(Bloomberg) — Federal regulators approved a private company’s plans to store tens of thousands of tons of highly radioactive nuclear waste in west Texas oil fields, the latest development in a decades-long saga of where to store the nation’s spent fuel from commercial nuclear power plants.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission issued a license to Orano CIS LLC and its joint venture partner, Waste Control Specialists LLC, to establish a repository in the heart of Texas’ Permian Basin oil fields for as many as 40,000 metric tons of radioactive waste.
The joint venture, known as Interim Storage Partners LLC, plans to have waste shipped by rail from around the country and sealed in concrete casks where it would be stored above ground at a site about 30 miles from Andrews, Texas, near the New Mexico border.
But the project faces stiff opposition from the local community, the state, and oil companies that fear a leak could taint a region that produces millions of barrels of oil a day. The waste that can remain radioactive for thousands or even hundreds of thousands of years.
The Andrews County Commissioners’ Court, which functions as the county’s board of commissioners, had previously backed the plan as a means of diversifying the area’s fortunes from the boom and bust of oil cycles. But it reversed course earlier this year and voted unanimously to oppose the project.
And Texas’s Republican Governor Greg Abbott last week signed into law legislation that attempts to block the project from moving forward.
“We have opposition to this project on every level,” said Karen Hadden, executive director of the Sustainable Energy & Economic Development Coalition, an Austin, Texas-based environmental group fighting project. “We do not consider this fight over. We will continue to battle these dangerous plans.”
The fight comes amid a political logjam that has stranded tons of waste on site at several dozen power plants and other sites across the country.
Congress in 1987 designated a ridge in the Nevada desert about 90 miles north of Las Vegas called Yucca Mountain to be the nation’s repository. But decades of political opposition led by Nevada Democrat and former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid kept the project from moving forward. In 2010, President Barack Obama scrapped the plan and the Biden administration opposes its use as well.
Instead, the administration plans to work with Congress and states to reach consent on storing nuclear waste, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told Congress earlier this year.
A similar nuclear waste storage project, proposed in New Mexico by Holtec International Corp., is also awaiting approval by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
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