More Information Contact:
Contact: Ken Kramer, 512-476-6962 or 512-626-4204 cell, or Cyrus Reed, 512-477-1729 or 512-740-4086 cell
Sierra Club Appeals TCEQ Decision on Radioactive Waste License
(Austin)-The Sierra Club this week filed
suit in state district court to overturn
a decision by the state's environmental regulatory
agency to grant a license for disposal of
thousands of cubic feet of radioactive "byproduct"
material in Andrews County, Texas, just a few miles from the Texas-New Mexico border. The lawsuit aims to force the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to grant a "contested case" hearing
on the license to the Sierra Club and several residents
of Eunice, New Mexico, whose requests for such a proceeding
were denied by the state agency.
The disposal license
was issued to Waste Control Specialists LLC (WCS), a
politically well-connected company that is pursuing authorization
to dispose of even greater volumes of radioactive waste
at its Andrews County dump.
"The granting of a license to bury radioactive waste in West Texas without the public scrutiny that a contested case hearing would provide is one of the more egregious actions taken by the TCEQ Commissioners in recent months
- and that's saying a lot," said Ken Kramer, state Sierra Club director.
"Given all of the concerns raised about the WCS license by
former TCEQ staff who reviewed the application, it seems
that a majority of the state environmental commissioners
were hoping to sweep things under the rug by issuing the
license without a contested case hearing. We're taking this
matter to court to make sure that the problems with the proposed
burial get the attention they deserve."
On May 21, on a 2-1 vote, TCEQ Commissioner Bryan Shaw
and Chairman "Buddy" Garcia voted in favor of granting
the license and denying the hearing request, while Commissioner
Larry Soward asserted that it would be in TCEQ and the
state's best interest to allow a hearing to proceed to
make sure that there were no merits to the argument that
the site is unsafe for burial of radioactive materials.
Many residents of Eunice, New Mexico -five miles from
the WCS facility in Andrews County, Texas - believe that
the license conditions will not protect them from windblown
radioactive debris, potential traffic accidents and the
possibility of leakage into the underlying aquifer.
The Sierra Club requested
a contested case on behalf of Club members in Eunice. In that request the Sierra Club noted several problems with the license application, including:
. The failure of WCS to adequately characterize the underground geology; . The failure of WCS to model for severe weather events, including high winds; . The failure of WCS to consider the potential for radioactive traffic accidents; . The failure of WCS to look at surface water run-off; and . The failure of WCS to perform the required one-year pre-operation monitoring at the facility.
In fact, Pat Bobeck, a former TCEQ staff geologist who
left the agency due to objections to the pending WCS
licensing, attests that after years of application review
and WCS efforts at improvements in the application, the
applicant failed to adequately characterize the site.
"The application contained inconsistencies and contradictions and a lack of detailed geologic data," Bobeck noted. "There
is water there in that clay and in the siltstone and
water is going to move that waste around. It's going
to cause problems and there's no way around that."
Sierra Club member and small business owner Rose Gardner
traveled from her home in Eunice in May to attend the
TCEQ meeting at which the WCS decision was made.
"This stinks that the TCEQ has denied my right to a hearing about something so close to where my family lives and has been living for the past half a century. We should be able to contest that!" said Gardner. "I
don't believe this is a safe site. I think that the radioactive
waste would filter down through the cracks and salt domes
in that clay. It'll leach right down into our precious
groundwater. I am concerned about what this could mean
for the health and well being of my family."
Background on the Waste Materials Approved for Disposal at the WCS Dump
The disposal license issued by TCEQ in May allows WCS to
bury uranium milling and mining waste, as well as so-called "K-65" waste,
leftover highly-contaminated weapons waste that previously
was stored in Fernald, Ohio.
K-65 wastes are the uranium
mill tailings resulting from a uniquely concentrated uranium
ore discovered before World War II in the former Belgian
This ore had a record uranium content of 65% (as opposed
to 0.1 % uranium content of most ore used by the then Atomic
Very high concentrations of thorium and
radium (and their decay products, including radon gas) were
retained in the tailings (residues).
Because of a controversial decision by the U.S. Congress,
so-called K-65 wastes were reclassified in 2003 as "11(e)(2)" byproduct
The decision allowed the waste being stored at
the Fernald site as well as at a similar storage site near
Niagara Falls, New York to be disposed of at sites licensed
for disposal of radioactive byproduct materials.
While DOE initially sought to bury the waste at an EnergySolutions
facility in Utah, the legislature there was so concerned
that it barred some of the waste from being imported.
is important to note that the recommendation from many experts
was that the waste should be "vitrified" as opposed to being placed in its present metal containers.
In 2005, WCS was able - over objections from the Sierra Club and others - to get its existing byproduct materials "storage" license amended to be able to import the Fernald waste and "store" it
on-site (essentially by placing the containers on a concrete
pad), while authorization for disposal was sought.