- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 2, 2014

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) - Gov. Rick Perry has asked lawmakers to explore establishing a location in Texas to store the state’s high-level radioactive waste.

Citing a report from the state’s environmental agency, Perry told Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus in a letter that Texas is suited to store spent nuclear fuel from the state’s four commercial reactors and that a solution is needed.

Texas waste is now stored on site by the utilities that operate the reactors. But Perry wants to develop a single storage location until a national repository for nuclear waste is established.

At an appearance in Lubbock on Wednesday, Perry said he wants legislators to take a “thoughtful, commonsense approach.”

“I think to stick our heads in the sand and say, ‘Oh, you know, we don’t like nuclear waste, therefore if we just don’t pay attention to it, it will go away.’ It’s not going to go away,” Perry said.

In the governor’s March 28 letter, he chided the federal government for its inaction on dealing with the issue of high-level waste.

“The citizens of Texas - and every other state currently storing radioactive waste - have been betrayed by their federal government,” he wrote.

Perry was referring to Nevada’s Yucca Mountain site, which utility companies in the U.S. have paid billions toward building. It doesn’t appear viable at this point, so spent fuel in the U.S. is currently stored in pools or in dry casks at the more than 100 commercial nuclear reactors. Texas’ share of those billions is about $700 million, the letter states.

The letter from Perry is the second time this year a high-ranking state official has weighed in on the topic. In January, Straus directed lawmakers to “determine the potential economic impact of permitting a facility in Texas.”

Perry urged Dewhurst and Straus to relay the high-level radioactive waste report, which Perry asked for in September, by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to appropriate committees in the House and the Senate.

There is currently no disposal site in the United States for spent fuel rods from reactors across the country - including Texas’ four reactors at Comanche Peak in Glen Rose and the South Texas Project near Bay City. In November, a federal court ruled the U.S. government had “no credible plan” to permanently dispose of high-level waste. The court’s decision came after the federal government collected billions of dollars from utilities for decades to fund the Yucca site.

Texas is already home to a disposal site for low-level radioactive waste, which includes contaminated protective clothing, mops, filters, reactor water treatment residues, equipment and tools. Chuck McDonald, spokesman for Dallas-based Waste Control Specialists, which operates the low-level site in Andrews County, said the company is talking to officials there.

“We would certainly take a hard look at it,” he said of a high-level storage site.

An interim storage site likely would keep the high-level waste for numerous decades before it eventually would be buried permanently at a yet-to-be-determined geological repository.

Perry said Wednesday he thinks Andrews County could be a “legitimate” site for the high-level waste.

“I think there’s a couple of sites in the state of Texas where the local communities are actively pursuing that possibility,” Perry said.

Officials in Loving County in West Texas are interested in having a high-level waste storage site, as is the Eddy-Lea Energy Alliance LLC, which is made up of officials in Carlsbad and Hobbs, and Eddy and Lea counties in southeastern New Mexico.

“We have no choice but to begin looking for a safe and secure solution” for high-level waste in Texas,” Perry’s letter states.

Cyrus Reed with the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club said there is no rush in Texas to store spent rods. The four reactors still have ample storage capacity, he said. And were Waste Control to build a storage facility for Texas’ high-level waste, that could change.

“It can evolve into the national solution,” Reed said, referring to how Waste Control went from taking only low-level waste from Texas and Vermont, members of a compact, to accepting it from dozens of other states after lawmakers voted to allow it.

Perry said any decision on a site in Texas accepting high-level waste from outside the state does not lie with him, but with the state legislature “deciding whether that’s appropriate or not.”

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