by James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan, EON
[ This article is also posted on Reader Supported News ]
Secretary of Whats-Its-Name?
As the Trump transition unfolds like a chainsaw massacre in slow motion and the Cabinet from the Black Lagoon fills up with slimy swamp creatures, white supremacists and fascists, one egregious appointment stands out for those of us who track nuclear issues. That’s the tapping of former Texas Governor Rick Perry to head the Department of…er, what was it again? Oh, yes Energy.
The DoE – the name of which he infamously forgot, but wanted to abolish – might more accurately be called the Department of Nuclear Weapons, since it spends about 60 percent of its budget on developing and producing nuclear weapons at places like California’s bomb factory Lawrence Livermore Lab, as well as dealing with their deadly, long-lived waste, and only an estimated 22 percent on energy research.
With the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock just having been reset at two-and-a-half minutes to midnight, and a new nuclear arms race heating up, together with renewed talk of weapons in space, the appointment of a know-nothing ideologue like Perry to head the Department of Nukes should be terrifying for all of us.
But for the people of Texas there is an even more immediate fear than the possibility of nuclear war. That’s the fear that as Secretary of Energy, Perry will do what he advocated for as Governor, i.e., make Texas America’s nuclear garbage dump.
In the likely event he is approved, Perry will take command of the agency in the midst of a push to resuscitate the failed and dangerous proposed radioactive waste repository at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain, and the plan for so-called ‘interim storage’ of nuclear waste in ‘consenting communities.'
This would involve moving the tons of radioactive waste which have accumulated at America’s hundred and some nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons sites since the beginning of the Atomic Age, and moving them by road, barge and rail around the US and through its major cities on rickety infrastructure – a scheme alarmed activists have dubbed a Mobile Chernobyl on the Fukushima Freeway.
As aging nuclear reactors are shut down around the country – as several have been recently, with more now scheduled for the near future – reactor communities are increasingly becoming aware that the risks posed by the plants do not go away with shutdown.
Still being stored on each site – vulnerable to accident, natural disaster or terrorist attack – are thousands of tons of long-lived lethally radioactive waste built up over all the decades of each plant’s operation.
The original plan was for the Federal government to take possession of the waste and move it to a central repository. But that hasn’t happened and utilities are suing the Feds for breach of contract. Meanwhile all that toxic radwaste sits there with no place to go.
Informed and understandably nervous locals are increasingly agitating to ‘get it outa here!’
The San Onofre Syndrome
A case in point are the Southern California communities surrounding the recently shut down San Onofre nuclear plant. Local activists’ elation over successfully getting the reactors shut down in 2013 quickly faded with the realization that millions of pounds of intensely irradiated fuel rods were to be stored indefinitely on-site, just 125 feet from the beach, 31 inches above the water table, in thin, easily corroded canisters in an earthquake and tsunami zone.
As regional pressure grows to move the waste, research by Donna Gilmore, founder of SanOnofreSafety.org has revealed that not only are the thin canisters chosen by the site operator Southern California Edison ill-suited for the corrosive marine environment, but they cannot be monitored for cracking or degradation, and are not designed for repackaging or transportation.
Gilmore is worried that once the Edison storage plan is carried out, it may be impossible to move it to a better location, if one is found. Furthermore it may set a very low standard for storage plans at other nuclear sites around the country.
Meanwhile, the DoE is pushing a scheme for ‘Interim Storage’ that would remove the liability from the utility that produced the waste by moving it to a temporary holding place.
Critics say moving it would be inviting multiple disasters from spills and accidents en route as well as fears that the 'interim' site would become permanent, however inadequate that site may be.
For decades there would be a constant parade of thousands of massive shipments over bridges, on highways and roads through dense populations and farming communities alike with radioactive waste lasting 25,000 years so toxic that coming within a few feet of it could be fatal.
Texas is a Terrible Thing to Waste
A prime target location to begin this process is a southeast corner of Texas near the New Mexico border at the southern end of the giant Ogallala aquifer which supplies critical agricultural and drinking water for the eight plains states under which it lies.
Andrews County, Texas fits the profile of locations routinely targeted for industrial dumping grounds: remote locations peopled by low income, minority and Native American populations with very little political connection or clout to resist.
Our 1998 documentary, PELIGRO – Nuclear Showdown on the Rio Grand – in which Karen Madden appeared – told the story of a similar Texas county Sierra Blanca where local people WERE successful in blocking a proposed nuclear waste dump.Canisters of radioactive waste awaiting burial at the Waste Control Specialist site. Courtesy of WCS
This time the push to bring nuclear waste to Andrews County is being led by a company called Waste Control Specialists (WCS), whose late millionaire founder was a staunch financial backer of Perry’s governorship. Which may explain Perry’s strange ambition to make his state the primary destination for the nation’s radioactive waste.
The Voices of Those Who Do Not Consent
Long-time Lone Star State environmental activist Karen Hadden is the Executive Director of the Austin-based Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition or SEEDcoallition.org. Her organization has for decades been at the forefront of clean energy and anti-pollution campaigns in Texas and can claim many successes.
Currently her group is focused on educating the public and decision-makers alike about the dangers not only to Texas and surrounding states, but to the country at large posed by the current push to ship much of America’s nuclear waste to a remote Texas county over the nation’s dilapidated rail and highway systems.
Partking Lot Nuclear Waste Dumps
Much of it is slated to be stored on what she describes as open air ‘parking lot' facilities vulnerable not only to increasingly extreme weather, but to the wildfires that ravage the area with growing frequency with the onset of climate change. The site is adjacent to the Permian Basin, a huge oil and gas field targeted for intense fracking and drilling, and the accompanying fracking-caused earthquakes. As noted, the site also sits at the southern end of the nation's largest aquifer, the Ogallala, a critical water source for eight states.
Citing recent incidents of bridge collapses and oil train crashes – one of them in the Panhandle – Hadden is also alarmed at the danger posed to all the towns and cities through which the waste would have to travel to get to Texas.
“If the waste were to move, millions of people could be impacted as the waste moves across the country, putting millions of people at risk, as well as their water for drinking, livestock and agriculture.
“We know that people around the country have suffered from having reactors they didn’t want, and they’re suffering with having radioactive waste in their back yard,” Hadden says. “But the people for whose energy supply the waste was generated do have the responsibility to deal with it.
“I know that must be hard to hear for [people] somewhere else where they never wanted it to begin with. But certainly the people in Texas and New Mexico had nothing to do with it, and why their communities should be dumped on just does not make sense.
“Furthermore,” she goes on, “some people – for example Southern California – want to get the waste out, and I don’t blame them, I would want to do the same. But they have in their minds that the waste would go to a small area where fewer people would be impacted.
“The truth of it is that millions and millions of people could be impacted because of the presence of the Ogallala aquifer. The impacts of shipping it to that particular location could be absolutely devastating.
“So,” says Hadden, “we encourage people to listen to voices of the people who do not consent, and to think about the bigger and long-term impacts of any decisions about where waste goes. This should not happen.” She concludes. “It's just not right.”
But with former Texas Governor Rick Perry at the helm of that, ur, what’s-its-name agency, Texas and the states through which the waste is slated to travel may have a big fight on their hands.
In this exclusive EON interview, conducted at a recent national conference on radioactive waste held in Chicago, Karen Hadden, Director of the Austin-based Sustainable Energy and Economic Development Coalition (SEEDcoalition.org), describes the multiple catastrophic risks, not only to Texas, but to the entire country of the ill-conceived Fukushima Freeway plan. She explains why reactor communities around the country need to think twice about sending their unwanted radwaste to Texas. Her heartful interview suggests a wider context for SoCal residents' decision-making, who are understandably impatient to get nuclear waste out of one of the most disaster-vulnerable nuclear waste storage sites in the country.
James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan co-direct EON, the Ecological Options Network. https://eon3.net/
They blog at https://planetarianperspectives.net/
Their popular YouTube channel has featured video reports on vote rigging and the election protection movement since 2004. https://www.youtube.com/user/eon3/videos
They are currently at work on a new documentary SHUTDOWN: The California-Fukushima Connection. https://www.shutdowndoc.tv/