April 11, 2019
Former state representative Lon Bernum called a radioactive waste control bill before the Texas House Committee on Environmental Regulations the first in more than 15 years that is actually in the public interest.
Bernum characterized previous attempts to regulate radioactive waste in Texas as bills that were generated by the vendor, in this case Waste Control Specialists, a Dallas-based company that handles low-level nuclear waste disposal at a site near Andrews, Texas.
Use of the Andrews facility has been decreasing over the past couple of years, but the company last year joined nuclear services company Orano (formerly AREVA Nuclear Materials), planning to revive interest in the Andrews facilities as a new entity called Interim Storage Partners, applying for a 40-year license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to take in radioactive waste at the site.
The Andrews site and Waste Control are overseen by the Texas Low Level Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission for the management of low level waste only, tasked with protecting the environment and the health, welfare and well-being of citizens.
Bernum spoke to the committee on Wednesday representing the Tarrant Coalition for Environmental Awareness, and joined other speakers for the bill in calling for changes to toughen the bill and require a bond from Waste Control or any other vendor that would cover the possible cleanup costs of a worst case low-level radioactive waste accident.
Other speakers concurred that a contingency plan in case of disaster is needed, and an audit is also needed to determine whether the public interest is being met in overall state radioactive waste control regulations.
Bernum called the bill “the first time since the original statutory enabling legislation in 2003 that this committee is hearing a bill that is not vendor-generated, that is generated in the interest of serving the public interests, not the private profit-making interest of the vendor.”
Other speakers for the bill presented ideas that had been heard in connection with similar bills in the past, including the enormous cost of cleanup in radioactive waste spills (sometimes in the hundreds of billions of dollars) and the fact that rail shipping of such waste creates dangers for communities through which trains carrying waste must pass.
Tom Smith also spoke for the bill, expressing concern about the possibility of Texas accepting high-level radioactive waste such as the fuel rods from nuclear reactor cores, which need to be more closely defined in the bill, he said.
He also called for more thorough research into current safety standards regarding the shipping of nuclear waste.
And Adrian Shelley, Texas director of Public Citizen handed out maps to each commissioner that include demographic analyses emphasizing rail routes on which radioactive waste may be shipped that are surrounded largely by disadvantaged and minority communities.
In opposition, Nuclear Sources and Services Inc. President Gamaliel Torres said the bill would negatively affect not only his company but the nuclear storage and disposal industry as a whole, saying the bill’s flaws begin with it’s use of the term “radioactive waste” rather than the industry standard and more specific “low-level radioactive waste” terminology.
The bill calls for several items, he said, that are already industry standard and statute including liability insurance and notice to state and county officials for exceptionally large shipments of radioactive materials, as well as contingency plans filed.
And Torres said the new fees required under the bill are based on “undefined and improbable disaster scenarios” that are already covered by insurance commitments — and the permits required from the TCEQ and other agencies already take into account financial commitments.
Advocates for Responsible Disposal in Texas GM Edward Selig, whose group is supported by medical and research communities as well as the South Texas Project and Comanche Peak, oppose the bill, he told the committee, because it’s not in step with federal statutes, will create an excessive administrative burdens and therefore higher costs.