Dallas company takes 1st step toward becoming high-level nuclear fuel storage site

A Dallas-based company that handles low-level radioactive waste is taking the first step toward making a West Texas facility the first interim storage site for high-level nuclear waste from around the country.

Waste Control Specialists on Friday notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission of the company's plan to seek a license to build a facility in rural Andrews County that would store spent fuel rods from power plants for as long as 100 years. The location is about 350 miles west of Dallas and 120 miles south of Lubbock, along Texas' border with New Mexico.

NRC spokesman David McIntyre said the agency received the company's letter.

The company will comment on its application effort Monday at a news conference in Washington, D.C., said Waste Control Specialists spokesman Chuck McDonald.

It takes years for the license application process and a review by the federal nuclear agency. The waste would be stored above ground.

In January, Andrews County commissioners unanimously passed a resolution in support of the company's latest efforts, County Judge Richard Dolgener said.

"The community is embracing having the high level interim storage here," he said.

Andrews resident Humberto Acosta said he is one of "very few" in town who are opposed to the plan. Many around town, he said, aren't informed about the dangers of the waste, which remains radioactive for thousands of years.

"People are so busy trying to make a living. They don't see the wolf coming down the road," the 64-year-old carpenter said. "They just wait until the wolf is in the door."

Two other efforts are underway in the region to build a similar storage facility. Officials with the Lea-Eddy Energy Alliance in southeastern New Mexico are interested, as is Austin-based AFCI Texas. The latter is looking at two possible sites in Texas, but AFCI's Monty Humble said it's "premature to discuss them publicly."

There is currently no disposal site in the United States for spent rods from the more than 100 operating commercial nuclear reactors across the country — including Texas' four reactors at Comanche Peak in Glen Rose and the South Texas Project near Bay City. Congress approved a site at Nevada's Yucca Mountain in 2002, but the project was mothballed in 2010 after Barack Obama was elected president, Harry Reid of Nevada became U.S. Senate Democratic majority leader, and Congress shut off funding.

A presidential commission in 2012 recommended the U.S. look for an alternative to Yucca Mountain, preferably in a community that was interested in hosting a nuclear waste facility. For now, spent fuel is stored next to reactors in pools or in dry casks.

The federal government has collected tens of billions of dollars from utilities over the years to fund disposal at Yucca Mountain. Whichever entity builds the site stands to make billions to store the spent fuel rods.

Waste Control Specialists currently disposes of low-level radioactive waste from more than three dozen states and depleted uranium from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Cyrus Reed, spokesman for the Lone Star chapter of the Sierra Club, said having a high-level site in Texas increases the potential for terrorism in the state.

"I don't think it's what anyone signed up for when we got the original legislation allowing a private company to dispose of our low-level waste," he said.