Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Private Radioactive Dump Threatens Ogallala Aquifer

The source for as much as a third of all water used for agriculture in the United States comes from the Ogallala. The underground water source covers 174,000 square miles and is the world's second largest aquifer. A Texas billionaire used his purchased political influence to build his own private radioactive dump on top of it. The state's technical specialists unanimously opposed permitting the waste site to no avail. The state's politicians gave it the green light with help from Texas Tech University who issued a report saying the waste dump would not damage any important underground water sources. The University is considered by political observers to be beholding to Gov. Rick Perry.  He replaced two regents who had the temerity to support a political rival in the gubernatorial race. The former director of Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is now the government lobbyist for Waste Control Specialists, owned by Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons. He is a top contributor to Rick Perry and the super-pac run by Karl Rove. He became famous in political circles by donating $3 million to the Swift Boat Vets who tried to smear John Kerry's war record. It is just how they do 'bidness' in Texas!

Does Simmons care if his big, dirty hole contaminates the Ogallala? Nope. He was even allowed by regulators to post financial surety for his hazardous site by pledging 12 million shares of Titanium Metals Corp., another one of his companies. When the shares were pledged they immediately plummeted in value.  When Titanium Metals was bought out, he pledged 9.8 million shares of yet another Simmons-owned company. Despite the whitewash provided by Texas Tech, state geologists concluded that the site was unsuitable for a radioactive waste disposal facility because of its porous geology. One edge of the Ogallala pinches out underneath the facility; three geologists quit the TCEQ when their warnings that the dump would eventually leak contaminated waste into groundwater were ignored. According to the state experts only 14 feet separate the site from the nearest groundwater and the intervening earth is riddled with holes and fissures. An independent study done by a consulting firm in 1992-93 found 46 out of 58 borehole samples were moist, five described as wet and one was making water. Obviously, radioactive waste material and water do not mix well. Not surprisingly, the company now controls all hydrological monitoring in the area. 1.9 million people get their drinking water from the Ogallala.

What is unique about the dump in Andrews County, Texas is that the private dump has been approved for all three classes of low-level radioactive waste as well as other types of hazardous waste materials. General Electric discharged 1.3 million pounds of PCBs into the Hudson River between 1947 and 1977; contaminated river bottom is now being transported 2000 miles to Andrews for dumping at Waste Control Specialists. The DOE has picked the company for "storing" an estimated 13-15,000 metric tons of elemental mercury too. And the company is applying for a high-level radioactive waste license so it can accept spent fuel from all the nation's nuclear power plants. There is an estimated 70,000 tons of commercial waste building up in temporary storage at reactor sites across the country. It expects to have the high-level license by 2019. A single radioactive disposal contract from DOE in 2009 netted WCS $8 million.

The NRC prohibits nuclear waste facilities from overlying an area where groundwater could penetrate the waste material. Older maps place WCS on top of the Ogallala Aquifer. Newer maps place the boundary to the north of the site, and the technical debate continues. Groundwater issues aside, in the last century West Texas has experienced two near magnitude six earthquakes. The epicenter of 4.7 tremor in 1994 was located only four miles southeast of the WCS dump. Does that worry Simmons? Shit no, boy, he's too busy counting the money!