Nuclear Regulatory Commission Admits Sierra Club to Fight Against High-Level Rad Waste Dump... on Just One Issue

No to Rad Waste

On Friday, August 23, a three-judge panel of the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board (ASLB), acting on behalf of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), rejected almost every single contention raised by several organizations on the proposal to expand the radioactive waste dump in West Texas to accept high-level rad waste. Groups that attempted to achieve intervenor status include the Sierra Club, Beyond Nuclear, the SEED Coalition, Fasken Land and Minerals (oil), and the Permian Basin Land and Royalty Organization (PBLRO).

But every organization’s standing application was rejected except for the Sierra Club, whose admission as an intervenor was based off a singular issue that cites the Endangered Species Act.

While admitting that these organizations had presented sufficient evidence to grant them standing, the ASLB rejected every single contention raised - save one. Sierra Club is the only organization that is being allowed to proceed under an adjudication process, and only on one issue: the environmental report failed to establish whether two endangered species of concern (the Texas Horned Lizard and the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard) could be impacted by construction and operation of the site. 

And even this single contention is limited, because the dump owner is relying on non-public reports to claim that these two species are not actually present at their site. The decision to  open a new aboveground “interim" high-level radioactive waste facility is contingent only on whether the dump owner provides needed information about the two species, and not about the dozens of issues raised by the Sierra Club and other organizations. 

The ASLB interpreted its charge far too narrowly in rejecting virtually all issues of concern — from groundwater to seismic activity to unsafe transport routes and design of the casks holding the radioactive waste. Besides going forward with the one narrow contention that was granted to us, the Sierra Club is looking at all legal options to contest the NRC’s judgement. 

Waste Control Specialists (acting through the “Interim Storage Partners LLC”) proposed to construct and operate a consolidated interim storage facility for spent nuclear fuel and greater-than-Class C waste in Andrews County, right next to their existing low-level-radioactive waste site. Under the proposal, WCS would import shipments of high-level waste from nuclear power plants from around the country and “temporarily” hold the waste at their site until a permanent depository is created. Once the hypothetical permanent depository is made, the highly dangerous waste would have to be moved a second time.

The fact that the NRC only allowed one organization to go through the hearing on a single and restricted issue demonstrates exactly who the NRC represents: the nuclear industry. In the meantime, we continue to call on Texas state leaders and Congress to reject the dangerous idea of opening up “interim” high-level storage sites, whether in Texas or elsewhere.