Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Texas Rep. Adds New Twist to Radioactive Waste Dump Saga

Photo by Flickr user Eric Constantineau/Creative Commons

A state representative says a new radioactive waste dump in West Texas is part of a cover-up.

There are some hot documents that may show a cover-up in the approval of a controversial radioactive waste dump in West Texas. Problem is, you can’t seem them.

Democratic State Representative Lon Burnam said at a press conference Monday at the state capitol that he’s obtained top-secret internal documents from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). They reportedly show that the commission approved the low-level radioactive waste dump, owned and operated by Waste Control Specialists, despite environmental risks. But he says he can’t show the documents to anyone because he signed a confidentiality agreement. The storage facility is owned by Harold Simmons, a Dallas billionaire and major financial backer to Texas politicians. He’s given money to Governor Rick Perry and Attorney General Gregg Abbott, who’s received $495,000 from Simmons over the past five years.

The problem, Rep. Burnam says, is that groundwater exists too close to the radioactive storage area and the company building it downplayed the risks associated with contamination. Now he’s officially asking the attorney general’s office to release him from confidentiality so the public can see the documents.

“I don’t think that [it] should be top secret,” said Rep. Burnam. “I think the public has a right to know. I think public health and safety is involved in this right now.” The dump is due to begin receiving radioactive waste as soon as next Monday.

“I understand that they want to open up the site next week, but they’re not ready,” Rep. Burnam said. “They’re not ready because quite possibly some way or another they’ve gotten away with misrepresenting the facts.”

Since Waste Control Specialists first applied for permits to build the landfill nearly 10 years ago, three TCEQ scientists have resigned in protest. All three recommended against issuing permits for the landfill to be built, according to Burnam.

The company behind the dump released a statement following Rep. Burnam’s press conference saying his contention that they haven’t complied with their license is “absolutely false” and that Burnam’s inaccurate assertions are “nothing more than a political stunt by a desperate candidate likely to lose an election.”

When asked if he thought that Gregg Abbott was partial to the company because of campaign contributions from their owner, Rep. Burnam responded, “They don’t have to buy politicians in this state, they just rent them for the period of time that they need them.”

Whether the facility will open in one week depends on several factors but Rep. Burnam says he believes the head of the TCEQ will recognize the legitimacy of his concerns and postpone the opening of the dump.

David Barer is an intern at StateImpact Texas.


About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »