Gov. Rick Perry encourages support of high-level radioactive waste storage in Texas

Gov. Rick Perry has thrown his support behind an effort to make Texas the repository for highly radioactive waste from around the nation.

In a March 28 letter to Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus, he unveiled a state environmental agency report — ordered by Perry — that finds Texas is a suitable spot for the waste, typically associated with spent fuel rods at nuclear power plants.

In the letter, Perry couches potential Texas action as a response to federal inaction.

“The citizens of Texas — and every other state currently storing radioactive waste — have been betrayed by their federal government,” he writes, because a federal solution to long-term storage of the waste does not exist despite billions of dollars paid by utilities to pay for a site.

That solution was meant to be Yucca Mountain, the Nevada site once designated to be home to millions of pounds of socked-away highly radioactive waste. But Yucca is no longer on the table, following billions of dollars in studies and years of political bickering.

Perry is the second high-ranking state official to engage recently in the high-level radioactive waste issue.

In January, Straus ordered lawmakers to “determine the potential economic impact of permitting a facility in Texas.”

Spent nuclear fuel rods are currently stored and monitored on the sites of nuclear power plants across the nation.

The Yucca experience suggests long-term permanent disposal of such material faces long odds. More likely, experts say, is the construction of an interim storage facility, where nuclear waste is entombed in dry casks on a concrete slab for as long as a century.

Permitting such a facility, which would handle waste in a similar fashion to the nuclear reactor sites around the country, could take less than two years, according to Dale Klein, former chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and associate director at the University of Texas Energy Institute.

The leading contenders for a disposal site or a storage facility in Texas are in Andrews County, the site of a low-level radioactive-waste facility, about 75 miles northwest of Odessa, and nearby Loving County, where county commissioners have passed a resolution to accept interim storage of spent nuclear fuel.

In November 2013, a federal court determined the U.S. government has “no credible plan” to dispose of the high-level waste. That ruling came after the federal government collected billions of dollars from utilities over decades to pay for the Yucca site.

“The governor has a point: We’ve been paying into this fund and they haven’t found a solution,” said Cyrus Reed, conservation director of the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club, which has been tangled in litigation over the low-level radioactive waste site.

But Texas needn’t be the state to stick its neck out for the waste, he cautioned: “Someone will profit, and who will be left holding the radioactive bag once those profits are made?”

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality report cited by Perry notes that “Finding a site that has local and state support would greatly enhance the chance of a private centralized interim storage site being successfully sited and constructed.”

Such a facility in Texas “is not only feasible but could be highly successful,” the report says.

“We are pleased with the movement by the state to address this issue,” said Bill Jones, co-founder of the Austin-based company Advanced Fuel Cycle Initiative, which has been working to bring a high-level waste facility to Texas.

The U.S. Department of Energy did not return a call for comment.

Citing potential competition from New Mexico to take the material, Perry writes in the March letter that “I believe it is time to act.”

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