destabilizing waste control

State Sierra Club leaders are hoping to scuttle a highly controversial radwaste disposal license granted to Waste Control Specialists back in May with a last-ditch legal grab for a contested case hearing.

The would-be national dump out on the Texas-New Mexico line at the southern end of the Panhandle has been studied for four years and received no fewer than 14 permit application revisions. Key TCEQ staff resigned over the approval and called out the Commissioners for their 2-1 decision.

The dump could be as close as 18 feet from groundwater, one former TCEQ staffer told me. But It is unclear whether or not the site overlies the nation’s largest freshwater aquifer or just skirts it. Something a contested case hearing would settle.

Here’s part of the release that went out a few hours ago:

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.

Said Lone Star chapter head Ken Kramer:

“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.

“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 stateenvironmental commissioners were hoping to sweep things under the rug byissuing the license without a contested case hearing. We’re taking thismatter to court to make sure that the problems with the proposed burial get the attention they deserve.”

Michael Totty of the The Wall Street Journal argues for and against nuclear power in yesterday’s op-ed newsletter. There’s plenty I disagree with within the write-up, but his close addresses an issue most overlook: the related likelihood of nuclear proliferation.

By far the greatest risk is the possibility that an expansion of nuclear power will contribute to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Plants that enrich uranium for power plants can also be used to enrich for bombs; this is the path Iran is suspected of taking in developing a weapons program. An ambitious expansion of nuclear power would require a lot more facilities for enriching uranium, broadening this risk. Facilities for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel for reuse pose the danger that the material can be diverted for weapons.

Expansion of nuclear power in the U.S. doesn’t pose a great proliferation risk, but a nuclear renaissance will put a strain on the current anti-proliferation system. Most of the growth world-wide is expected to be in countries — such as those in the Middle East and Africa — where a nuclear-energy program could give cover to surreptitious weapons development and create the local expertise in handling and processing nuclear materials.

The dangers of nuclear proliferation would be heightened if a nuclear revival turned to reprocessing of spent fuel to reduce the amount of high-level waste that builds up and to maintain adequate fuel supplies. Reprocessing is a problem because it can produce separated plutonium — which is easier to steal or divert for weapons production, as North Korea has done, than plutonium contained in highly radioactive fuel. And commercial reprocessing plants produce so much plutonium that keeping track of it all is difficult, making it easier to divert enough for weapons without the loss being detected.

If nuclear power really were able to make a big dent in greenhouse emissions, then it would be worth the time and resources necessary to address all these problems. Instead, though, the magnitude of these difficulties will keep any nuclear renaissance too small to make a difference, and will require expensive government support just to achieve modest gains. Those resources are better spent elsewhere.

And Business Week hints at the dangers of reprocessing spent fuel and the French model in general:

And while France has the world’s biggest fuel-reprocessing program, it still hasn’t found a permanent home for a growing pile of highly radioactive waste that’s left over. The waste sits in heavily guarded storage at Areva’s La Hague reprocessing plant …

The trouble is, separating out plutonium in the spent fuel for reuse is costly and dangerous, argue critics like Princeton University physicist Frank N. von Hippel. And in any case, worries over separated plutonium being diverted to make bombs led the U.S. to ban reprocessing 31 years ago.

Back in SA, if you haven’t gotten this announcement yet you may want to consider…

From the President to the Friends of Friedrich Wilderness Park:

As you may know, the Board of Directors of the Friends of Friedrich Wilderness Park meets every other month, and we will be meeting this Wednesday, July 2 at 6:30 at the Friedrich Park Classroom. This meeting will begin with an informational session that might be of interest to many of you. Eric Lautzenheiser (the City’s Natural Areas Director and ex officio member of the Board) and I will be presenting a short overview of the history of planning efforts in regard to Friedrich Park and its environs. Over the years, the City and the Friends have commissioned a series of plans, and we would like to present these in the context of their past effect and future relevance. We feel this is especially important right now as the area around Friedrich Park is undergoing very rapid development, and as the Park itself becomes an increasingly utilized resource.

Also invited to attend will be a representative from Councilwoman Cibrian’s office, and developers seeking to move forward on projects near the Park.

If you are interested in attending, reply to Denise at

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