- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

ANDREWS, Texas (AP) — This small West Texas town developed its economy on oil but may hang its hopes on what some folks say is their next boom: storage and disposal of radioactive waste.

Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists owns 14,400 acres about 30 miles outside town near the New Mexico border. About 1,340 acres have been set aside for hazardous waste storage and disposal, and the company will manage tons of federal uranium byproduct waste by year’s end.

Rather than a “not in my backyard” stance, some residents say the waste site will generate dozens of jobs from spinoff industries, and city leaders anticipate it will pump millions into the economy.

“If we thought we could get an NFL franchise or a river walk, we wouldn’t have looked at this industry,” said Russell Shannon, vice president of the Andrews Industrial Foundation. “We just believe it will bring us some jobs, bring people to our community to get involved in an industry, like they did with oil.”

Andrews was incorporated in 1937, about eight years after oil was struck. By 1956, the county led the nation in oil production, pumping more than 60 million barrels annually.

The oil boom lasted through the 1960s, fell off and then picked up again. Gradually, the oil business dwindled, along with the town’s population. In the late 1990s, Andrews hit another national high, this time with double-digit unemployment, as oil prices sunk to $8 per barrel.

Many hope the radioactive waste site can turn around Andrews’ fortunes. Residents recently learned that it was tapped to store tons of uranium byproduct waste now at the abandoned Fernald federal plant, just northwest of Cincinnati. Shipments could begin later this month.

The Ohio plant processed and purified uranium metal for use in reactors to produce plutonium for nuclear weapons from the 1950s until 1989.

Waste Control Specialists has an application pending with the Texas Department of State Health Services to dispose of the waste. A decision could come early next year.

If approved, some lawmakers want the state to profit from the transfer. However, state Rep. Mike Villarreal, a Democrat, has introduced a bill to limit radioactive waste storage and disposal in Texas.

Waste Control Specialists has stored, treated and disposed of hazardous waste at the Andrews site since 1997. Earlier this year, the state approved the company’s request to expand the storage capacity to 1.5 million cubic feet — nearly five times its current size — making it eligible to accept the Ohio waste. The space is the equivalent of about 800 railroad cars.

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