by JohnEarp

Radioactive Waste Facility Speaks to City Council by John Earp At the meeting of the Jal City Council this past November 13th, Elicia Sanchez, Senior Vice President with Waste Control Specialists (WCS), gave a presentation to the council. Sanchez said, “As you know, we are right on the border of Andrews and Lea County.” She said, “We’re proud of the site, and so we really like showing it off and talking about it.” She said, “Even though we’ve been around for 20 years, we have so many people that have moved into this area, not only in Texas, but in New Mexico, that, I’ll go to a Lions Club or a Rotary, and automatically assume that everybody knows what we’re doing, but half of the group doesn’t. So, the first part of the presentation is just telling you a little bit about what is WCS. We treat and dispose of low-level radioactive waste. Again, we have been doing that a little over 20 years. We took our first waste in ’97. I have been with the company since 2000, so I have been around for a very long time and seen it progress throughout the years. Our customers currently include hospitals, nuclear power plants, university research labs, and our U.S. Government. We understand that education and transparency is critical to the trust in the surrounding communities, so that’s a big part of what I am responsible for.”

Sanchez introduced Mary Lou Morga, Community Liaison, to the attendees. As Sanchez was giving her introduction, Councilor Jim Ellison interrupted, saying, “I have a question. What does the government dispose of out there?” Sanchez answered, “A multitude of different things. One big project that we recently had was a decommissioning of one of their facilities, so it was a lot of concrete and soil that we dispose of. But it varies. They’ve got a lot of post-war waste that they can dispose of. They have on-site disposal around the country, but Los Alamos, for example, has material. We’re pretty close to them, so it makes it convenient, instead of shipping it all the way to Nevada. We’re a closer, cheaper location for them, especially because of transportation.” Ellison asked, “And the nuclear power plants?” Sanchez responded, “Again, with them, it’s a multitude of things, too. Just their normal operating material is resins.

NucuerStI’ll just describe resins. If you have a RO (reverseosmosis) system, that works through resins at your house. And then also, a lotof the nuclear power plants are starting to decommission. So, it again, will bebuilding debris, soils, and things like that. Some of it is just PPE (Personal ProtectiveEquipment), and I’ll talk about some of that as we go through here, too. But,so, PPE does clothing and things that they use in their normal processes.” CouncilorMike Orr asked, “So how do y’all dispose of that?” Sanchez replied, “It varies,and I’ll talk about that as we go through, but part of it is a disposal intowhat we have as our RCRA and low-activity landfill, and I’ll describe that,but, it’s more of a bulk disposal. We have different classes of radiation, so,in our hazardous and low-activity landfill, it’s the lowest or even just hazardouswaste. It may not even have any radioactivity.” She continued, saying, “Very low-activitycan also go into our bulk landfill and have that suppression and things likethat and it’s barely, some of it, they’ll even call it low-activity, and it hasno radioactivity.” Orr asked, “So, they just bury this?” to which Sanchezreplied, “Yes, but, we have class—so there’s class A, B, and C; B and C arestill low-level waste, but a higher activity, a higher dose rate, and that goesinto our concrete cannisters, and disposed of within that, and I’ll talk aboutour liner system and everything for our landfills. ”Sanchez said, “We are verycommitted to being safe, and operating environmentally sound. We know that ifwe are not safe, if our employees don’t go home in the same condition that theyarrive in, if we don’t leave the environment in the same condition that it was whenwe arrived, that we will no longer have the support of the community, and so wetake Radioactive Waste-Continued from page 1that to heart every single day, morethan anything, because we live here. This is the face of WCS, and I’ll talkabout that. I live here, and I’ve been here for over 18 years, and lived inAndrews even longer than that. So, my kids are here, my mom’s here, my sister’shere. I’m committed to making sure we’re doing a good job also.” Sanchez gave aquick history of WCS, saying, “Leadership in Andrews wanted to diversify theireconomy. Hearing all of you talk about problems in Jal, it sounds like sitting throughan Andrews City Council meeting, because I think that all of us are having thesame problems. Traffic. We did do a truck relief route. Housing for sure. Allof that. Finding police officers. We have significant shortage in Andrews. So,they wanted to diversify the economy. We’ve had booms and busts, and what elsecan we do so that we have more of a steady economy in Andrews? And, they knewwe had this area that funky geology. Normally, farming and ranching, that’s definitelywhat we know in this area, and oil and gas, you find areas that have water. Well,they knew that they had this funky area that had no water. And so they actuallyhad geologists do the opposite of what you would normally do, looking forwater, and we found this location that had this red rock clay that goes as deepas 1200 ft., as shallow as 600 ft.” She said, “So all of our waste is buried withinthis red clay. So, they looked into radioactive waste disposal. And I thinkthat the big thing about this area, not only west Texas, but also eastern LeaCounty, with oil and gas, you understand hazards. You understand the hazards ofoil and gas, and so the radioactive side of it wasn’t as scary. So, they gotit. You know, oil and gas works with oil and gas radioactive sources on aregular basis, so they understood, and also with a lot of education. So, withthe support of Andrews, we started operations in 1997. We do have to pay agross receipts fee in Texas, and we’ve paid over, well, just about 60 milliondollars to the State of Texas as part of that.” Sanchez said, “So, we areneighbors in your community. We have employees that live in Jal. We had anemployee that just left recently that used to be part of the EMT team, and sowe are your neighbors. We’re in Eunice, Jal, Andrews, Odessa, Midland,Carlsbad. We’re about a 50/50 split, actually maybe leaning a little bit on theNew Mexico side right now, but we’ve been pretty consistently about a 50/50split of our employees in New Mexico and Texas. Again, volunteer firefighters, EMTs,local coaches, church members, volunteers, we’re just your normal, everyday neighbors.”Sanchez said, “A lot of people hear the word, ‘radiation,’ and automatically itscares them. One of my favorite things to do when I travel, people ask me whatI do for a living, and I tell them that I dispose of low-level radioactivewaste, and to see their face is a lot of fun for me, because they automaticallyget scared, and when tell them what radiation is and why it’s really good forus, even doctors, because I think they work with it every day, get this, but itjust has an automatic stigma, so that’s what I wanted to do with this, is, justtalk about what it is. So, energy transmitted in the form of waves, rays, or particles.Natural sources of radiation include rocks, soil, plants, and rays from thesun, so we are around radiation on a daily basis. Man-made sources of radiationare primarily from medical procedures. Sanchez explained what a millirem is,saying, “If you go get an x-ray, you’re going to get some dose to your body,and it’s measured in millirems. For health effects, zero to 10,000 millirems,you could have up to 10,000 millirem and not have any kind of long-term health effect.”She then explained that things like power lines, microwaves, computers, cell phones,even fruit that is raised from the ground, etc., all emit “radiation exposureregularly, but with no health effects.” She then said, “So, what is low-levelradiation? Low-level radioactive waste is items that have become contaminated withradioactive material or have become radioactive through exposure to radiation. Sothat includes what I was talking about—protective clothing, demolition debris, medicalequipment, and material from nuclear power plants, just for example. “Regardingradiation exposure, Sanchez said, “States allow an average annual exposure fromnatural and man-made sources of greater than 500 millirems per year, so theyjust assume each person is going to get an average around that. A dose limitfor an individual member of the public is normally around 100 millirems, butyou’re allowed the 500, or actually, a little bit more than 500 per year.Which, the government feels like that is normal, just from being exposed tonatural background. So, if you’re an employee at WCS, maximum exposure for avisitor to WCS is less than 5 millirems, if you visited every week for a year.I can tell you that I have been there for 18 years, and I have gotten lessthan, in total of the 18 years, 5 millirems, working at WCS. So, I am an administrativeperson, but dose limit for a radiation worker out at WCS is less than 5000millirem per year, and remember, you can get up to 10,000. So, this is somebodythat’s working on our higher dose, still low-level, but higher dose radioactivewaste that we receive. So, 5000 millirems, still very low compared to whatwe’re allowed.” Sanchez then clarified, saying, “Sorry, I apologize, that’s thestate’s limit. So, 5000 millirems for a radiation worker, that’s what the stateallows. Our radiation worker gets less than 250. So you can see the difference betweenwhat the state allows versus what our employees get.” Sanchez spoke about the naturalred clay formation in which the WCS facility is built, passing around a naturalboring from the red clay. She said, “That is what all of our waste, no matterwhat landfill it’s buried in, it’s buried within that red clay. Again, that’swhy the citizens of Andrews, the leadership of Andrews, knew that that was aperfect location for that. It’s over 600 ft. thick, and it goes even as deep as1200 ft.” She then explained that at the WCS facility, the low-level waste alsohas a 7-ft. liner, saying, “So, we have our natural concrete, which is whatthat red clay is, because it’s less permeable than concrete. We have that naturalconcrete, and then we put a liner system on top of it, which does include anatural concrete liner.” She also noted that WCS is not near any undergrounddrinking water sources. She said, “The Texas Water Development Board did theirown investigation, actually changed their map, because in their very early days,they just didn’t have all of the technology that they have now, when they firstdrew their map. So, they redrew it, confirming that the Ogallala Aquifer isnorth of our site.” Mentioning the impermeability of the clay surrounding theWCS site, Sanchez noted that, “Any kind of water would only move 4 ft. everythousand years. Just to clarify that, we’ll find, when we’re doing excavations forthe landfill, we’ll find a pocket of water, but it’s been age-dated as old as,and our geologists say even older than that, the last ice age, because it can’tgo anywhere. It’s just a pocket of water that’s been just encapsulated, really,in the clay. We have over 640 wells and borings, that have confirmed the lack, ornonexistence, of potable water under the WCS facility, and we even pipe inwater from Eunice, New Mexico and pay the City of Eunice to be able to utilizethat water. Just again, showing that we just don’t have potable water out ofthis site. We do have monitoring wells, more than I think anybody maybe in the wholeU.S., around the site that are measured quarterly, and most of them have no water.We’ve determined it’s the best potable water leak detection system, because anytime that we do have water, that’s the first thing that we test for, ischlorine, because most of the time it’s non-potable water.” Sanchez also notedthat crop circles are seen on WCS’s emergency response map no closer than 10miles from the WCS site. (In this context, ‘crop circles’ refers to placeswhere irrigated crops are grown in this case, not the mysterious ‘crop circles’often reported as appearing overnight in places like Great Britain).Sanchezsaid, “We definitely feel like we have not only the best facility in the stateof Texas, but also in the U.S., if not in the world. We have people come overfrom all over the world that are very impressed with our facility and want toknow how we did it. The only problem is, most people don’t have the geologythat we do to be able to have a facility that works like we do. We just havethe perfect geology to be doing what we’re doing.” Sanchez mentioned that the WCSfacility has rail access through Andrews, and that it has already received someshipments of large industrial equipment as well as low-level radioactive wastevia the railroad that runs through Jal. She said, “Rail shipments aredefinitely better. Keeps trucks and vehicles off the highways, and much better forbulk shipments also.” She mentioned that the WCS facility receives on average 200shipments per year. She also noted that this is being done without an incident,ever. Sanchez also described the extreme testing that is required by law to be performedon the high-level nuclear waste casks that have been in use all around thecountry for many years now, saying that the casks are designed and tested to beable to successfully remain intact even after being hit by a missile, hit by alocomotive, dropped into water, had a fire set around them, etc. She said,“This is not a new technology. This is not anything new that we are coming upwith. This is what has been proven and tried that is being utilized today.” In2014, WCS applied for a license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)for interim storage of used nuclear fuel at the site near the Texas-New Mexicoborder near Eunice. That application was paused temporarily, but has been recentlyrestarted. According to literature given out at the City Council meeting, WCSis reengaging with the Andrews community and has recently hired a community liaisonto make the leadership team available “to you, our neighbors, while reinforcingour dedication to open communication and transparency. We will continue toupdate the community on our progress, and appreciate your continued support.“Support for the storage of used nuclear fuel at the WCS facility was lacking fromseveral of the Jal City Council members, as well as the mayor, with Councilor MikeOrr, for instance, saying that some “railroad folks” had told him recently in ameeting with Holtec that “the railroads in our area are sure not up to speed onhandling nuclear waste. The tracks are not up to par, people are not trained.It looks like to me that y’all are getting the cart ahead of the horse. If wecan’t transport it in, why are we worried about putting it there now? “Sanchezreplied, “I will say as far as the robustness of the rail, we have received steamgenerators that weighed over 400,000 pounds, that came in on the rail withoutincident out at the site, so it would have passed right by you guys. I’ll alsosay that NRC and DOE (Department of Energy) and DOT all have to approve the route,so if repairs had to be made to the route before any could be transported from acertain location, then that would have to be done.” She added, “Just because weget a license doesn’t mean it can be transported today. “The Jal City Councilalso recently officially opposed the proposed placement of a nuclear wasteinterim storage facility on the Eddy-Lea County line about halfway betweenHobbs and Carlsbad. Several councilors asked whether the WCS site would in factbecome a permanent storage site, even though it is designed to be an interimstorage site. Sanchez replied that the federal government, including thecurrent administration under Trump, “has waffled a bit” on funding for theproposed Yucca Mountain site in Nevada, which is supposed to be the permanentnational storage facility for spent nuclear fuel, if it is ever completed.Mayor Aldridge asked Sanchez about the WCS retrieval process, in the event thatinterim storage is no longer needed at the WCS site. Aldridge said, “So, we’regoing to do this dance again.” Sanchez again stated that the high-level waste,if WCS gains NRC approval to store it, will be stored above ground. She said,“That’s different from Holtec. Holtec is below ground. Ours is above ground.”Aldridge said, “Over the process and lifetime of WIPP, we were assured thatthis waste is going to be dry cask waste, and then over the years, they’veadded different things, and allowed fluids and liquids to be mixed with this,and the off-gassing, and what’s to say that once this is set in place, whether it’s40 miles from here or 20 miles from here, that during that timeframe, 60 to 100years I believe is the figure in your handout. If they say, ‘Man, this is thebest place for this.’ You already called it the perfect place. Not to beargumentative, but what’s to say, well, you know, let’s just leave it where itis now? We’ve got it off the coastline.” Aldridge asked, “What is the moisture contentin your low-level waste? What do you limit it to?” Sanchez replied, “We are notallowed to dispose of liquid.” Aldridge asked, “You have zero moisture contentin your low-level waste?’ Sanchez replied, “So we actually have to solidify waste.If it comes in we have to solidify it.” Aldridge asked, “You’re vitrifying iton site?” Sanchez said, “We add concrete to it. We don’t vitrify it. We’llsolidify it with concrete or some kind of absorbent for low level, and for highlevel, it’s all dry, it’s the fuel pellets. There’s no liquid.” Orr asked forclarification as to whether WCS was currently transporting low-level waste onthe rail lines through Jal, to which Sanchez replied, “Yes.” Orr then said,“And y’all have just now came down and talked to us about this? Because Ididn’t know this was happening. And then y’all have been there for 20 years?”Sanchez apologized, saying, “All I can say is that I’m sorry that we haven’tbeen here sooner. I can tell you that that is now part of my job, and I ammaking a commitment to not only speak with you guys, but all around in the surroundingcommunities. So, I can’t have an excuse for not being here sooner.” Orr said,“We should have known this, and I can’t believe anybody hauling nuclear waste,low-level or high or anything, on these railways we have now.” Sanchez noted thatthere are also significant hazards with hauling oil and gas, saying, “There arehazards with every industry that can be much more dangerous than what we’retransporting on the railroad right now.” Sanchez reiterated that the chancesare “one in a billion” of a transportation accident causing radioactiveexposure to the public. Aldridge said “I just keep hearing the same thing thatwe heard during WIPP and when John Heaton was here with the young lady fromHoltec. Made the same pitch, but it’s just the same story that we heard.Really, WIPP started in ’74, it came to fruition many years later, and it’sjust changed and changed and changed.” Aldridge said, “My skepticism is basedon years of dealing with WIPP and Los Alamos and Sandia and Beatty and SavannahRiver and Hanford, and the list goes on and on. Everywhere that we find thetrail of the atomic age, we’re dealing with a mess, and that concerns me. Arewe just going to be another stop along the trail of this mess?” Councilor Coleand Mayor Aldridge said to Sanchez, “We do appreciate you coming tonight.”Sanchez said, “For us, we do feel like this is a safe location to store this,to be a solution for Texas and for the United States, so that’s truly why weare in business for this. Again, I live here, so, I’m not looking at you guysand saying, ‘This is safe; good luck to ya. I’m moving back to Austin or backhome to New York or whatever. I’m raising my kids here too, so I can look youin the face and say there is no amount of money that I could ever be paid toknowingly jeopardize my family, or even feel like in the future there is achance. I firmly, 100% believe in what we are doing, and that it is safe, andthat it is the safest location, better than low-level waste in basements ofhospitals and in closets at universities and things like that, because that’swhere it was being stored before they had an option. So I do very muchappreciate you for letting me come and speak to you. I do apologize that itwasn’t sooner. We are available to talk further with other questions.” She added,“We would love to have you out for a tour of the site if you would be interested.”The WCS facility has 160 employees working at its site, all of whom live in thesurrounding communities of Andrews, Eunice, Hobbs, Odessa, and Jal. The annual payrollfor WCS is over $15 million, according to literature given out by WCS at therecent Jal City Council meeting. WCS has invested over $300 million infixed-asset investments Andrews County. From 2012 to 2018, Andrews County receivedapproximately $10.7 million fee revenues from WCS disposal operations, whilethe State of Texas has received approximately $48.8 million in disposal feessince operations began at WCS in 1997.,


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