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Federal Report Backs Storing High-Level Nuclear Waste In West Texas

Bill Ebbesen /Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 3.0)
A nuclear waste container in transit from a Nevada test site in 2010.

From Texas Standard:

Even as much of American life has been on pause over the past few months, a plan to move radioactive nuclear waste to West Texas continues forward, with the support of the federal government. The proposal for a facility at a remote part of the Texas-New Mexico border has been up in the air for years, but a new federal report says it should be approved because environmental risks are low.

An existing site in Andrews County has housed low-level nuclear waste for years. That includes contaminated items from labs where nuclear technology is used, bu not spent nuclear fuel or other waste generated by power plants.

Travis Bubenik is West Texas-based reporter for Courthouse News Service. He told Texas Standard host David Brown that developers of the new project want to upgrade the existing facility to handle nuclear fuel and other highly radioactive materials.

"They call it a temporary storage solution," Bubenik said. "What that means is they would store this high-level nuclear waste for potentially decades – maybe up to 100 years or more – until the United States can figure out where do we actually dispose of this stuff."

The nuclear material that would be housed in Andrews County is currently stored at the sites where it was generated, Bubenik said. Advocates say that's dangerous, not only because of the risk of accidents but because the material could attract terrorism.

"We've got all these potential targets for bad actors all over the country, these stockpiles of waste," Bubenik said. "And [advocates] say it's better to have one solution instead of having this stuff all over the country with nowhere to go."

For Andrews County, there are both potential economic and environmental impacts. A facility would provide some jobs to the community, but could also put the area at risk for accidents or sabotage. 

Bubenik said that even with the federal government backing the plan, the Andrews County facility isn't a done deal. A final assessment of the facility's environmental impact could be as much as a year away. And Congress would need to approve the West Texas facility.

Web story by Shelly Brisbin.

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Laura first joined the KUT team in April 2012. She now works for the statewide program Texas Standard as a reporter and producer. Laura came to KUT from the world of television news. She has worn many different hats as an anchor, reporter and producer at TV stations in Austin, Amarillo and Toledo, OH. Laura is a proud graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia, a triathlete and enjoys travel, film and a good beer. She enjoys spending time with her husband and pets.
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