Memorandum

To: Texas Editorial Editors
From: Erin Rogers, Lone Star Sierra Club
Re: Radioactive Waste Dump Could Be Disastrous for Texas
Date: April 3, 2003

Next week the Texas House is poised to act on a special interest bill that poses serious security and financial threats to regular Texans. The bill could be voted on as early as April 22nd.

The bill allows one private company to turn West Texas into the national dumping ground for low-level radioactive waste. It will also make Texas a destination for terrorists seeking radioactive materials for use in dirty bombs.

The bill, HB 1567 by Rep. Buddy West, authorizes the creation of two massive nuclear waste dumps in West Texas. The first would accept waste from nuclear power plants across the country.

The second would take nuclear weapons waste from the U.S. Navy and Department of Energy. All told, the two dumps could be the burial ground for over 400 million cubic feet of waste.

The immediate threat to Texas from this bill is that terrorists seeking radioactive materials would look to the Texas dump as the source. The reason: the bill has virtually no security requirements for the dump, making it far less secure than nuclear power plants and federal weapons sites.

Radioactive waste will be taken from high security sites around the country, put on trucks, shipped through nearly every major city in Texas, and brought to a minimum security site in a remote location with a limited law enforcement presence. This will make the site, and highways close to it, the obvious place for terrorists to seek radioactive material.

How dangerous is this material? Low-level waste can remain radioactive for up to 160 million years. Many of these materials are highly carcinogenic and even tiny internal exposures can be lethal.

Another serious threat posed by the bill would be the constant shipment of radioactive materials on Texas highways. The bill has NO security requirements for radioactive waste brought into Texas by train or truck.

The poor security measures taken with shipments of radioactive waste were made clear by a disturbing incident that occurred in July 2001. According to the Fort Worth Star Telegram, a 22-ton shipment of low-level radioactive waste was lost for nearly a month when it reached Texas.

The material was bound for a Waste Control Specialists (WCS) processing site in Andrews County, Texas. (WCS is the same company that wants to open the two national radioactive waste dumps in Andrews County, and has given Texas politicians $1.1 million over the past two election cycles in order to grease the wheels for this dangerous legislation.)

The truck was finally found on a ranch near the Oklahoma border. The truck and its cargo were abandoned by a disgruntled employee. Thankfully the waste didn't fall into the wrong hands, but the incident highlights the potentially dangerous nature of these shipments.

In addition to this clear and present danger, Rep. West's legislation also poses a serious financial threat to Texas taxpayers because the bill will expose the state to massive financial liability when the dump ultimately requires remediation.

Aside from a new radioactive waste dump in Utah, every radioactive waste dumping ground in America has leaked, necessitating massive and costly clean-ups.

HB 1567 only requires the dump license holder to set aside $20 million in financial security for post-closure clean-up needs. But $20 million isn't likely to even make a dent in the actual cost of cleaning up at a site that holds hundreds of millions of cubic feet of waste. A 1998 DOE report estimated that the clean-up cost for a radioactive waste dump handling just 1.5 million cubic feet of waste would be $370 million. WCS proposes taking up to 400 million cubic feet of waste.

This 400 million cubic feet of waste is 200 times more waste than Texas is responsible for under current law. The radioactive waste compact that Texas is party to with Vermont requires Texas to dispose of only 2 million cubic feet of waste from Vermont and Texas combined.

There is simply no need to accept the entire country's radioactive waste. The only beneficiary would be Waste Control Specialists, whose spokespeople have said that the company has no interest in handling Texas' waste unless it reap the profits from turning Andrews County into a national dumping ground for radioactive waste.

The chart below shows the amount of waste that will be generated by Texas and Vermont over the next 35 years, versus the waste that will be produced over the same period by nuclear power plants and federal nuclear weapons sites.

As you can see, Rep. West's bill proposes a radical, financially risky and potentially dangerous solution to a relatively minor problem. This legislation is equivalent to getting chemotherapy treatment for a cold.

Contrary to reports issued by allies of Waste Control Specialists and repeated in the news media that radioactive material is generated at over 1200 sites in Texas, only 60 such sites exist. 96 percent of the low level radioactive waste generated annually in Texas occurs at Texas' two nuclear power plants.

Only 4 percent is generated at hospitals, universities and industrial sources.

A Better Solution

The common sense solution to this minor problem is:

1) Tighten up security for handling and storage of low-level radioactive materials at hospitals, universities and businesses in Texas.

2) Require that the waste be gathered once a year and shipped, under high security, to a state-run radioactive waste storage facility at one of Texas' two nuclear power plants.

3) Use the same nuclear power plant site as the long-term storage site for Texas' low-level radioactive waste when the power plants are decommissioned.

There is absolutely NO need to turn Texas into a national nuclear waste dumping ground and expose Texas families and taxpayers to these kinds of risks in order to manage Texas’s own low level radioactive waste.

We urge you to inform your readers about this dangerous legislation and urge our State Representatives and Senators to reject it.

Thank you for your consideration.

PR 03-017 [EM]