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writing for godot

The California - New Mexico Nuclear Connection - Pt. 2 of 3

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Written by James Heddle   
Saturday, 02 June 2018 14:03

Citizen Solidarity at Both Ends of a Proposed U.S. “Fukushima Freeway”

By James Heddle - EON

Holtec International and the Eddy-Lea Alliance have applied to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a license to open a ’temporary’ consolidated interim storage (CIS) site for high level radioactive waste near Hobbs, New Mexico. If built, it could become America's de facto national nuclear dump, receiving waste from all 48 states, including California. This segment looks at the public response in New Mexico and Texas.

Halt Holtec!

A group of New Mexico and Texas organizations, including the Nuclear Waste Study Group, the SEEDS Coalition, and Alliance For Environmental Strategies, started a ‘Halt Holtec’ campaign.  They toured an inflated, scaled-down model of the kind of transport cask proposed by Holtec that would carry thousands of shipments of highly radioactive waste shipments through the nation’s towns and metropolitan areas on dilapidated highways, bridges and railway lines for the next 20 years or more.

One significant result of their campaign is that on Monday, May 21, the Albuquerque City Council, in a 4-3 vote, approved what it called a ‘memorial’ against the transportation of nuclear waste through the Albuquerque metropolitan area.

Similar measures by other municipalities and counties along the potential shipment routes around the country are in the works.

Details and additional Cask Tour dates will be posted online at:
www.facebook.com/HaltHoltec

Websites with more information:
   Here Here Here

‘Strange Bedfellows’

The Halt Holtec Campaign has quickly gathered strong momentum surprising both to its organizers, and the Holtec dump proponents, whose claim of ‘wide-spread regional public support’ has been totally debunked by the turnout in opposition to the project.  Public statements have so far run 5-1 ‘against’ the proposed site in all five New Mexico NRC meetings.

“Groundwater, folks, is the life blood of the ranching business. If you don't have groundwater you'd just own dirt.”

At the recent series of NRC community meetings, this opposition was strong from a wide cross section of New Mexico and Texas demographic sectors, including Native American Tribes, growers, ranchers, the Jewish and Christian faith communities, and the powerful oil and gas fracking industry.

A regional leader of that booming industry is the Fasken Oil and Ranch company, which has been in business since 1913. Their representative, Jimmy Carlisle, explained his company’s position to the visiting NRC officials.

I work for Fasken Oil and Ranch based in Midland. We are an oil and gas company, but we also are a major landowner in the State of Texas.

We own some 200,000 net acres in the State of Texas. Our largest ranch is a 165,000 acre contiguous ranch just north and west of Midland.

The WCS site definitely comes into play in this discussion.  The Holtec side, however, has the same issues … groundwater issues.

On our ranches [we depend on ] everything we look at: we look at vegetation, we look at soil characteristics, we look at moisture in the soil, but the thing we watch the closest is the quantity and the quality of our groundwater.

Our company is the first one really in West Texas that made the determination to get off of use of fresh water in our drilling and fracking operations and we started recycling produced water and using brackish water as a result.

So we believe firmly that the freshwater issue is a major significance that has to be addressed.

Stressing that the State Engineer’s Office lacks definitive maps of the ground water aquifer locations in New Mexico, Carlisle told the NRC panel,  “We’re not alone in this fight.”

Explaining that it had taken ‘less than two hours to get four letters of opposition from major landowners in West Texas, Carlisle concluded,

Groundwater, folks, is the lifeblood of the ranching business. If you don't have groundwater you'd just own dirt. Think about that for a second.

The bottom line is we believe that this [Holtec] application and the WCS application need to be withdrawn.

A group letter from oil industry representatives to Holtec warned that Holtec and the Eddy-Lea Alliance would ‘need more money than God’ to compensate them if their project damaged the thriving drilling industry in the oil- and gas-rich Permian Basin, which is currently on pace to become the world’s most booming region of petroleum production.

“I don't intend to let this thing run over us.”

Randy Prude, an influential county commissioner from Midland, Texas, told the Roswell NRC meeting that he had spent $2000 of his own money to fly Fasken representative Jimmy Carlisle and other opposition speakers to the event.

“I intend to organize all the ranchers and all the commissioner's courts and everybody in all the governments in all this whole region,” Commissioner Prude went on.

I will tell you, I am an odd duck, I am a Republican -- (Laughter) and this is not a Republican or a Democrat issue, this is an important issue to all of us….

I just cannot tell you the horror that could happen if we ever have an accident. And so I intend to organize all of our governments that are willing to listen.,,,.

I am going to get to all the ranchers and all the ranch oil men to contact their commissioners and their mayors and their representatives, house representatives, senators, and so forth, and I don't intend to let this thing run over us.

The Permeable Permian

The contentions by dump proponents that the Eddy-Lea/Holtec site is ‘dry and seismically stable’ were repeatedly debunked by facts presented by opposing speakers.

Activists visiting the site, despite Heaton’s attempts to stop them, discovered clear signs that it contains a ‘playa,’ where seasonal rain water collects, feeding the ground water deposits and aquifer below.

The region’s most famous tourist attraction - the Carlsbad Cavern - was formed by such a subterranean body of water, the Capitan Reef Aquifer.

“It's hard to think of a worse place to choose for placing an interim waste site,” consulting geologist Dr. Steve Schafersman told the meeting.

The area is surrounded by aquifers, some close, some far. The sediments and the sedimentary rock are porous and permeable. The thin barrier they claim is on the top is not sufficient. It's just like the WCS site, which is really no better. So this is not a good place to put a hazardous waste site, especially one for nuclear waste.

There are soluble rocks below the site, limestone and rock salt. There is karst limestone in the area, which is a soluble limestone that develops caverns, the caverns collapse and sinkholes develop.

It is conceivable that a sinkhole would collapse and take down the depository with it, which would be a terrible, colossal tragedy. In addition there is the soluble Salado formation below that.

In West Texas unplugged wells carry fluids to this formation, the salt dissolves, and sinkholes develop. This is a matter of fact.

An Earth-Shaking Announcement of Seismic Significance

Several of the opposition speakers referred to a recently-published, peer-reviewed study in the March 16, 2018 issue of Nature, with the catchy title, ‘Association between localized geohazards in West Texas and human activities, recognized by Sentinel-1A/B satellite radar imagery.

The study by Southern Methodist University geophysicists Jin-Woo Kim and Zhong Lu reported literally earth-shaking findings.

It showed that, in the last two and a half years, large sections of the four Texas counties they studied, spanning a 4000-square-mile area, had shown ‘vertical deformation,’ that is, sunk or uplifted as much as 40 centimeters or nearly 16 inches.

"The ground movement we're seeing is not normal. The ground doesn't typically do this without some cause," said co-author Zhong Lu, a recognized global expert in satellite radar imagery research.

"These hazards represent a danger to residents, roads, railroads, levees, dams, and oil and gas pipelines, as well as potential pollution of ground water," Lu declared.

Co-author Jin-Woo Kim notes that, "This region of Texas has been punctured like a pin cushion with oil wells and injection wells since the 1940s and our findings associate that activity with ground movement."

In fracking, liquid is injected into bore holes under pressure, then extracted, causing uplift while the wells are in operation, and subsidence when they are abandoned.

The researchers’ Nature article states,

…the rapid subsidence is likely induced by the freshwater impoundments from the nearby abandoned wells. During our field trip, we observed numerous recent ground fissures…. These growing fissures can allow the rainwater to swiftly flow down to the Salado formation and promote the dissolution of the salt layers. [ Thus causing subsidence. ]

Although their analysis focused on just that one 4000-square-mile area, Kim says, "We're fairly certain that when we look further, and we are, that we'll find there's ground movement even beyond that.”

The area they’ve studied so far lies just adjacent to the two proposed storage sites in New Mexico and Texas.

The Oil Drilling and Fracking Connection – Oil & Nuclear Waste Don’t Mix

Evidence of the links between oil and gas extraction and earth movement are clear.  Researching an unprecedented swarm of earthquakes in Oklahoma and Texas, a 2016 Stanford University study published in Science found a direct connection between a quake series in Texas in 2012 and 2013, which included the largest on record, and the high volume injection of wastewater into oil and gas fracking wells that happened between 2005 and 2007.  The high pressure forced water into fault zones and triggered the subsequent quakes, the study showed. Read more

One of the people Commissioner Randy Prude flew in to speak at the Roswell meeting was Cody Rogers. “I am an ex-Navy nuke,” he told the NRC. “I have operated nuclear reactors for eight years. I am a huge proponent of nuclear power. I think we need it.  We have 99 operating nuclear reactors.  We do not have anywhere to dispose of the spent fuel.  This is a major, major problem and we have to fix it.

“I know we need a site’” Rogers told the group. But the Eddy-Lea/Holtec site, he said emphatically, “is not it.”

“We [the U.S.] are on the cusp of being the world's largest energy producer, okay. We are going to control oil very soon. We are going to control our own destiny. So West Texas is one of the most valuable places in the world right now, especially in the United States, and, because of this I implore you to look up the study from SMU. West Texas is sinking…fast!

“I know we need a site. This is not it. If this thing sinks and we get something like the WIPP accident, that was never supposed to happen, the environmental impact is forever, and if we lose West Texas oil, natural gas, the people of Roswell, the people of New Mexico, the people of Texas, the United States, we're done.

” We're not going back to Saudi Arabia and getting their oil. We need independence and this site is sinking and I truly believe that we need to look at that and study its environmental impact.”

Reputations and Rap Sheets

Opponents stress that entrusting the economic and environmental future of this area to companies with corporate histories like those of Holtec and Waste Control Specialists is a highly risky proposition.

Growth Industry

With aging reactors closing down around the country in an accelerating cascade - and with no ‘national permanent geological repository’ for their accumulated SNF in sight - decommissioning and radwaste storage are on pace to become major growth industries for some time to come.

Holtec’s visionary head Dr. Krishna Singh is positioning his huge company, based in Camden, New Jersey, to dominate both industries, as well as to be a leader in the manufacture of small modular reactors (SMRs), the failing nuclear energy industry’s latest bid for survival.

Back in October 2010, based on the results of a criminal investigation of bribery,  conducted by its Office of Inspector General (OIG), the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) debarred Holtec International, Inc. for sixty days.  And fined it $2 million.

According to a TVA document,

Holtec agreed to pay a $2 million administrative fee and submit to independent monitoring of its operations for one year. The TVA Board’s Audit, Risk, and Regulation Committee and TVA management fully supported the OIG’s recommendation to create a suspension and debarment process and submit Holtec to that process. TVA’s Supply Chain organization and Office of General Counsel worked collaboratively with the OIG to achieve this milestone in TVA history. Why wasn’t the company permanently debarred?  A subsequent Department of Justice document seems to suggest that a TVA employee may have been bribed by Holtec to falsify a financial disclosure report. Read more.

Meanwhile, just miles away on the other side of the state border in Texas, Waste Control Specialists (WCS) and its new French partner Orano each have their own checkered pasts.

WCS was founded in 1989 as a landfill company by Texas billionaire Harold Simmons, who controlled it until his death in 2013.  During that time, Simmons used his financial muscle and political connections to morph the site into a licensed low level waste dump with some highly questionable maneuvers.

His generous support for then Texas Governor, now Energy Secretary Rick Perry, no doubt eased his path.  Critics allege that “Radioactive Rick” Perry appointees at key regulatory agencies bent rules on WCS’s behalf, including the Texas Water Development Board’s altering of maps showing that Simmons’ waste facility is located over part of the Ogallala Aquifer, which underlies and supplies drinking and agricultural water for eight western bread basket states.  Another water body, the Dockum Aquifer lies nearby as well.  Many Texas environmental officials resigned in protest.

For its part, WCS’s new partner Orano, parent company of Orano USA, is a recent reincarnation of the radically reorganized French government-owned struggling reactor maker AREVA, after years of business losses brought it to the brink of bankruptcy.

These are the strange bedfellows hoping to profit from the nuclear energy industry’s decline by making New Mexico’s ‘nuclear alley’ America’s de facto radioactive waste repository for the foreseeable future.

There are several things wrong with this scenario, not the least of which, as noted, is that poor and minority residents make up a large portion of the population in and around ‘Nuclear Alley.’

Until and unless the existing Nuclear Waste Policy Act is changed by currently proposed, but not yet enacted legislation, licensing of these CIS sites will be illegal.  This is because the Act requires that a permanent repository is approved before any consolidated interim storage site can be licensed.

If the NRC were to license the sites without a central repository being established, they would likely become in effect the national dump, because utilities would probably stop lobbying for – and lawmakers could be less inclined to authorize funding for - establishing a central repository.

If that happens, thousands of shipments of deadly radioactive waste will be moving daily along rail and truck transportation corridors, through our nation’s population centers, for decades to come.

To be continued.  Part 3 will look at the transport risks involved.

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James Heddle is a filmmaker and writer who co-directs EON – the Ecological Options Network with Mary Beth Brangan.  Their forthcoming documentary SHUTDOWN: The California-Fukushima Connection is now in post-production.  He can be reached at  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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