* Dump for radioactive waste opens in Texas
* Move raises concerns about risks to water, air
* Environmental group seeks another hearing on dump safety
By Jim Forsyth
SAN ANTONIO, Texas, April 27 A 1,300-acre dump
to bury low-level radioactive waste has opened in a remote
corner of west Texas, the fourth U.S. site to allow such waste,
despite concerns about water seepage at the site, which sits
above the huge and vital Ogallala aquifer.
In a letter to Waste Control Specialists LLC of Dallas, the
Texas Commission on Environmental Quality granted approval to
the company's du mp ne ar Andrews, Texas, about 45 miles (72 km)
northwest of Midland and close to the New Mexico border.
"Initially we will be disposing of Texas waste - medical
waste - it is coming in from destinations around the state,"
Chuck McDonald of dump owner Waste Control Specialists said in
McDonald said waste from as many as 38 other states will
soon be trucked in t o the site.
"That will probably happen in the next couple of months. We
will see limited amounts of waste from outside the state," he
The Texas Commission said the majority of space at the site
is reserved for waste generated within Texas.
According to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission,
low-level radioactive waste typically consists of contaminated
clothing, rags, mops, filters, reactor water treatment residues,
equipment and tools, luminous dials, medical tubes, swabs,
needles, syringes and laboratory animal carcasses.
An agency spokesman said Texas has authority over its new
dump site. The only three other low-level radioactive waste
disposal facilities in the United States are in Barnwell, South
Carolina; Richland, Washington; and Clive, Utah.
There is still no long-term U.S. repository for high-level
nuclear waste, such as spent fuel rods from nuclear plants,
which are stored in pools or dry concrete casks on-site.
Environmental activists have raised concerns that the Texas
dump could poison underground water supplies, including the
southern portion of the Ogallala aquifer and the Dockum aquifer.
"It could affect the Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies eight
states ranging from Texas all the way to the Canadian border,"
said Tom Smith, Texas Director of the co nsumer advocacy gr oup
Potential risks to the aquifer in Nebraska have been a key
sticking point in the dispute over possible routes for
TransCanada Corp's Canada-Texas Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The dump's owner has said the dry clay in the soil will
prevent contamination of underground water supplies, Smith said.
But Texas state Representative Lon Burnam, a Democrat,
said he received documents under the Freedom of Information Act
which indicate that the dump may not be as safe as officials
Burnam said groundwater is seeping into the perimeter of the
site, which he said could be from the aquifer.
"They have pumped out 23,000 gallons (87,000 liters) of
water that is inside the perimeter since November, and they
don't seem to be able to reduce the water level," he said. "That
means the water is being replaced from underground."
Burnam suggested support for the dump in the
Republican-dominated Texas legislature may stem from its
influential ma jority owner, Harold Simmons, who is a b ig
contributor to Republican office-holders, he said.
The Center for Responsible Politics lists Simmons as the
second-largest donor to Republicans in the country.
Burnam has asked the Texas Attorney General to waive
confidentiality rules so he can release documents that he said
would show that the dump poses a danger to underground water
The Texas Commission said in its approval letter that it is
closely monitoring the water seepage issue.
"It is important to be aware that saturated conditions do
not exist within 100 feet ( 30.5 meters) o f the disposed waste,"
commission Deputy Director Brent Wade wrote in the letter, which
was posted on the commission's website.
Environmental groups have also expressed concerns about
possible contamination from wind-blown gas or material from the
site, or if trucks carrying radioactive waste to the dump
spi lled their loads due to accidents.
The commission denied a request by the Sierra Club for a
hearing on the dump's safety before an administrative law judge,
saying the environmental group's members would not be impacted
though some lives within a few miles of the site, Sierra Club
lawyer Marisa Perales said.
The group has appealed the decision, and a hearing is
scheduled for May 8 in Austin, Texas.
"We felt there was enough doubt, and enough concerns, that
they'd take another look," Sierra Club spokesman Cyrus Reed
said. "We never got that chance."