The legislature is trying again to ban the most dangerous radioactive waste
After the failure this spring, the Texan legislature tried again to ban the most dangerous radioactive waste in the state – at the same time, a waste disposal company in West Texas is pursuing a federal application for the storage of the highly radioactive substances.
Environmental and consumer advocates have for years rejected a proposal to build 332 acres in west Texas near the New Mexico border to dump the riskiest type of nuclear waste: spent fuel rods from nuclear power plants, which can remain radioactive for hundreds of thousands of years . Strong political interests in Texas, from Governor Greg Abbott to a few oil and gas companies operating in the Permian Basin, have opposed the company’s motion.
But a bill banning the highly radioactive material failed during the regular legislative period that ended in May. This bill, submitted by State Representative Brooks Landgraf, R-Odessa, which includes Andrews County where the existing nuclear waste company Waste Control Specialists operates, included a major fee cut for the company. Some lawmakers also felt that the language of the previous bill wasn’t strong enough to actually ban the materials.
Now, at the second special session this year, Landgraf has again submitted a draft law that provides for the highly radioactive substances to be brought to the business premises in his district. The House of Representatives Environmental Regulatory Committee on Monday passed House Law 7, which does not include changes to fees for the existing business, one of the main criticisms that undermined proposed legislation earlier this year.
“In other words, this should be clean and simple so that we as a state can be put on record [opposing high-level nuclear waste storage]”Said Landgraf.
Waste Control Specialists in Andrews County have been disposing of the country’s low-level nuclear waste – including tools, building materials and protective clothing – that have been exposed to the radioactivity for a decade. The company, together with a partner, is pursuing a license from the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission to store spent nuclear fuel on a site adjacent to its existing facility.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is promoting the company’s license. In July, in an environmental review, NRC officials recommended that the site be approved for the disposal of the highest amount of nuclear waste. The license has yet to be checked by the federal commissioners.
Scientists agree that spent nuclear fuel currently being stored in nuclear power plants should be stored deep underground, but the US has not yet found a suitable location. The WCS joint venture Interim Storage Partners plan is to store it in above-ground containers until a permanent location is found.
Landgraf’s HB 7 includes a ban on the disposal of high-level radioactive waste in Texas, except for former nuclear reactors and former nuclear research and test reactors on university campuses (nuclear power plants have to keep the waste generated during operation on site for a long period of time). The bill would also discourage government agencies from granting construction, rainwater or pollution permits to facilities approved to store high-level radioactive waste.
However, some opponents of nuclear waste say the bill does not go far enough. Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition, an alliance of companies and organizations that speak out against the nuclear waste facility, is against the law because she said the ban skips another type of high-level radioactive waste, much of it of which generated by the decommissioning of nuclear power plants. The material – known as “waste greater than class C” falls into what experts call a gray area between lower categories of radioactive materials and spent nuclear fuel.
“We would support a single, well-written ban on spent nuclear fuel and reactor waste greater than Class C,” Hadden said in an interview with the Tribune. “We question why the bill is not written better.”
But Landgraf said during Monday’s house hearing that the bill was doing the job called for by Abbott on his special session agenda: further limit high-level radioactive materials in Texas. He said that while he was not “automatically” opposed to including “larger than class C” waste in the proposed ban, he did not want to assume that his constituents in Andrews County would want the additional regulation on the site. He also advocated simplicity and speed, as the federal regulatory authorities could decide on the license application before the end of the year.
“I don’t want to miss an opportunity to message the NRC,” said Landgraf.
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This article originally appeared in the Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2021/08/23/texas-nuclear-waste-storage-site-legislature/.
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