Tag Archives: nuclear waste dumping

Texas is Thirsty for Nuclear Waste

Texas Compact Waste Facility (CWF) image from http://www.wcstexas.com/facilities/compact-waste-facility/

The company operating Texas’ only radioactive waste dump site is asking state regulators to allow disposal of depleted uranium and triple the capacity of a burial site that accepts waste from dozens of states.  Although Waste Control Specialists says the uranium stored at its West Texas site would have only low-level radioactivity, opponents say the proposal would get the company another step closer to handling more dangerous material that wasn’t part of the original license. The company has already been in talks with county officials about high-level waste disposal.

Meanwhile, the Dallas-based business has also asked the state to reduce the money it’s required to have available to fund potential liability at the site — to about $86 million from $136 million.”The public should be paying attention, but they’re not,” said state Rep. Lon Burnam, a Fort Worth Democrat who has taken an active role in monitoring how the state handles radioactive waste. “We have less and less financial assurances and greater threat for more harm.”…

Environmental groups have long worried about the local geology and contamination of underground water sources near the site, which can accept low-level waste from compact members Texas and Vermont as well as 36 other states.  The site could soon be the resting place for hotter material that’s being stored at Texas’ four commercial nuclear reactors.

In March, Texas Gov. Rick Perry asked lawmakers to explore establishing a location in Texas to store the high-level radioactive waste from these reactors. Two months earlier, House Speaker Joe Straus directed lawmakers to examine the economic impact of permitting such a site.  McDonald said the company has had conversations with Andrews County officials about high-level waste storage. Officials in Loving County, the nation’s least populous county, have interest in building a storage site there

Excerpts from BETSY BLANEY, West Texas site seeks to bury depleted uranium, Associated Press, June 14, 2014

Nuclear Waste and Environmental Justice

After California regulators refused to allow the U.S. Air Force to label residue from radioactive aircraft instruments as “naturally occurring” – declaring it unsuitable for a Bakersfield-area dump – the military turned to Idaho with the same story.  There, military officials met with success. The Air Force is now sending radioactive waste from Sacramento County’s McClellan Air Force Base to a Grand View, Idaho, hazardous waste landfill.

This solution involved a bit of legal semantics rejected in California despite 10 months of Air Force lobbying: The military claimed radium dust left over from glow-in-the-dark aircraft instruments actually was naturally occurring, putting it the same relatively lax regulatory category as mine tailings, according to government memos obtained by California Watch through a public records request.  Larry Morgan, a health physicist with the California Department of Public Health, disagreed with that characterization. Radioactive paint does not “meet the definition” of naturally occurring waste, he wrote in a September 2011 memo.

The Idaho facility’s permit allows it to accept materials defined as natural without notifying state regulators, leaving the state’s hazardous waste manager in the dark.  “I’m not familiar with this particular waste stream. I intend to find out now that you’ve contacted me,” Robert Bullock, hazardous waste permits manager for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality, said during an October interview.  The redefinition of the waste as natural might not even have been necessary, given Idaho’s different standards for waste containing trace amounts of radium.

Days after the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality told California Watch that the agency was unaware of the Air Force waste, an official went out to inspect the landfill. Interviewed after that visit, engineer Dennis Meier said the dumping was legal because of the low concentration of radium in the soil, despite the source.  “It’s not waste that has to go to a radioactive waste facility,” he said. “The concentration is way below what we would accept.”

Nonetheless,California health officials and environmental activists accused the Air Force of bending the truth to get its way.  “Illuminated instrument dials do not naturally occur,” said Daniel Hirsch, a lecturer on nuclear policy at UC Santa Cruz who leads the environmental group Committee to Bridge the Gap. “I can’t dig into the soil and discover naturally occurring radium instrument dials.”

The radioactive dirt in question hails from the former McClellan Air Force Base northeast of Sacramento,now a commercial development site.“At least 24 sites” on the base “all have low levels of radium mixed in with the soil, and there are many thousands of cubic yards” of contaminated soil, according to Philip Mook, Western region senior representative for the Air Force Civil Engineer Center, which is in charge of cleanups at Air Force installations. “A little bit of radium goes a long way.”  The Air Force has sent 22,000 tons of radioactive dirt from McClellan out of state so far, according to Charlotte Fadipe, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Toxic Substances Control.

According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, if significant radium is inhaled or ingested, it can increase the risk of diseases such as lymphoma, bone cancer and leukemia. While the concentrations in the McClellan soil are low, they are above limits the federal government has set to protect human health.  Before these medical effects became evident, aircraft dials and gauges were painted with glowing radium so pilots could see them better at night. Air Force officials speculate that the radium became dispersed in the soil at McClellan “probably in cleanup water, like mop water or solvents that were used to clean the equipment or to clean up spills of radium,” Mook said. Although radium paint wasn’t used on the base after the 1950s, items contaminated with it remained…

Stephen Woods, chief of the California Department of Public Health’s Division of Food, Drug and Radiation Safety, argued in a Nov. 4, 2011, letter that the dirt should be sent to “a licensed low-level radioactive waste disposal facility.” The Idaho facility where the soil is now going does not meet that criteria. Neither do any California waste disposal facilities.  That’s partly because of vocal opposition from local Kern County residents and environmental groups.  “Hazardous waste landfills in low-income communities of color in California aren’t the right places for” nuclear waste, said Caroline Farrell, executive director of the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, which for almost two decades has fought to limit the Buttonwillow landfill’s expansion and impact on local residents.

But in the past, the landfill has accepted nuclear waste. In 1998 and 1999, the Army Corps of Engineers sent residue from the Manhattan Project, the World War II-era research and development program that produced atomic bombs dropped in Japan, to the landfill.  The move outraged civilian officials.  Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer testified before a Senate committee on July 25, 2000: “When I learned that the Corps had disposed of 2,200 tons of radioactive waste at an unlicensed hazardous waste facility in Buttonwillow, California, I was shocked. The facility sits atop aquifers that supply water to the Central Valley of California.”  Since the Manhattan Project controversy, the facility’s permit has been tightened. Yet the landfill’s current permit states that it may accept naturally occurring radioactive materials at low concentrations….

US Ecology, which operates the hazardous waste landfill in Grand View, Idaho, seemed to accept the terminology.  Steve Welling, senior vice president of sales and marketing for US Ecology, said in an interview that “state law and our permits” allowed the facility to accept the waste that the Air Force had characterized as naturally occurring.

Katharine Mieszkowski and Matt Smith, Air Force Ships Calif. Radioactive Waste To Idaho Landfill, NBC, Nov. 9, 2012

Cross-Border Pollution: implications of nuclear waste disposal, Russia, Finland

Russian officials are going to use the planned nuclear waste repository on the site of the Sosnovy Bor nuclear power plant near the metropolis of St. Petersburg for storing miscellaneous radioactive waste.  “There is hospital equipment there, such as X-ray machines, work clothes, and cobalt cannons used in cancer treatments”, says director Oleg Bodrov of the environmental organisation Zelyonyi Mir (Green World).  Russia plans to use the cave that is to be excavated to a depth of 70 metres near the Baltic Sea shoreline for permanent storing of low- and intermediate-activity nuclear waste.  In Finland there are similar underground facilities in Loviisa and Olkiluoto, at the nuclear plants located there.  In the first instance, the Sosnovy Bor cavern will be used to store the waste that has already accumulated in the area and that has thus far been stored in temporary, somewhat dilapidated storage sheds.  In the past 50 years, around 65,000 square metres of waste has piled up on the site.  Enormous amounts of waste will come from the old Sosnovy Bor nuclear power plants once their shutdown is commenced in a couple of years’ time….

The Russian State Nuclear Energy Corporation Rosatom, under whose jurisdiction the country’s nuclear power matters fall, refused to issue a comment to Helsingin Sanomat regarding the matter.  STUK, the Finnish Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority, does not as yet have precise knowledge of the stored waste.  “Russia is in the process of sending out additional information regarding the project.

Excerpt, Russia to store miscellaneous waste in nuclear waste repository at Sosnovy Bor plant near St. Petersburg, http://www.helsinginsanomat.fi, Feb. 16, 2012