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Doing Business Finding a spot to dump nuclear waste isn’t the easiest thing to do. It’s not the sort of news a company likes to blab around town. So the search for sites can be very quiet. Very, very quiet. Sneaky, almost. As Alec Hillman, a real estate agent in Normangee, at the southern end of Leon County, found out. Last April, a man named Tom Maloney contacted Hillman, saying he was looking for some “isolated space.” Hillman knew of several such spots, and took Maloney on a tour. Eventually, they settled on a site and Maloney sent Hillman a check as an earnest money deposit. But Maloney had forgotten to mention to Hillman that he is president of IsoTex, a nuclear waste firm based at Friendswood. Hillman learned that somewhat later during a telephone conversation about closing arrangements. Maloney asked, “Will there be the same trouble as in Centerville?” “If it’s the same kind of business there will,” Hillman cautiously replied. “Well, it is.” Hillman paused. “Then I can’t sell it to you,” he said. And that was that. Hillman tore up the deed and returned the deposit. In retrospect, he believes Maloney “was kind of glad to get out of it.” G.M. elected from those in attendance at the Red Onion. Whitworth was named secretary, and she began taking notes: They weren’t opposed to industry . . . Leon County needed jobs . . . But they were feeling betrayed by the county businessmen and politicians who had seemed eager to bring this kind of business to their homeland without any public consultation. The group agreed to oblige a Dallas Morning News photographer and pose defiantly before the Dyer school. Some of the local politicians refused to be photographed, but the photo session went ahead. The atmosphere of this rural Texas community was already turning sour with mistrust and fear. In the next two weeks, Mary Whitworth filled her notebook with sinister words she could neither spell nor pronounce, words that described the proposed storage facilities and might some day describe the environment of Leon County itself. Words like curies, tolulene, strontium 90, tritium, and plutonium 238. Many of the words came from officials of the Texas department of health, whose involvement in the proposed dump site would indicate a certain coziness with the industry, not the people. “We questioned the health department on April 25th,” Whitworth explained, reading from her notebook. “We don’t want to alienate the health department from us. We need their help. This is what we were told. They call it marginal contamination. We don’t think there is such a thing. You know it’s not going to go to that table and quit,” she said, pointing to the coffee table. “It’s going to keep spreading. We were told we would have this radioactive waste in barrels along with paper, plastic, glass, metals and liquid. There would be 5,000 mixed curies of nuclear waste .. . “We were told that if you stand in front of a barrel, three feet from the barrel you will receive 10 milirems of radiation. Also, that wasn’t much compared to an X-ray. We also know the school will hold 5,000 barrels of radioactive waste. If we stood in front of 5,000 barrels we would only receive 20 milirems. But this radiation goes through the building, then spreads. “We asked if this was permanent disposal. Could it mean as much as 20 years? We were told, ‘yes.’ ” Whitworth looked up from her notes. “I don’t want my children or grandchildren or anyone else contaminated with it. My cows or whatever. “We were told [by the health department] that even if 98 or 99 percent of the people didn’t want it, the health department would issue the permit if the application is in order. It doesn’t matter if we don’t want it. The state will issue a license against our will. That’s not right. If this were a government of the people, the people should have a voice in what’s going on in the county, city, state or anywhere else in the United States.” During meetings with state health officials, a county resident had inquired whether the proposed dumpers were from the same outfit that was run out of Houston in March. Yes, the state officials said. They were. The outfit goes by the name of Nuclear Sources and Services, Inc., Robert Gallagher, president. NSSI is a closely held corporation, founded by Gallagher in 1971 to manufacture low-level radioactive source materials and to sell radiation safety equipment and supplies. From 1972 to 1979, sales increased from $125,000 to $3 million. Gallagher touts his firm as the only commercial producer of irradiated gold grains for the treatment of cancer. In February of this year, NSSI, with no more public warning than in Leon County, hung yellow and black radioactivity warning signs on a hurricane fence in the prosperous Gulf Palms subdivision of Houston, near the Berry Bayou. Immediately, people began calling the Houston office of State Rep. Bill Caraway, chairman of the House Select Committee on Urban Affairs, to find out what the signs meant. Caraway’s staff relayed the message the NSSI was proposing a nuclear storage facility at that location. The public reaction was swift and emotional. Within a month, NSSI was forced to scrub the Houston location. Later, Gallagher said the cancellation “was not because of public opposition,” but rather because “the Texas Health Department strongly opposed licensing a storage-processing facility there because of the flooding factor.” Whatever the reason, NSSI was without a site for its operation. According to Gallagher, the health department then suggested that NSSI look for another site in the state. The health department version is slightly different. “I am not confident that we asked him to look,” recalls Ed Bailey, administrator of the Radiation Control Branch. “There were discussions with Gallagher where we may have suggested that he drop the Houston site because of actions, including violence. “We said, ‘Why don’t you look somewhere else?’ We said, ‘Look, they have burned three pieces of heavy equipment, there have been threats at PTSA meetings.’ Gallagher indicated that he would get out of waste disposal. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5