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A Bill Addington of Sierra Blanca with photo of primary cooling pipes from the Barnwell nuclear reactor Alan Pogue For the public, radionuclides accumulating in the environment represent a very real threat, both a private and a public health problem. For the industry, the problem is purely economic: how to rid itself of the costs of storing material that will remain toxic for hundreds and thousands of years. To achieve that, the industry has forged an odd tactical alliance with doctors who warn that if Sierra Blanca doesn’t get the dump, nuclear medicine \(e.g., treatments for come to an end. Many of the dump’s supporters in Congress make the same argument. “We have to have a reasonable place to put [medical waste],” Congressman Gene Green told the Houston Chronicle. In fact, medical waste will account for less than one percent of the curies in the dump; most will come from sources like the South Texas Nuclear Project, which provides the electricity in Congressman Green’s Houston congressional district. Not surprisingly, this fight boils down to money, hard and soft. In the seventies, the utility companies decided to build nuke plants that were supposed to provide us with cheaper, cleaner power. The nuclear plants turned out to be enormously expensive, and the problem of what to do with the waste was never resolved. The Compact Bill will help the industry solve that problem by requiring the state of Texas to assume liability for the nuclear waste created by profit-making businesses. The nuclear industry’s radioactive waste stream is even flowing through the campaign to deregulate the electric utility industry, which is complicated by the companies’ need to be relieved of old nuclear reactors riding heavy on their corporate shoulders. Across the country, electric companies claim they are burdened by “stranded costs” amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars. One energy company spokesman estimates that cleanup and waste storage costs make up at least 60 to 80 percent of stranded costs. Comwhich own the only two commercial reactors in the stateare already petitioning the Public Utility Commission to shift that financial burden to taxpayers and ratepayers. For the past two years, Bill Linnell has patched together work as a substitute teacher and part-time lobsterman, while also putting in long hours with Cheaper Safer Power, a grassroots organization intent on shutting down the Maine Yankee power plant. In the eighties, the group introduced three unsuccessful shut-down referenda, then four months ago tried again with a referendum that would require the plant to close in 2008 when its current license expires. That referendum passed. “I could make a strong argument that this was the final straw that brought them down,” Linnell says. “It’s too bad every town doesn’t have a right to have a referendum.” Two months ago, Linnell said he thought Maine might be trying to slip out of the Compact with Texas and Vermont. After the referendum, Maine Yankee directors decided to shut the plant down See “Sierra Blanca,” page 21 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15 OCTOBER 24, 1997