July 18, 2016
Ernest Moniz, U.S. Secretary of Energy
Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy
1000 Independence Avenue SW Washington, D.C. 20585
RE: Response to Invitation for Public Comment to Inform the Design of a Consent•Based Siting Process for Nuclear Waste Storage and Disposal Facilities
Dear Secretary Moniz:
On behalf of the business community in Andrews, Texas, we are pleased to respond to the US Department of Energy’s invitation to “join the conversation” about the process of consent-based siting of spent nuclear fuel storage facilities.
The primary question posed by DOE is “What models and experience should the Department use in designing the process?”
We submit that our community of Andrews, Texas could serve as one model of successful consent-based siting. And, we think our experience could be an important contribution to the conversation. The very fact that the Blue Ribbon Commission on America’s Nuclear Future recommends ensuring consent-based siting is testament to the fact that community support is a paramount issue for the country’s nuclear waste management program to consider.
We believe it is essential to understand that a supportive host community is entirely possible and already in existence.
Our first and most sincere recommendation is that any process for consent-based siting be crafted to accommodate the fact that every community is unique. By definition, consent-based siting must eschew a “one size fits all” model. Flexibility is key, and a potential host state and community should be allowed to express the manner in which, and conditions upon which, it intends to provide consent. The process must be developed through consensus from the bottom up, rather than the top down. It also doesn’t mean that the siting is supported unanimously by the community.
In our case it started when the business community recruited Waste Control Specialists (WCS) in the early I 990’s as part of an economic development initiative to diversify our regional economy which relied overwhelmingly on the volatile oil and gas industry.
Some visionary business leaders recognized that our isolated location in an arid part of the state were requisite components for a radioactive waste disposal facility and that it would be a profitable use of the county’s land and an opportunity for economic development.
But the community had to be confident that this new industry would prove to be an asset and that it would operate safely. This was accomplished in increments as WCS navigated the multi-year licensing and regulatory process to become the only privately-owned and operated facility in the country licensed to treat, store and dispose of Class A, B and C low-level radioactive waste.
Our elected officials and business leaders demanded that both WCS and the state and federal regulators keep the community informed every step of the way. The fact that all entities have worked diligently to keep that communication going throughout the years is why the current base of support for licensing a consolidated interim storage facility is possible today.
We can state unequivocally that the single most important element of consent-based siting is an open and honest dialogue. There is no substitute and no short-cut. That dialogue takes place in formal meetings at City Hall and County Commissioners Court, it takes place at business and community meetings, it takes place at Friday night football games and at Sunday morning fellowship halls.
Simply put, WCS is not only a member of the community, it is a significant contributing member. According to the most recent figures from December of 2015, we figure that
the positive economic impact WCS has had in the region represents over $300 million in fixed asset investments. Consider the following:
- WCS made approximately $200 million in payroll to Andrews and regional (Permian Basin, Lea County, M.) employees;
- Invested approximately $50,000 annually in community and charitable endeavors;
- The Andrews ISO Education Foundation payment in 2015 was over $13,000 payments to date to the Foundation total over $300,000;
- Current employment at the WCS site is approximately 180. The annual payroll at the site is over $16 million;
- The Compact Waste Facility began operations in April 2012; the Federal Waste Facility came online in mid-2013. That’s when the company and the community began to see significant revenue. Both Andrews County and the State of Texas receive five (5) percent of the gross revenue of all radioactive waste disposal activities and the State of Texas assess additional twenty (20) percent fee for all out of-compact waste disposal WCS makes quarterly payments to the state and county;
- Andrews County received its first direct payment of disposal revenue in September 2012 (The state’s fiscal year runs 1 -Aug. 31);
- Andrews County has received over $7.8 million in fee revenue since disposal operations began in 2012;
- The state of Texas has received over $36 million in fee revenue since disposal operations began in
But it was the community of Andrews that made all of this possible. It was the citizens of Andrews who traveled to our state capitol time and again to ask our state legislature to authorize the necessary changes to state law to enable the WCS operations. Consent-based siting, was not yet the term of art it is today, but we made it clear to elected state leadership that WCS had the overwhelming consent of the community.
The state of Texas and our elected representatives have responded positively as evidenced by the support of the state’s Radiation Advisory Board, by the bi-partisan support for H.R. 3643 introduced in the U.S. House by Rep. Mike Conaway who represents Andrews County, the recommendation of TCEQ that Texas seriously consider the spent fuel storage mission, among others. We greatly appreciate that response.
We were pleased to note that West Texas and New Mexico were mentioned in the “Window of Opportunity” section of the DOE’s Integrated Waste Management Consent-Based Siting Booklet 2016 because of our region’s voluntary invitation to host a high-level radioactive waste storage facility. Please note that our mode of consent begins locally and then extends outward. It is a local rather than a Federal initiative. We urge the Federal government to take advantage of the consent as we have developed it here. We also note that a process for the selection of an interim storage site may be very different from the process used to select a permanent disposal site; and where appropriate, the market should dictate site selection, not the Department. Competition is the best driver of price, quality, and safety- all of which must be present to provide the greatest benefit for the taxpayer.
As the signatories of this letter, it should be noted that we are only the latest in a long line of Andrews and WCS leaders who have walked hand-in-hand to bring our community to this point in ajoint venture that is almost 30 years old. Other community and WCS leaders will come after us, and we’re convinced that as long as the lines of communication remain open, Andrews will continue to be a host community for the treatment, storage and disposal of nuclear materials for decades to come.
Rod Baltzer President & CEO – Waste Control Specialists
Wesley R. Burnett, Director of Economic Development -Andrews Economic Development Corporation
Julia Wallace, Executive Director, Andrews Chamber of Commerce