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ANDREWS, TX, July 13, 2020 –  A coalition of 60 environmental and environmental justice groups, from 22 states, has written the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regarding Interim Storage Partners, LLC’s (ISP) proposed Consolidated Interim Storage Facility (CISF) for irradiated nuclear fuel targeting the Waste Control Specialists, LLC (WCS) site in Andrews County, Texas. See the letter, here.

The coalition’s letter to NRC advises:

All of the undersigned organizations hereby request that the Commission indefinitely extend, for the duration of the national COVID-19 pandemic emergency, the ongoing public comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for the ISP/WCS CISF proposed for development in Andrews County, west Texas. At the formal termination of the national emergency, as via a safe and effective vaccine available to all people regardless of socio-economic status, we request that the public comment period then be extended for a period of 180 days, post-pandemic. We further request that when in-person public comment meetings again become safely possible that the NRC conduct plenary-style, in-person public comment meetings in the following six Texas locations: San Antonio, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, El Paso, Midland, and Andrews. We also request that in-person public comment meetings likewise be held, post-pandemic, in more than a dozen cities nationwide, on impacted transport corridors in states outside Texas.

The 180-day public comment period (as opposed to NRC’s current 120-day public comment period, currently set to end on September 4, 2020), and nearly two-dozen public comment meetings in more than a dozen states, would match the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) public comment proceeding at the DEIS phase of the proposed Yucca Mountain, Nevada permanent repository scheme, targeted at Western Shoshone lands. This ISP/WCS CISF proposal is more than half as large as the Yucca scheme: 40,000 metric tons of irradiated nuclear fuel, versus 70,000. But because the CISF is supposedly “temporary,” export shipments would double the transport risks and impacts, thus matching those of the Yucca dump targeting Western Shoshone land.

The coalition letter came after U.S. Representative Lloyd Doggett (TX-35th) wrote NRC, also urging public comment meetings across the Lone Star State be delayed until after the pandemic emergency — currently raging in Texas — ends, and the public comment period be held open until after the in-person meetings are completed, including in his congressional district. Similarly, U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD-8th) has written NRC, urging the comment period be extended “throughout the duration of the pandemic,” and to end it “no sooner than six months after this FEMA-declared emergency has passed.”

Of the 60 groups on the letter, six are from TX: Energía Mía; Nuclear Free World Committee of the Dallas Peace and Justice Center;  Public Citizen (Texas Office); Peace Farm; Sierra Club (Lone Star Chapter); and Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition. Alliance for Environmental Strategies (AFES), a largely Hispanic environmental justice organization, is based just five miles from the WCS site, across the state line in Eunice, New Mexico.

Of these, Public Citizen Texas Office, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter, and SEED Coalition have officially intervened against the ISP/WCS CISF in the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board proceeding. Rose Gardner, founder of AFES, has provided legal standing to Beyond Nuclear in its legal intervention against the WCS/ISP CISF, as well.

Terry Lodge, an attorney based in Toledo, Ohio, represents Public Citizen and SEED Coalition. Wally Taylor, based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, serves as legal counsel for Sierra Club.Rose Gardner of Alliance for Environmental Strategies (AFES) in Eunice, NM said: “NRC has not even yet set up meetings in New Mexico or Texas for the public to comment on the ISP/WCS DEIS, and unfortunately this proceeding comes at a time when the whole nation, including New Mexico and Texas, are under stress and even dangerous conditions which do not allow for the common folk to even go to the grocery store or a doctor. NRC must stand down and postpone these meetings, as well as extend the comment period. The most vulnerable in our communities would be put at risk if these hearings were held now.” 

Gardner added: “I also admit that I am unable to concentrate on the dangers associated with the storage of high-level radioactive waste just five miles from my home even though that should be an important thing to discuss as this could possibly impact the futures of everyone in this area. NRC must take into account that these are not normal times and that regular communities are encountering abnormal situations every day that we never thought we would have to deal with. Living in the oil patch is especially difficult now because jobs are being lost and companies are pulling out of town at an amazing rate. I don’t even know where we will be in two weeks as the dangerous contagious coronavirus pandemic seems to be getting worse, not better.” 

Karen Hadden, Executive Director of the Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition based in Austin, TX said: “A private company seeks to profit by dumping the nation’s deadliest nuclear reactor waste in West Texas, a massive environmental injustice. The facility could get licensed by NRC, an agency that’s been ignoring the voices of thousands of Texans and people across the country who live along transportation routes. So far the process has been a sham. Well-documented health and safety concerns were tossed out by hearing judges.  The NRC must start listening, and hold real public meetings on the DEIS, once the Covid-19 risks are over. More than 5.4 million Texans have been represented by county and city resolutions opposing nuclear waste dumping.” 

Hadden added: “These voices must count and the NRC must stop ramming massive deadly waste projects through at a time when many people are struggling just to keep their families healthy and fed.”

Don’t Waste Michigan, et al. legal counsel Terry Lodge said: “The NRC’s official position, that potentially tens of thousands of extremely dangerous radioactive waste shipments are not even worth discussing in a scientific and public manner, is a dramatic red flag. There is zero justification to rush this ill-considered cash cow to licensing. The NRC must not be allowed to take advantage of the pandemic to ramrod a decision in the shadows.”

Wally Taylor, Sierra Club Lone Star Chapter’s legal counsel, said: “The DEIS for this project implicates so many issues and requires intense study, and probably expert review and opinions, that 120 days is clearly not enough time to submit the thorough and technically based comments that the NRC will require. ISP/WCS, and the NRC, want to fast-track this process to prevent genuine public input. We will not allow that to happen.”

In its letter, the locations along major transport routes where the coalition urges NRC to hold public comment meetings include: Andrews, TX; Atlanta, GA; Boston, MA; Chicago, IL; Cleveland, OH; Dallas/Fort Worth, TX; El Paso, TX; Detroit, MI; Houston, TX; Kansas City, MO; Miami, FL; Midland, TX; Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN; Nashville, TN; New York, NY/Newark, NJ; Omaha, NE; Philadelphia, PA; Pittsburgh, PA; San Antonio, TX; San Luis Obispo, CA; St. Louis, MO; Salt Lake City, UT; and Tampa, FL.

Beyond Nuclear is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit membership organization. Beyond Nuclear aims to educate and activate the public about the connections between nuclear power and nuclear weapons and the need to abolish both to safeguard our future. Beyond Nuclear advocates for an energy future that is sustainable, benign and democratic. The Beyond Nuclear team works with diverse partners and allies to provide the public, government officials, and the media with the critical information necessary to move humanity toward a world beyond nuclear. Beyond Nuclear: 7304 Carroll Avenue, #182, Takoma Park, MD 20912. Info@beyondnuclear.orgwww.beyondnuclear.org.