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THE TEXAS CAMPAIGN FOR NUCLEAR WASTES By Rick Piltz Austin On March 27, two ‘men and a woman were arrested in Austin for occupying the executive director’s office at TENRAC, the Texas Energy and Natural Resources Advisory Council. The three were protesting the state agency’s proposal for a commercial nuclear waste dump in Texas. TENRAC is pushing legislation to set up a low-level waste burial operation that could become a regional dump for all users of radioactive materials in Texas and other states. The legislature is considering the proposal by the advisory body, which is co-chaired by Governor Bill Clements and Lieutenant Governor Bill Hobby. The lawmakers have already taken a preliminary step by passing a bill to give the Texas Department of Health the authority it would need to regulate a low-level waste burial site, if one is established. The protestors at TENRAC were drawing attention to the immediacy of what one of them referred to as-“one of the most important issues facing this generation and generations to come.” At present, radioactive waste generated in Texas is stored here temporarily, then transported to the three operating commercial burial sites at Barnwell, S.C., Beatty, Nev.,. and Hanford, Wash. However, those states have made it clear they don’t intend to continue indefinitely as the dumping grounds for all 47 other states. Last November, for example, Washington state voters passed an initiative measure to close the state’s lowlevel waste dump to most out-of-state waste beginning in July 1981. At the end of its 1980 post-election lame-duck session, Congress passed Rick Piltz, a policy analyst living in Austin, works as a researcher for members of the Texas legislature. He received a BA in psychology and an MA in political science at the University of Michigan and taught government at UT-Austin and Austin Community College. This article grew out of one the author did for a new Lone Star Alliance publication against nuclear power in Texas \(which can be bought for $2 from 1022 legislation calling on the states to form regional compacts to set up an expanded number of radioactive waste burial sites. Under the new federal law, interstate compacts will be formed, and starting in 1986 each compact will be able to prevent states other than its own members from disposing of low-level waste at its facilities. A state that doesn’t have its own burial site or isn’t part of a regional arrangement by then could find itself with no place to dump its waste. The “TENRAC bill,” sponsored by seeks to avoid this potential dilemma by putting Texas in the nuclear waste business “to take care of our own garbage,” as Governor Clements put it. The TENRAC bill would create a Texas lowlevel radioactive waste disposal authority with a mandate to select a site somewhere in Texas and set up a stateowned waste dump on it. The authority would be run by a nine-member board appointed by the Governor. It would contract with a commercial nuclear waste management firm to actually operate the site. Political pressure for a Texas nuclear waste dump has been building since 1979, when the legiOature came very close to authorizing one. A bill to allow the Health Department to license a commercial low-level waste site was narrowly defeated on the last day of the session, after an outbreak of controversy and some parliamentary skirmishing. This time around, supporters of the TENRAC bill have run a more wellorchestrated campaign. Health Department officials and representatives of the medical community have paraded before legislative committees, pointing to what they say is a looming crisis for the practice of nuclear medicine if adequate waste disposal facilities aren’t made available. Behind-thescenes negotiations over the proposed legislation have involved representatives of interests ranging from the nuclear industry to the Sierra Club. The nuclear waste problem puts lawmakers in a bind. On the one hand they may find it difficult to say no to the combined political clout of TENRAC and the coalition of hospitals, industries, and utilities that want a convenient place to dispose of their garbage. On the other hand, they may find it difficult to vote for a dump in Texas, since the public is not going to welcome one with open arms. No matter where the state might want to put a dump site, health commissioner Robert Bernstein warned TENRAC at its most recent meeting, it will be opposed. “Even if you put it where there aren’t any people, then you’ll have jackrabbits organizing against it.” Here Today, Here Tomorrow Why is deciding what to do with radioactive waste, even so-called “lowlevel” waste, such a problem? Clearly, it’s an issue unlike what the legislature spends much of its time dealing with. Shrimp boat licenses, junk yard fences, precinct maps, museum admission fees, district judgeships, mobile home taxation, liability insurance, political party convention dates, beer regulation, hunting seasons -each is vital to someone. But nuclear waste is different it conjures up posterity. Even some waste classified as lowlevel may remain hazardods for several centuries. And the designation “lowlevel” leads some people to the false impression that these wastes are not dangerous. In reality, some of them are highly radioactive and can be quite dangerous if mismanaged for example, the filter sludges, evaporator bottoms, spent resins, and irradiated components from nuclear power plants. Exposure to ionizing radiation has a disorganizing effect on living things. “The effects of radiation have been extensively studied, and a large body of technical literature exists that documents a wide range of harmful consequences,” says a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists. “Among these are cancer, reproductive failure, genetic defects, birth abnormalities, and cell death.” Although the term nuclear waste “disposal” is commonly used, the waste can’t really be disposed of, in the sense of destroyed. It must be kept at specially designated sites. And it must be kept isolated from all living things until its emissions of radioactivity have spontaneously decayed to safe levels. Every use of radioactive material gen THE TEXAS OBSERVER 19