Energy and Environment Reporting for Texas

Texas Governor Wants to Make the State a Home for High-Level Radioactive Waste

Cooling towers of a nuclear power plant in Grohnde, Germany. An interim charge for the Texas legislature could change the United States' management of nuclear waste.

Frank Map DPA/Landov

Cooling towers of a nuclear power plant in Grohnde, Germany. Texas Governor Rick Perry says he wants the state to come up with a solution for disposing of or storing spent nuclear fuel.

The storage and disposal of high-level radioactive waste is a tricky process, both from a safety and political point of view. As a result, that waste is now piling up around the country with nowhere to go. And Texas Governor Rick Perry is wondering if perhaps the Lone Star State could give it a home.

In a letter to the leaders of the state Senate and House, which you can read below, Perry says that Texas has “no choice but to begin looking for a safe and secure solution for HLW [high-level radioactive waste] in Texas.” Perry attached a 49-page report he commissioned from a state environmental agency that says that a facility for waste in Texas is “not only feasible but could be highly successful.”

The letter, first reported by Asher Price in the Austin American-Statesman today, lays out what have become familiar arguments from those hoping to make Texas a home for the nation’s unwanted isotopes: the federal government isn’t following through on its promise to take care of it, states paid the feds to fulfill that promise and got cheated, and Texas can do it safely (and, it would follow, profitably). 

While Perry’s letter seems to limit the issue to disposing of high-level waste from Texas’ six nuclear reactors, there’s reason to believe that if the state does designate a site for the waste it could end up with more than just Texas’ waste. (Currently, nuclear spent fuel is stored on-site at those reactors, which the environmental report says isn’t “adequate,” although it is deemed safe.)

As Jim Malewitz of the Texas Tribune reports today, Texas’ sole site for low-level radioactive waste is soon going to be home to hundred of truckloads of hotter radioactive “junk” that has caused some issues at a waste site in New Mexico:

The waste was not originally meant to leave New Mexico, but a sequence of events headlined by a Feb. 14 radiation leak at a disposal facility near Carlsbad has left its handlers eyeing a private collection site in Andrews County, Texas.

The company, along with Texas and U.S. officials, say the waste will be stored safely — and temporarily. But the plan has stirred concerns among environmentalists who object to the state’s expanding radioactive footprint.

Since the leak in New Mexico, the site has been closed. 21 workers were exposed to radiation during the leak.

The storage site in Texas had a controversial path to fruition, and was meant to hold low-level radioactive waste. But during the last legislative session a bill was introduced in the state Senate to approve the site for high-level radioactive waste. It died when it made its way to the House.

Now the issue is coming up again. One of the assignments Speaker of the House Joe Straus set before next year’s legislative session begins is to find a way to make Texas a storage/disposal site for the waste. That charge, combined with the letter from Perry, indicates there’s now high-level support for storing high-level radioactive waste in Texas.

You can read Perry’s letter here:

And you can read here the environmental review commissioned by Perry from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).


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