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Texas Sues Federal Regulators For Approving West Texas Nuclear Waste Plan

Waste Control Specialists
A view of an existing nuclear waste storage site in rural Andrews County, Texas. The site’s owners want to expand the facility to house more radioactive types of radioactive waste.

Texas is suing the Biden administration over a recent federal regulatory decision that approved a company’s years-long plan to ship some of the nation’s most radioactive waste to a facility in Far West Texas.

Last week, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission granted a high-level nuclear waste license to a company called Interim Storage Partners, despite a new state law passed earlier this month blocking the storage or disposal of this type of waste in the state. The law includes exceptions for waste already housed at existing nuclear power plants.

The license gives Interim Storage Partners permission to ship 5,000 metric tons of “high-level” nuclear waste - mostly generated by power plants - to a site in Andrews County.

In a petition filed Thursday, Texas asked the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to throw out the license.

Interim Storage Partners is a joint venture between two waste management firms, Waste Control Specialist and Orano. WCS has operated a facility in Andrews County that has stored lower-level radioactive material for years.

Gov. Greg Abbott has repeatedly spoken out against the idea of bringing higher-level radioactive waste to Texas and has pledged to block the Interim Storage Partners plan. The governor urged the NRC to reject the company’s proposal in a letter sent just days before federal regulators approved the license.

“Texas will not become America’s nuclear waste dumping ground, and the lawsuit we filed today will help us protect our state and Texans’ livelihoods,” Abbott spokesperson Renae Eze said in a statement.

While Abbott has in recent weeks framed the waste plan as being pushed by the Biden administration, the company’s proposal has actually been in the works since the Obama administration days.

Opposition to storing nuclear waste from republican lawmakers in Texas is a notable shift from the party’s stance six years ago, when then-Governor Rick Perry supported bringing high-level nuclear waste to Texas.

Abbott’s position on bringing high-level waste to Texas appears to have been mostly influenced by an outcry from oil interests in the region.

Last October, Abbott penned a letter to then-President Trump, urging him to oppose the plan - and a similar one proposed for southeast New Mexico - on the grounds that a nuclear waste accident or attack on the facility could threaten the nation’s largest oilfield.

“The Permian Basin is a significant economic and natural resource for the entire country, and the proposed storage facilities would place America’s recovering economy and energy security at great risk,” Abbott wrote.

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.