. ‘Th .’1 ‘I ‘1,4 WAREHOUSE A 70.. HIGH-L ALPHA BUILDING \(TRANSURANIC WASTES 01ST HOUSE ALPHA MINE LEVEL 1024 II. Artist’s drawing of a federal repository Source: U.S. General Accounting Office. Nuclear Energy’s Dilemma: Disposing of Hazardous Radioactive Waste Safely. September 9, 1977. exploratory wells had been drilled near the supposedly stable underground site and that 175,000 gallons of water had inexplicably disappeared at a neighboring mine. The government’s revised schedule for the current studies still does not allow for delays growing out of public concerns and protests. Union Carbide had hoped its program of “openness and communication” with the public would allay worries and avert later public opposition, but the firm had time to sponsor just one “information meeting” with Texas citizens before it pulled out of the project. That meeting took place on June 29, 1977, in Amarillo’s city council chamber, with State Rep. Bob Simpson serving as a professedly impartial moderator. John Schreiber, ERDA waste isolation director, Union Carbide’s Zerby, and Wermund of the Bureau of Economic Geology explained ERDA’s study to a capacity crowd of approximately 200. Wermund describes the questions asked by those who attended as chiefly technical, and says that ERDA’s Schreiber considered the Amarillo audience more receptive than those he has encountered at other such gatherings around the country. \(Of course, Amarillo residents are used to living hard by the works of the nuclear age. See Obs., Sept. Jim Redden, who covered the meeting for the Amarillo Globe News, saw a different audience reaction: “fright.” He claims people expressed fear that the wastes might endanger the land, crops, and air quality in the Panhandle. Deep East Texans, equally affected by the federal site selection program, have ‘pot yet had even the limited opportunity tafforded by such a public hearing to state “their concerns. Neither there nor in the Panhandle is there much evidence of organized efforts to raise questions about local effects of the federal project. Concerted opposition in Texas to the disposal of nuclear wastes has mainly taken the form of efforts to prevent the construction of nuclear power plants particularly the South Texas Nuclear Project ,at Matagorda Bay and the Comanche Peak facility at Glen Rose. The future If the federal planners find that Texas has one or more sites that appear suitable for DOE’s deep geologic burial plan, what then? There are no precedents for locating, licensing or constructing such facilitiesor for dealing with local objections to them. The proposed siting of a dump 30 miles from the Texas border on federal property near Carlsbad, New Mexico, is shaping up as the test case. The area was originally intended to be used for lowand medium-level military wastes. But as pressure mounted for a permanent storage facility, ERDA changed the plan. A Waste Isolation for the Carlsbad site will involve the burial of high-level military wastes and possibly some spent fuel rods from commercial reactors. DOE will apply to the NRC for a license in 1979, groundbreaking is scheduled for 1981 or 1982, and the NRC is now assembling a staff to review the license application. Although local governments in the Carlsbad area favor the construction of the nuclear waste facility, opposition has developed in other parts of the state. Three public hearings held in New Mexico in April gave a team of DOE administrators headed by deputy energy secretary John O’Leary a chance to calm the populace. However, statements the officials made at those hearings confirm that there is no definitive answer to the question of just what a state’s rights and prerogatives are when it comes to the disposal of radioactive materials. Veto power DOE officials have maintained that a state does not have the authority to veto siting of a nuclear dump inside its borders if it is to be placed on land within the federal domain. However, O’Leary promised the New Mexicans that DOE would give their state government veto power over the Carlsbad project. The same reassurance was offered to state legislators here in a December 6, 1977, hearing before the Texas House committee on energy resources in Austin. Carl W. Kuhlman, DOE deputy director for waste management, repeated the contention that a state does not have constitutional authority to veto a nuclear dump, but added that his agency will acquiesce, as a matter of administrative discretion, if a state governor or legislature declines to accept a nuclear facility or places conditions on its acceptance. At a Carlsbad public hearing on April 11, O’Leary elaborated on DOE’s internal policy. There is one period, he said, in which a state’s wishes regarding the location of a nuclear waste facility will be considered, and it comes only after all studies have been completed and after the NRC has already granted a construction permit. Then, and only then, DOE will ask “the state for concurrence in the proposal.” Whether the state chooses to respond with legislative action, a public referendum, or a statement from its executive branch is up to the state to decide. In answer to a question from Paul Gosselink, who attended the New Mexico hearing as a representative of Texas Attorney General John Hill, O’Leary said that DOE would not respect any vetoes by a legislature or governor before completion of DOE’s site selection process. Gosselink retorted that “it would be difficult for a state to veto such a facility after all that money had been spent for the studies and for the NRC review.” That exchange may have set the pattern for future federal-state argument over the storage of nuclear wastes” in Texas. DOE is not, however, the only federal entity with authority to decide the issue. In the case of the New Mexico WIPP, for instance, an act of Congress will be re quired to set aside the 30 square miles of federal land for the project. Under a 1976 law, the secretary of the interior can THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5
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