the inclusion of “spent nuclear fuel as defined in 42 USC Section 10101 (23)”, which should be replaced with a broader prohibited waste classification to include anything above Class C low level radioactive waste.

Where Landgraf’s version only applies to high level waste, Craddick’s amendment would have included all low level waste beyond Class C – not just the fuel, but also the reactor core and other components in Classes A and B.

Both attempts by Craddick to amend Landgraf’s bill were successfully thwarted by the Odessan Rules of Procedure, parliamentary maneuvers that expose violations of house rules.

Fight in Midland Reporter Telegramsaid Craddick, “Brooks Landgraf has taken a procedural step to prohibit any consideration of the change.”

“Representative. After taking my amendment out of consideration, Landgraf stated in front of the entire House of Representatives that he agreed to the need for a language ban in my amendment. He could and should have accepted my amendment. “

He added, “Radioactive waste in the form of spent nuclear fuel and reactor-related waste that is greater than Class C poses a very real threat to the Permian Basin, all Texans and America.”

For now stored The WCS West Texas facility houses the nuclear reactor core of the US military’s first STURGIS floating nuclear power plant, which was used for power supply during the construction of the Panama Canal. If Craddick’s amendment had been adopted, the storage of the core, which is classified as high-level low-level waste, would be prohibited in this facility. But this language was not adopted.

“To this day,” concluded Craddick, “there is no temporary or permanent deposit anywhere in America. Nevada disapproved of waste. New Mexico rejected the waste. Now they’re targeting Texans and we must reject the trash. The Permian Basin is not a place for this storage. “

Despite the guttural fear that was caused in many by the thought of nuclear waste, there was null examples of catastrophic accidents during the transportation or storage of spent nuclear fuel.

Regardless of their differences of opinion over the bill, Craddick’s and Landgraf’s opposition to nuclear storage in Texas makes them strange bedfellows.

As two oil and gas oriented politicians, they suddenly find themselves connected to environmental organizations like the Sierra Club, the planted his flag stubbornly against the facility in West Texas. The Texas Chapter of the Sierra Club testified on the bill at every committee hearing in the House and Senate.

Most, but not all, environmental groups often reflexively reject nuclear energy, even though the plants do not emit any air pollution except for the plant construction process or uranium front-end mining.

Pointing out this dichotomy, Klein pointed out, “If the State of Texas is to significantly reduce its carbon footprint, and in a reliable manner, then nuclear power has to play a role.”

Landgraf, however, had enough leverage over the governor to put it on the agenda of the second special session after failing by Craddick’s rules of procedure during the regular session.

The Senate passed the law on Wednesday with just one amendment: The bill was set to come into force on December 5th. And the house approved the Senate’s change on Thursday afternoon so HB 7 is on its way to the governor’s desk.

For reasons ranging from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Chernobyl, there is a pervasive stigma against nuclear power and, as such, against the energy and waste it generates. This worry does not come out of nowhere – nuclear power discharges are undoubtedly dangerous substances.

But balancing its electricity or some other use for its waste has long been easier to accept as its storage and disposal have become increasingly reliable over the decades. But whether the benefits outweigh the disadvantages of storage is still a hotly debated issue.

And as Craddick and Landgraf show, every state wants the benefits of the nuclear product without being responsible for its waste.

Klein added, “I think high level waste [storage] is like a landfill: everyone understands that they need one, but they don’t want it in their state or near where they live. “

“This is a political issue, not a security issue, and whatever decision the people of Texas make, it must be based on science, not emotion.”

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