Law­suit could steer nuke waste to Texas

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - ash­er­price@states­man.com

Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton is su­ing the fed­eral govern­ment to force a de­ci­sion on long-term ra­dioac­tive waste stor­age, pos­si­bly set­ting the stage for the waste to be stored in Texas, at least on a short-term ba­sis.

Pax­ton on Wed­nes­day an­nounced the suit, ask­ing for a vote by the Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion on whether to li­cense Ne­vada’s Yucca Moun­tain and to stop the Depart­ment of En­ergy from spend­ing tax dol­lars on “con­sent-based” sit­ing.

“For decades, the fed­eral govern­ment has ig­nored our grow­ing prob­lem of nu­clear waste,” Pax­ton said in a state­ment. “The NRC’s in­ac­tion on li­cens­ing Yucca Moun­tain sub­jects the pub­lic and the en­vi­ron­ment to po­ten­tial dan­ger­ous risks from ra­dioac­tive waste. We do not in­tend to sit qui­etly any­more.”

The suit, filed be­fore the 5th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals, comes shortly af­ter for­mer Gov. Rick Perry be­came U.S. en­ergy sec­re­tary. Perry counted as a ma­jor cam­paign con­trib­u­tor the late Harold Sim­mons, who con­trolled Waste

Con­trol Spe­cial­ists, the com­pany that is now seek­ing a li­cense to store high-level ra­dioac­tive waste from the Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion. As gover­nor, Perry sup­ported Waste Con­trol’s ef­forts to ex­pand the kinds of waste it could store at its An­drews County fa­cil­ity.

Pax­ton’s cam­paigns have re­ceived at least $15,000 in con­tri­bu­tions since 2012 from Waste Con­trol’s po­lit­i­cal ac­tion com­mit­tee, ac­cord­ing to cam­paign fi­nance records.

The fed­eral govern­ment has col­lected more than $40 bil­lion from util­i­ties over decades, ac­cord­ing to Pax­ton, in­clud­ing $700 mil­lion from Texas util­i­ties, to pay for dis­pos­ing the ma­te­rial deep within Yucca Moun­tain. But in Novem­ber 2013, af­ter years of quar­rels over the Yucca plan, a fed­eral court de­ter­mined the U.S. govern­ment has “no cred­i­ble plan” to dis­pose of the high-level waste.

At present, nearly all of the na­tion’s spent nu­clear fuel is stored at the re­ac­tor sites where it was gen­er­ated. All told, there is at least 70,000 met­ric tons of spent fuel stored na­tion­ally — enough to cover a foot­ball field to a height of ap­prox­i­mately 20 feet. Texas’ two nu­clear sites house roughly 2,400 tons of spent fuel.

A fed­eral com­mis­sion de­clared that the United States should press on, de­vel­op­ing at least an in­terim site in a state that vol­un­tar­ily takes the ma­te­rial.

While Pax­ton’s suit crit­i­cizes that ap­proach, also known as con­sent-based sit­ing of ra­dioac­tive waste stor­age sites — ex­actly what Waste Con­trol has been work­ing at in West Texas — it chiefly ap­pears to be press­ing the fed­eral govern­ment to make a fi­nal de­ci­sion on the Yucca pro­posal.

Who­ever man­ages to make a ra­dioac­tive waste stor­age site a re­al­ity could be up for an enor­mous pay­day, given the money al­ready put into the pot by ratepay­ers.

In a twist, Pax­ton names Perry, in his of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity as en­ergy sec­re­tary, as one of the de­fen­dants; oth­ers in­clude the Nu­clear Reg­u­la­tory Com­mis­sion chair­woman and the U.S. trea­sury sec­re­tary.

Yucca Moun­tain “was never ad­e­quate to iso­late waste and should not be pur­sued again,” said Karen Had­den, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the en­vi­ron­men­tal group Sus­tain­able En­ergy and Eco­nomic Devel­op­ment Coali­tion, which is also op­posed to the stor­age of ra­dioac­tive waste in West Texas, partly be­cause of con­cerns about the prospect of ground­wa­ter con­tam­i­na­tion. “In­stead, in­tense re­search should be done to find a vi­able per­ma­nent repos­i­tory and the right sys­tems needed to iso­late ra­dioac­tive waste for mil­lions of years. Our health, safety and eco­nomic well-be­ing de­pend on get­ting this right, today and for gen­er­a­tions into the fu­ture.”

Waste Con­trol spokesman Chuck McDon­ald said the com­pany is re­view­ing the law­suit: “We haven’t had the op­por­tu­nity to read and thor­oughly re­view it. There­fore, we don’t know if it will have an im­pact on our project or not.

“WCS has al­ways been sup­port­ive of a per­ma­nent repos­i­tory, and we be­lieve a con­sol­i­dated in­terim stor­age fa­cil­ity is needed as part of an in­te­grated waste man­age­ment sys­tem in the U.S.”

Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton wants to force a fed­eral de­ci­sion on waste site.

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