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Radioactive Waste is Good for You, or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Rick Perry as Energy Secretary via Counterpunch

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry’s blatant conflict of interest involving the Waste Control Specialists, LLC (WCS) radioactive waste dump in Andrews County, west Texas deserves to be seriously addressed during his U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee confirmation hearing as President-elect Trump’s Energy Secretary-nominee. In fact, it adds to the long list of reasons he should not be confirmed, including his lack of depth on nuclear weapons issues,[2] at a very dangerous time of renewed nuclear arms race and Cold War-like rhetoric. [3]

Perry’s close ties to the oil and natural gas industries are better known. As reported by Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!:

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But Perry had a similar relationship with another Texas billionaire, Harold Simmons, owner of WCS. And in return, under Gov. Perry, WCS’s lucrative radioactive waste dumping activities underwent major expansion.

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An obituary in Forbes reported “He’ll be remembered mostly for…his investments in old-line ‘dirty’ industrial conglomerates and a Texas nuclear waste dump…[and] his massive funding of Republican politicians, including $4 million towards the ‘Swift Boat’ attacks on Sen. John Kerry and $30 million to Super PACs in the 2012 election cycle…”.[6]

The Forbes obituary added “Showing an omnipresent eagerness to invest in the dirtiest of industries, in recent years one of his primary foci had been Waste Control Specialists, which successfully beat back opposition from environmentalists to open a low-level radioactive waste dump in Andrews, Texas, near the New Mexico border. So far thousands of tons of waste have been buried there.”

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WCS’s risk-taking-to-make-a-buck has not abated, either. After the Valentine’s Day, 2014 barrel burst at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) in New Mexico (which severely contaminated the underground facility, shutting down WIPP operations for nearly three years, and likely to cost over time up to $2 billion to recover from; internally exposed two-dozen workers at the surface, through inhalation to their lungs, to ultra-hazardous alpha particles, significantly increasing their risk for lung cancer; and caused fallout to the environment downwind), Los Alamos National Lab (LANL, the culprit in the burst, by inappropriately mixing chemically-reactive ingredients – including organic kitty litter — in the same barrel) rushed a large number of trans-uranic waste barrels, at risk of bursting themselves, to WCS for “interim” storage. WCS placed the barrels in concrete over-packs, their exteriors painted black, and left them exposed, in the open air, to bake in the hot, west Texas summer sun. LANL had to intervene, urging WCS to at least cover the at-risk over-packs with a thin layer of soil, to prevent one or more of the barrels from overheating and bursting. By contrast, similar barrels at LANL are stored in a refrigerated facility with filters to safeguard against bursts and environmental releases.[21]

And WCS’s expansion schemes continue to the present, on steroids. In April 2016, WCS officially applied to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a license to construct and operate a centralized interim storage site for irradiated nuclear fuel. WCS has made clear it will only enter into this centralized interim storage contract with DOE, so long as DOE (that is, the U.S. taxpayer) bears sole and full liability for anything that goes wrong.

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The Ogallala Aquifer is the largest in the U.S., and one of the largest in the world, extending from Texas to South Dakota, providing vital drinking and irrigation water for millions in numerous Great Plains states (it underlies an area of 174,000 square miles, in portions of eight states: South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas).

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