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News Release
For Immediate Release: Tuesday, March 4, 2003

Bivins and West Propose Sticking Texas With Mountain of Federal Radioactive Waste
Bills Benefit Corporation and Fat Cat Owner, Not Texas

AUSTIN—Senator Teel Bivins has joined forces with Representative Buddy West to introduce a pair of bills that would make Texas the national dumping ground for mountains of radioactive waste from around the country.

The bills, HB 1567 an SB 824, were introduced late yesterday afternoon. They appear to be identical.

The legislation would allow three privately owned and operated radioactive waste sites to be created in a limited area of West Texas, most likely Andrews County.

The first site would accept low-level radioactive waste from contaminated federal nuclear weapons production sites around the country. The second site would accept nuclear power plant and other "compact" waste from around the country. (Texas and Vermont are in a compact agreement that allows Governor-appointed compact commissioners to accept unlimited amounts of waste from other states to be disposed of in Texas.) The third site would accept a stew of hazardous and low-level radioactive waste from around the country.

"It's bad enough that they want to import virtually unlimited amounts of radioactive and hazardous waste to West Texas," said Erin Rogers of the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club. "But what's even harder to believe is that after a private company reaps all the profits, taxpayers could be left footing the bill for the mess."

While the profits from dumping the waste would almost certainly go to Waste Control Specialists (a private company operating a hazardous waste dump in Andrews County) and its billionaire owner Harold Simmons, the legislation requires the State of Texas to take title to the compact waste as soon as it arrives at the dumpsite. The bill also requires the federal government to take title to the federal waste at the end of the 35-year facility license.

Although the bill attempts to indemnify the state for any liability for the radioactive dumps, the indemnification is only as good as the company’s solvency. After thirty-five years the company could file for bankruptcy and the liability for the mess would revert to the taxpayers. No financial assurance mechanisms have been established to fund the state’s long-term care responsibilities for the waste, much of which will be radioactive for thousands of years.

Every full-scale radioactive waste dump in America has leaked. Clean-up costs can be astronomical. A 1998 DOE report on the subject estimated that for a radioactive waste dump handling just 1.5 million cubic feet of waste, the expected cost of cleaning up the dump would be $370 million. A private company operating a low-level radioactive waste dump in Kentucky forced clean-up costs estimated at $100 million for its leaking site onto the taxpayers.

"This bill is a multi-billion tax hike on our children and grandchildren," said Rogers. "This bill is fiscally and environmentally irresponsible in the extreme."

The bill changes long-standing Texas law to allow the vast majority of the radioactive waste to be dumped in dirt trenches with no containers and makes the Bureau of Radiation Control, within the Texas Department of Health, the permitting agency. Previous permitting authority was vested with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Proponents of the radioactive waste dump argue that a disposal site is needed to provide for disposal of waste from Texas' two nuclear power plants, as well as a power plant in Vermont. Three-fourths of all the waste from Texas and Vermont power plants will come from decommissioning.

But decommissioning of Texas’ two nuclear reactors is not scheduled until 2030-2037, which would be 25 to 32 years after the site is established under the Bivins-West legislation. There is no requirement that Waste Control Specialists operate the dump for 35 years, the life of the permit. By 2030 the compact site could be full of other state’s waste and Waste Control Specialists could declare bankruptcy, leaving Texas the liability for the waste but still searching for a way to handle radioactive waste from its power plants.

This scenario is entirely possible if Waste Control Specialists calculates that it has maximized its potential profit from dumping Department of Energy weapons waste before Texas nuclear power plants are decommissioned. Over the next 10 years, the DOE is expected to seek a graveyard for 93,000,000 cubic feet of radioactive waste produced at over seventy Cold War-era weapons production sites.

"We need solutions, not added responsibility for the rest of the country’s waste," said Rogers. "The responsible way to deal with radioactive waste is to recognize that you can't just bury it in the ground and believe that the problem is solved. The way to handle this problem is to recognize that we should create a permanent, state-owned management site at one of Texas' two nuclear power plants for Texas' radioactive waste. That way no new areas are contaminated."

The Sierra Club looks forward to working with Rep. West and other legislators to make substantial changes in the legislation.

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PR 03-010 [NR]