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In February, hundreds of government regulators and businesspeople gathered in Phoenix for “Waste Management ’08,” the annual radioactive waste industry confab. Amid the swag and schmoozing, industry insiders appraised the state of their business. The good news: The nuclear industry appears to be rebounding in the United States, providing potentially huge new radioactive waste streams as planned reactors come online. The bad news: The number of landfills for burying low-level radioactive waste is dwindling. One of the oldest sites, in Barnwell, South Carolina, will close to all but a handful of states on July 1. That will leave 36 states, including Texas, with no place to send the radioactive waste generated by their nuclear power plants, universities, hospitals, and companies. Since 1980, when the federal government delegated to the states the task of dealing with low-level radioactive waste, not a single new landfill has opened. Ten attempts have been made by states to develop one. The congressional Government Accountability Office estimates that the failed efforts in developing sites cost a combined $1 billion. The industry largely blames public opposition. “We just didn’t get kicked out of South Carolina,” said Steve Creamer, CEO of Utah-based EnergySolutions Inc., the company that runs Barnwell. “We got brutalized and kicked out of South Carolina.” Creamer estimated that the United States’ 104 commercial nuclear reactors would generate 117 million cubic feet of waste over their collective lifetimes. Federal nuclear facilities under decommissioning orders will produce millions more. Where will it all go? A subsidiary of Dallas-based conglomerate Valhi Inc., Waste Control Specialists LLC was in Phoenix to make the case that it was on the verge of doing what no other company has been able to dolicense and build a massive radioactive waste landfill. “Considering our political support, considering our local support, if a new facility cannot be licensed in Texas, it probably can’t be licensed anywhere said Bill Dornsife, a Waste Control vice president. By early 2010, Waste Control officials told the conferencegoers, the company hopes to begin disposing federal and state radioactive waste at two adjacent Texas landfills in Andrews County. All the company lacks are two final licenses from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. One, known informally as the “byproduct license would authorize the disposal of 3,776 canisters of radioactive waste from a closed, Cold War-era processing plant in Fernald, Ohio, as well as mill tailings from the Texas uranium mining industry. TCEQ has issued a draft license for the byproduct dump. The second license would allow the company to bury lowlevel radioactive waste from federal and state sources, including nuclear reactors, weapons programs, and hospitals. With both licenses, Waste Control could bury more than 60 million cubic feet of waste over the span of 30 years, more than half the volume of the new Dallas Cowboys stadium. If Waste Control can repel legal challenges by environmen “Considering our political support, considering our local support, if a new facility cannot be licensed in Texas it probably can’t be licensed anywhere.” Waste Control Vice President Bill Dornsife. tal organizations and secure final approval from TCEQ for the second license, its remote site in Andrews County would become the repository for commercial nuclear waste from Texas, and also Vermont as part of a “compact” between the two states. A loophole in state law, however, allows the state compact commission, an oversight board appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, to contract with other states and compacts for waste disposal. “For political reasons, we don’t want anyone to come knocking on the door until we get this up and operating, but I think there are some capabilities there Dornsife told his Phoenix audience. Federal radioactive waste, mostly the leftovers from the U.S. government’s atomic weapons program, is the most lucrative of the waste streams contemplated by the company. In 2003, as part of Waste Control-backed state legislation that authorized privatized radioactive waste disposal in Texas, the Legislature granted companies like Waste Control the right to dispose of Cold War-era federal waste as well as waste generated by states. “[W]e just had to get the state law changed:’ said Rod Baltzer, Waste Control president, at the conference. It probably didn’t hurt that Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons owns Waste Control through Valhi. Simmons is one of top campaign contributors to the state’s Republican leadership. The new landfills would join Waste Control’s expanding waste portfolio, all of which are clustered on the company’s 1,338-acre site in Andrews County, near the New Mexico state line. The company’s radioactive waste treatment and storage plant opened in 1997. The license for that facility is “very unique Dornsife said, because it allows for “unlimited storage time, and we could go to unlimited [radio]activity.” There’s also the hazardous waste landfill. Half of that dump is actually filled with radioactive waste, material the state has deemed “exempt” from radioactive disposal standards. The company’s efforts to broaden the exemptions are ongoing. “[D]isposing of radioactive material at [hazardous waste] pricing is extremely cost-effective Dornsife said. In their conference presentations, Baltzer and Dornsife failed to mention the problems the company has encountered with worker exposure to radiation. And while Baltzer admitted that the licensing process has been “brutal:’ he didn’t detail the rift it has created within TCEQ between scientists and engineers, APRIL 4, 2008 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 11