One State’s Trash is Another State’s Treasure

April 19, 2017

Show of hands: who wants a nuclear waste facility in their backyard? Anyone? Anyone? Buell—TEXAS?

 

That is the endgame, some speculate, of a lawsuit recently filed by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.[1] The suit argues that the federal government has violated federal law by failing to license a nuclear waste repository in Nevada.[2] Decades ago, Washington D.C. designated Nevada’s Yucca Mountain as the ideal repository to permanently store the nation’s nuclear waste. Since that time, local opposition has halted the plans[3] and left nuclear waste interspersed throughout the country.[4] The various above-ground nuclear waste sites presently in operation are allegedly overfilled and antiquated.[5] Thus, Paxton contends that the federal government’s failure to license Yucca Mountain as the nation’s permanent nuclear waste repository subjects the public and the environment to potential dangerous risks from radioactive waste.[6]

 

The lawsuit, a timely welcome gift to newly appointed Energy Secretary Rick Perry, is expected to force an up-or-down vote from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regarding the Yucca Mountain plan.[7] The former Texas Governor finds himself in a peculiar position, since as governor he said Nevadans should not be forced to house the country’s nuclear waste against their will.[8] More recently, during his Energy Secretary confirmation hearing, Perry indicated that he would welcome legislation that would require a state’s consent to store high levels of nuclear waste—a mechanism that would empower Nevadans to refuse the waste.[9] He did so while simultaneously reminding his audience of Texas’s comparatively favorable attitude towards nuclear waste facilities.[10] These statements plus strong and vocal Texas business interests fuel the conjecture surrounding Paxton’s lawsuit.[11]

 

Setting aside speculation concerning the motives underlying the lawsuit, there are two likely, alternative consequences: advancement of the Yucca Mountain plan, or the approval and licensing of a Texas site.[12] Even if Paxton’s lawsuit leads to the Yucca Mountain’s licensing as a permanent repository, Texas could be tapped for the housing of high-level waste on a short-term basis.[13] This is welcome news to the residents of Andrews, Texas who recently celebrated the grand opening of America’s newest nuclear waste facility.[14]

 

The town of Andrews has accomplished what few others could—it rallied the political support necessary to host a nuclear waste disposal site.[15] This success is attributed to local acumen for risky industries.[16] In fact, from a job stability perspective, the permanency of radioactive trash is far superior to the cyclical nature of the petroleum market to which the town is accustomed.[17] The necessity for nuclear waste to be stowed for decades, centuries, or even millennia boasts a reliable return on investment.[18] Since Andrews opened its new nuclear waste facility, many high-skilled jobs have rolled in, donations to local schools and charities have increased, and civic participation has been invigorated.[19] Because few other towns are equally willing to embrace the nuclear waste industry, these economic benefits seem likely to stay.

 

The topic of where to store nuclear waste has long been considered a political football—one tries to make progress with it, stalls, then punts and lets somebody else deal with it.[20] But this time may be different. This time, someone wants to catch that football. This time, someone sees draft day is a good day. Regardless of the lawsuit’s outcome or consequences, there is resounding hope, summarized by Perry, that “finally after 35 years of kicking the can for whatever reason, we can start . . . moving to temporary or permanent siting of this nuclear waste.”[21]


 

[1] Jim Malewitz, Texas Sues Feds—Including Rick Perry—for Failing to License Nuclear Waste Facility, Texas Tribune, (Mar. 15, 2017, 10:09 AM), https://www.texastribune.org/2017/03/15/texas-sues-feds-rick-perrys-agency-included-over-nuclear-waste/.

[2] Id.

[3] Adam Lidgett, Texas Files Suit at 5th Circ. Over Yucca Mountain Inaction, Law360, (Mar. 15, 2017, 1:42 PM), https://www.law360.com/articles/902120/texas-files-suit-at-5th-circ-over-yucca-mountain-inaction.

[4] Tom DiChristopher, The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Dump, a Political Hot Potato, is Back, CNBC, (Mar. 16, 2017, 3:02 PM), http://www.cnbc.com/2017/03/16/the-yucca-mountain-nuclear-waste-dump-a-political-hot-potato-is-back.html.

[5] Tom Benning, Texas Sues its Former Governor, Now Energy Secretary, Over Nuclear Waste Storage, Dallas News, (Mar. 15, 2017), http://www.dallasnews.com/news/environment/2017/03/15/texas-sues-former-governor-now-energy-secretary-nuclear-waste-storage.

[6] Malewitz, supra note 1.

[7] Benning, supra note 5.

[8] DiChristopher, supra note 4.

[9] Id.

[10] Mose Buchele, Texas’ Lawsuit Over Radioactive Waste Could Bring That Same Waste to Texas, KUOW, (Mar. 16, 2017), http://kuow.org/post/texas-lawsuit-over-radioactive-waste-could-bring-same-waste-texas.

[11] Benning, supra note 5.

[12] See Buchele, supra note 10 (illustrating potential consequences of the lawsuit).

[13] Id.

[14] Ben Christopher, The Towns that Say “Yes in My Backyard!” to Nuclear Waste, Priceconomics, https://priceonomics.com/the-towns-that-say-yes-in-my-backyard-to-nuclear/.

[15] Id.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] Id.

[20] Benning, supra note 5.

[21] Malewitz, supra note 1.

About

Justin Stone is a second-year law student at The University of Texas School of Law. He graduated from Texas A&M University in 2014 with a Bachelor of Arts in International Studies and a minor in Spanish. He will be working at the Dallas office of Sidley Austin during the summer of 2017.