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Texas begins taking federal nuclear waste

Containers of radioactive waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory are trucked into a disposal site in Texas on Thursday. (Associated Press)
Containers of radioactive waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory are trucked into a disposal site in Texas on Thursday. (Associated Press)

Private site aims to take weekly shipments from Los Alamos

ANDREWS, Texas – Republican mega-donor Harold Simmons’ remote hazardous waste dump in West Texas began accepting low-level radioactive material Thursday from a federal lab in New Mexico – the latest step in Simmons’ vision of a site that accepts all types of waste.

The first two containers carrying radioactive waste from Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico were placed into an 8-inch-thick, reinforced concrete canister at the bottom of a new burial site.

“We wanted to be a one-stop shop with everything in,” Waste Control Specialists President Rod Baltzer told U.S., Texas and New Mexico officials at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. “We’re proud to have a large and very robust complex.”

The 90-acre site for federal waste is part of the company’s 1,380-acre operation near Andrews. Waste Control Specialist began accepting low-level radioactive waste last year from Texas and Vermont members of a compact, and about three dozen other states. That waste is buried at a 30-acre site at the operation.

Also buried at Simmons’ massive dump are PCBs from the Hudson River in New York and Cold War-era radioactive waste from a shuttered weapons plant in Ohio, where purified uranium metal was processed for use in reactors to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons from the 1950s until 1989.

As many as two shipments a week will come from the New Mexico laboratory, officials said.

Company spokesman Chuck McDonald said the Los Alamos waste is derived from nuclear materials stored at the laboratory for decades. After a large wildfire lapped at the edges of lab property in summer 2011, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez identified removal of the waste as a top priority. The goal is to remove 3,706 cubic meters of Los Alamos waste by June 30, 2014.

Waste Control has spent nearly $500 million to open the dump. In 2009, the state issued two licenses to the company to bury low-level radioactive waste, making it the nation’s only dump for all classes – A, B and C – of nuclear debris and the first low-level site to open in 30 years.

One license pertains to the Texas and Vermont compact that allows for disposal of radioactive materials such as uranium, plutonium and thorium from commercial power plants, academic institutions and medical schools. In 2001, though, Texas lawmakers approved allowing low-level radioactive waste from 36 other states to be buried in West Texas.

The Texas Low-Level Radioactive Disposal Compact Commission looks at petitions to bury waste from the compact states and the three dozen other states on a case-by-case basis.

The other license deals with similar materials from sites run by the DOE, including Los Alamos and Hanford Site in Washington state and other federal facilities.


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