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Gov. Abbott opposes West Texas waste site

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The governor of Texas doesn’t want a proposed nuclear storage facility in his state near one of the most productive oil and gas basins in the nation.

Gov. Greg Abbott sent a letter Nov. 3 to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission urging denial of Interim Storage Partners’ license to develop a facility to store up to 40,000 metric tons of uranium in Andrews County, Texas, in the Permian Basin.

The Permian Basin in West Texas and southeastern New Mexico provides about 35% of the oil production in the United States and about 16% of its natural gas production, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

The regulatory commission accepted ISP’s application in August 2018, and a draft Environmental Impact Statement released in May concluded that building the above-ground interim site would have “no discernible negative effects on the environment or natural resources.”

The new site would be built near an exiting waste site owned by the state of Texas and managed by Waste Control Specialists, one of the partners of ISP. That site has stored low-level radioactive waste since 2012.

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Abbott wrote that he consulted with several different Texas governmental departments and agencies and concluded that the new facility could be a prime target for terrorists or saboteur activities.

“The proposed ISP facility imperils America’s energy security because it would be a prime target for attacks by terrorists, saboteurs and other enemies. Spent nuclear fuel is currently scattered across the country at various reactor sites and storage installations. Piling it up on the surface of the Permian Basin, as ISP seeks to do, would allow a terrorist with a bomb or a hijacked aircraft to cause a major radioactive release that could travel hundreds of miles on the region’s high winds. Such an attack would be uniquely catastrophic because, on top of the tragic loss of human life, it would disrupt the country’s energy supply by shutting down the world’s largest producing oilfield.”

Abbott noted that the concept of “interim” storage had to be taken with a grain of salt because the license would be for 40 years. Also, he wrote that the federal government apparently has “abandoned” Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which had been the chosen site of the U.S. Department of Energy from the 1980s to 2010 to build a permanent nuclear waste storage facility. In May 2010, the Energy Department withdrew its licensing application for such a facility.

Abbott also contended that the transport of waste on railroads through Texas is not a good idea. He said some cities and counties in the state have passed resolutions barring transport of nuclear materials through their areas and said even a non-hazardous accident could cause harm to other industries that rely on the railways.

“In the event of a rail accident or derailment, even absent a radiological release, the resources and logistics required to address such an accident would severely disrupt the transportation of oilfield and agricultural commodities, to the detriment of the entire country,” he wrote.

In southeastern New Mexico, the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance has contracted with Holtec International on plans to develop an underground nuclear waste storage site. The Hi-Store Consolidated Interim Storage Facility would be located about halfway between Carlsbad and Hobbs, near the New Mexico portion of the Permian Basin.

That project is also undergoing a license review by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. While it has been supported by elected officials in Carlsbad, Hobbs and Eddy and Lea counties, it also has faced opposition, including from environmental groups and representatives of the oil and gas, agriculture and dairy industries. Some city and county governing bodies in New Mexico have passed resolutions against the transport of nuclear materials in their regions, and New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has expressed her opposition.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.