Special Report: High-Level Nuclear Waste Interim Storage in Andrews County

Special Report: High-Level Nuclear Waste Interim Storage in Andrews County

Zora Asberry

NewsWest 9

ANDREWS COUNTY - Andrews County could be the site for storing high-level nuclear waste. Waste control specialists, who operates the storage site, is taking steps to make it happen.

Andrews County is currently a site for low-level radioactive waste disposal, but the Waste Control Specialists (WCS) are now looking to make Andrews County a site for interim storage of high-level radio active waste.

The Blue Ribbon Commission has been planning to find a place to store spent nuclear fuel. But the question has remained...where?

Rod Baltzer, President of WCS, said, "We've got a lot of really good geological characteristics out here and natural phenomena, and so we started to talk to the community in Andrews. Then in January the Andrews County Commissioners passed a resolution is support of it, and so we're going to pursue that and see if that is something that we can succeed at."

Judge Dolgener and the Andrews County Commissioners Court voted on a resolution to establish a site for consolidated interim storage of spent nuclear fuel. The resolution was approved on January 20th of this year. But Dolgener says that this is just the first step in the process.

"We're behind it, and we're going to go forward and see what it is. There are many chapters in this book that are going to be looked at, that the public can have input on, a lot of public hearings and stuff like that. So this is not something that is going to be here next year, it's going to take years to do but were starting that process today," Dolgener said.

The next step in the process is for WCS to file a letter of intent to the Federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which they did on Friday, February 6th, 2015.

"NRC would then review it. If they approved it the we'd be able to start construction, and then after construction was approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, that we've done that appropriately in accordance with our license, then we'd be able to actually start storage operations," Baltzer said.

If approved, Andrews County could be looking at interim storage as soon 2020, which is anticipated to bring a lot of revenue.

"They estimate ten million dollars a year. I'm holding out to see what that really means, but that's the estimate the county would incur with this project," Dolgener said.

Even though WCS and the Andrews County Commissioners Court are on board, some residents of Andrews County and the neighboring city of Eunice, New Mexico are not.

The Waste Control Specialists nuclear plant sits right on the border between Texas and New Mexico causing some concern for the residents of Andrews County as well as Eunice regarding the possibility for storing high level radioactive waste.

Rose Gardner, member of the Alliance for Environmental Strategies (AFES), said, "I believe that high-level nuclear waste is the absolute worst thing we could handle here. Even though it's supposed to be for long-term storage, long-term could be fifty years or more.

"Many residents of both Andrews and Eunice agree, and are concerned with the safety of storing high level waste so close to the city limits.

"It will be the most horrible thing if anything happens, and WCS has always said it's safe," Gardner said.

"The most important thing, is that our employees are here and they work with this everyday. They also live in the communities, so we're not going to do anything here that's going to impact the communities negatively. That's job one, if we can't do that right, and the community doesn't want us here, then we won't be able to stay here," Baltzer said.

One of the major concerns some residents have regard the possibility for natural disaster.

"There could be a container failure, there could be human error, there could even be a terrorist attack," Gardner said.

"These are rated for flying missiles basically, where, if a tornado picks something up and flung it at a cask would it survive. And it's gone through many tests and those have all been approved by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission model, so this is all done very safely," Baltzer said.

WCS has remained open throughout the entire process and they encourage anyone who has questions or concerns to come forward.

"Anyone with any concerns needs to step forward and voice those concerns, and they need to do it in a forum where we can talk with people both with the City Council and also with WCS," Gardner said.

"We did open up our website, for anybody to ask questions, we've got a few on there and responded directly to those people as well," Baltzer said.

"High-level radioactive waste in Andrews will be treated just like we do low-level radioactive waste. Safely, carefully all of our employees live in the area, we;re as much of this community as anyone and we want to see it succeed. We wouldn't do anything that would cause damage to it so we appreciate the trust that the community has placed in us," Baltzer said.

Andrews county and waste control specialists want the communities input as they move forward with this action. For more information regarding WCS and their plan to store high-level nuclear waste, or to ask questions or voice your concerns, you can do so by visiting the WCS website at  www.wcstexas.com.