ANDREWS, Texas — Texas was all set to be part of an agreement with Vermont to dump nuclear waste in a remote region of the Lone Star state, and for the most part, people living near the site were OK with it.
Now, though, that compact could mushroom to include waste from 36 other states, reinvigorating those who oppose the project to fight harder.
Environmentalists, geologists, the Texas League of Women Voters and others say the huge dumping ground will pollute groundwater and otherwise wreak havoc with the environment. The company that runs the site contends it'll be safe and many local residents applaud any expansion as a way to bring more jobs and prosperity to the West Texas scrubland.
"They got to put it somewhere," said Kathy Trevino, a retired nurses' aide who lives in Andrews, the closest Texas town to the site. "As long as they're safe and don't intentionally cause harm, I don't have a problem with it."
Opponents of the compact have an uphill climb in trying to stop the expansion. But they recently flooded the commission with thousands of comments critical of the rules that outline how the compact will handle other states' applications to dispose of the waste in Texas. That forced the panel to delay voting on those rules.
The commission is proposing rules to regulate waste that would come in from other states. If approved, the facility would take the low-level waste which includes workers' clothing, glass, metal and other materials used at nuclear power plants, hospitals, universities and research labs. Currently those facilities store the waste at their own sites.
In the early '80s, the federal government began urging states to build low-level nuclear waste landfills, either on their own or in cooperation with other states in compact systems. Since then, South Carolina entered into a compact with New Jersey and Connecticut, agreeing to dispose of nuclear waste at a landfill that later accepted waste from dozens of other states.
Ten years ago, South Carolina lawmakers said they no longer wanted to be the nation's dumping grounds and in 2008 the facility began accepting waste from only its compact partners, leading other states to look to Texas to store their waste.