Texas Billionaire Builds Giant Nuclear Waste Dump
Apr. 1 2011 - 6:39 pm
Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons has been called the king of Superfund sites. His companies, like publicly traded NL Industries, have over the years reportedly polluted numerous industrial sites with toxic metals and radiation. And another of his companies, Waste Control Specialists, is in the business of cleaning the messes up. It’s such a clever strategy that
Dallas’ D Magazine in an insightful profile last year, called 79-year-old Simmons Dallas’ “most evil genius.”
For years WCS (a division of publicly traded Valhi) lobbied to open a nuclear waste disposal site Andrews County of west Texas near the New Mexico border. It’s dry, empty country. Oil fields provide most of the jobs. It took Simmons some six years of lobbying to get the permits to open his nuclear dump and start accepting what could ultimately be 60 million cubic feet of low-level nuclear waste.
This is not the kind of waste that would have gone to the ill-fated Yucca Mountain project in Nevada (i.e. spent fuel rods and such). But it’s pretty harsh stuff nonetheless: the refuse from nuclear medical applications, weapons programs, parts from old nuclear reactors. Already a worker at the site and a septic system have reportedly been tainted by plutonium.
Mother Jones magazine published this piece on Simmons’ nuke dump earlier this week: “A Texas-Sized Plan For Nuclear Waste.”
Now I don’t think there’s anything wrong with building and operating a well regulated dump for low-level nuclear waste. After all, the stuff has got to go somewhere and someone’s got to be responsible for it. But the Mother Jones article raises some legitimate concerns.
Three staff members at the Texas Commission of Environmental Quality quit their jobs after their concerns that the nuke dump could pollute ground water with radiation were ignored. They believe that the uppermost layer of the massive Ogallala Aquifer lay just 14 feet below the dump. And if not the Ogallala, then it might be the Pecos Valley Aquifer. WCS has reportedly said that any such concerns are unjustified, though the D Magazine article explains that maps prepared by the Texas Water Development Board show that the areas where the nuke dump is located … “is underlain by four aquifers. In addition to the Dockum, there are three major aquifers: Ogallala (or High Plains), Pecos Valley (or Cenozoic Pecos Alluvium), and Edwards-Trinity Plateau. The TWDB and USGS websites both state that the Edwards-Trinity Plateau Aquifer is hydraulically connected to four major aquifers, including the Ogallala, and several minor aquifers, including the Dockum.”
More scientific concerns were voiced in this 2008 Texas Observer article “Good to Glow.”
None of that, nor a history of accidental contaminations at the site, nor outcry from environmental groups, stopped Texas’ Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission from voting to approve the import of nuclear waste into Texas from other states. Six of the seven members of that commission were appointed by Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who reportedly received $250,000 in campaign cash from Simmons for the 2008 governor’s race.
Texas will reportedly receive $36 million a year for allowing the imports; Simmons will get millions more for watching over them. Ultimate responsibility if anything goes wrong falls on the state.
It just doesn’t look good. Like I said before, properly regulated nuclear dumps are not terrible in and of themselves. But when politically tainted commissions override the concerns of hydrologists willing to quit to make themselves heard, it’s probably time for Texans to demand an independent investigation of the true risks of Simmons’ nuke dump.
Engineering News Archive