We are told that Culberson County, which cannot maintain its roads, schools and other infrastructure for just a few decades, can have safe surface storage of most all the nuclear waste in the United States, virtually forever.
Plutonium-239 is hazardous for 250,000 years – 12,000 human generations. Uranium-235 is hazardous for millions of years!
According to the sponsors, those of us who object are trouble makers.
NOTE: Post Originally Appeared on BigBendNow.com on October 8, 2015. Story by Sasha von Oldershausen
VAN HORN – A small group of concerned Culberson County residents gathered in the lobby of the Clark Hotel to discuss the possibility of a high-level nuclear waste storage facility coming to the region.
The meeting occurred months after Bill Jones – the co-owner of AFCI Texas, LLC, a nuclear waste storage company – addressed area residents at a town hall meeting about a prospective project his company hoped to spearhead.
Jones explained that the site would implement dry cask storage, a method of storing spent fuel in aboveground containers. The facility would be the first of its kind, since the only dry-cask storage sites that currently exist are located at existing nuclear reactor sites. Jones’s proposal would bring this form of interim nuclear storage away from the reactor sites and into rural West Texas.
At the time, it was rumored that the Hughes family – the family behind the oil-and-gas enterprise Dan A. Hughes Company – which also owns several ranches in West Texas, was considering partnering with Jones to provide the land resources for the project. However, president of the company Dan Allen Hughes Jr., has confirmed that the family is not involved in the project.
In spite of this, residents seem unconvinced that the project, which represents a threat to some and an opportunity to others, has dissolved entirely.
Representatives of Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Inc. (TRLA), a non-profit law firm that represents low income Texas residents at no cost, attended the community meeting and spoke to residents about their rights, should the project materialize. Attorney Daniel Monahan discussed the public’s right to assemble and to participate in the political process. But part of the reason for his appearance was to gauge the community’s feelings with regard to the possible nuke storage site.
Among the concerns voiced by residents was the notion that the matter was allegedly slated to come before the Culberson County Commissioner’s Court this month, which could potentially lead to a decision made without public input. However, according to Culberson County Judge Carlos Urias, no such agenda item exists.
“I have no idea what they’re referring to,” Urias said in a later interview. “I haven’t talked to Bill Jones in about a month-and-a-half.”
However, Urias added that he and other county officials are interested in the project. “Since this was introduced, there’s always been an interest—not only with elected officials, but honestly the majority of the population of Culberson County” Urias said. “If it comes to pass, it comes to pass. I have an open mind.’
He also remarked that should the project re-emerge, the county would not host another town hall meeting. Referring to the town hall meeting during which Jones presented the project to a highly skeptical audience, Urias remarked that the majority of attendees present were not Culberson County residents, but rather “radicals” from Presidio and Jeff Davis counties.
“We will not have a town hall meeting because you get your radicals from Presidio County and Jeff Davis, who don’t allow those who have legitimate questions to listen and ask their questions. People like that do not control Culberson County.”
But with the exception of one Hudspeth County resident, all those present – some 20 or so – at the community meeting last week were Culberson County residents. Their concerns ran the gamut, from possible safety and health concerns to a depreciation of land values.
Though much remains obscured by speculation and a seeming lack of communication between county officials and the public, residents discussed a contingency plan should the nuclear storage site become a probability.
Sierra Blanca resident Bill Addington, who was instrumental in fighting a state-proposed nuclear waste dump in Sierra Blanca during the 1990s, said, “We are forming a non-governmental organization to counter it. Everybody who is interested and concerned, we invite to be part of this organization.”
Bill Jones could not be reached for comment.
HIGH-LEVEL RADIOACTIVE WASTE
The majority of high-level radioactive waste is the fuel from the hot core of commercial nuclear power plants. This irradiated fuel is the most intensely radioactive material on the planet, and unshielded exposure gives lethal radiation doses. It accounts for 95% of the radioactivity generated in the last 50 years from all sources, including nuclear weapons production. Uranium is processed into fuel rods and loaded into nuclear power reactors where it undergoes the nuclear fission reaction. This increases the radioactivity due to the formation of intensely radioactive elements known as fission products, such as cesium and strontium, resulting from the physical splitting of uranium-235 atoms. Heavier elements, known as transuranics, are also formed — including plutonium. Each 1000 megawatt nuclear power reactor annually produces about 500 pounds of plutonium, and about 30 metric tons of high-level waste in the form of irradiated fuel. After several years, when removed from the reactor core, the fuel is about one million times more radioactive than when it was loaded. This irradiated fuel is currently stored at the reactor sites.
HALF-LIFE AND HAZARDOUS LIFE
The half-life of a radioactive element is the amount of time it takes for one-half of the quantity of that element to decay–either to a stable form, or to another radioactive element in the “decay chain.” After ten half-lives, one thousandth of the original concentration is left; after 20 half lives, one millionth. Generally 10–20 half lives is called the hazardous life of the waste. Example: Plutonium-239, which is in irradiated fuel, has a half-life of 24,400 years. It is dangerous for a quarter million years, or 12,000 human generations. As it decays, uranium-235 is generated; half-life: 710,000 years. Thus, the hazard of irradiated fuel will continue for millions of years. This material must be isolated from the biosphere so it will not contaminate or irradiate living things during that time.