By: Julia Deng
VAN HORN - More than 70,000 tons of high-level nuclear waste could soon be stored indefinitely in Culberson County.
Austin-based AFCI Texas, LLC is proposing an above-ground storage site approximately 40 miles east of Van Horn and 9 miles north of Kent. The company, co-owned by lawyers Monty Humble and Bill Jones, would purchase thousands of acres of land in Culberson County, hand the property over to the state of Texas and then lease the land from the state.
However, monetary incentives to green-light the proposal were drowned out by community concerns during a town hall meeting held Thursday night at the Karen D. Young Auditorium in Van Horn. Dozens attended and voiced their fears about environmental impact, radioactive leaks, long-term health effects, land value and even terrorism.
"The citizens of Van Horn, Culberson County... and the surrounding area, we're all opposed," said Bill Addington, a West Texas Water Protection Fund activist who previously opposed efforts to dump low-level nuclear waste in Sierra Blanca.
He added, "It seems [AFCI representatives] are here because they have someone in City Council or the County Commissioners [Court] in their pocket. It benefits politicians, not us."
Culberson County and Van Horn officials - who reportedly met with AFCI last week - have not publicly announced their support for the storage proposal. Previous negotiations between the Austin-based company and both Hudspeth and Loving counties fell through for unknown reasons.
"We're just here to gauge interest and answer questions," AFCI co-owner Bill Jones said during Thursday's public meeting. "We haven't filed anything with the federal government yet... We're just giving [the community] new information... discussing benefits available to the community and answering questions."
Alongside nuclear engineer Dr. Sean McDeavitt - who assured the crowd he would receive no payout from an AFCI deal - Jones presented a slideshow documenting their planned storage, transportation and surveillance of spent nuclear rods.
The highly radioactive waste would be concealed in "dry casks," he explained, consisting of 6-inch thick steel canisters encased in concrete cylinders. The 130-ton casks would be transported by rail, Jones said.
"I wouldn't present something to you that would hurt the land...the cattle, or the wildlife," he told the crowd.