A recent state assessment of Texas' high-level radioactive waste storage options requested by Gov. Rick Perry recommends federal amendments to authorize the construction of centralized interim storage facilities that could be privately operated, such as Waste Control Specialists' site in far western Andrews County.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality recently released the 40-page report that contains a summary of the history of unmet federal promises for construction of a repository to dispose of spent nuclear fuel and possible avenues to meet the state's needs.

The report comes on the heels of Texas House Speaker Joe Strauss in January instructing the members of the Environmental Regulation Committee to "study the rules, laws and regulations pertaining to the disposal of high-level radioactive waste in Texas and determine the potential economic impact of permitting a facility in Texas."

Straus' interim charge also asked members to "Make specific recommendation on the state and federal actions necessary to permit a high-level radioactive waste disposal or interim storage facility in Texas."

In a letter last week addressed to Strauss and lieutenant governor David Dewhurst, Perry stated the TCEQ report evaluates the challenges posed by spent nuclear fuel and other high-level radioactive waste currently stored on-site at the six Texas nuclear reactors.

"In light of recent developments regarding the interim storage and disposal of high-level waste by the federal government, Texas now faces the very real possibility that it will have to find a solution to the long-term issue of safe and secure handling of this waste," Perry stated in the letter. "The citizens of Texas-and every other state currently storing radioactive waste-have been betrayed by their federal government after contributing billions of dollars to fund a federal solution for HLW disposal, because a federal solution still does not exist."

Perry was alluding to a federal high-level waste repository prospect in Nevada (Yucca Mountain) faltering several years ago after political maneuvering led to the site being defunded in 2010.

Additionally, a 32-year-old U.S. Congressional act to locate a disposal site for spent nuclear energy and high-level waste from the nation's nuclear power plants hasn't been met. That has resulted in nuclear power plants throughout the country-including those in Texas-storing high-level waste onsite.

A more recent federal plan for a site to replace Yucca Mountain for disposal by 2048 was also deemed as "no credible plan" by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia last November.

"2048, or whatever year Washington forecasts that a solution will be provided, is too long to wait," Perry stated in his letter. "I believe it is time for Texas to act, particularly since New Mexico is seeking to be federally designated for HLW disposal. We have no choice but to begin looking for a safe and secure solution for HLW in Texas-a solution that would allow the citizens of Texas to recoup some of the more than $700 million they have paid toward addressing this issue."

The conclusion in TCEQ's report states that Congress needs to either fund the license review of the Yucca Mountain geologic repository so that it could be constructed or change the Nuclear Waste Policy Act so that a new site selection process for one or two geologic repositories can begin.

"Additionally, Congress needs to amend the NWPA to authorize the construction of centralized interim storage facilities in which the (U.S. Department of Energy) takes title to the stored SNF even if DOE does not actually operate the facility," according to the report's conclusion. "DOE often uses private entities to operate its national laboratories and other facilities so a DOE owned interim storage facility could conceivably be operated by the private sector.

"In fact the consent-based siting recommended by the Blue Ribbon Committee makes a public-private partnership approach even more attractive," it states. "It has already been done with great success where other approaches have repeatedly failed."

Waste Control Specialists' site in Andrews County could potentially be viewed as an interim storage site, since it already is licensed to dispose of low-level waste and to store transuranic waste, officials have said.

"We've looked at it in the past but I don't think the community has had a chance to make a decision," WCS Vice President of Public Relations Tom Jones said Tuesday.

Though the possibility of interim storage has yet to be discussed by the state legislature here, some areas have vocalized an interest in possibly hosting a site. That includes sparsely populated Loving County, where the commissioners court has already approved its plea to the state, according to Jones.

Furthermore, New Mexico is seeking to be federally designated for potential interim storage at a site spanning Lea and Eddie counties between Carlsbad and Hobbs, he added.

Jones said WCS doesn't presently have plans to discuss the prospect with the community, other than "maybe getting with the industrial foundation and see how the community wants to approach it."

He also said WCS would have a two-to-three-year head start on other undeveloped sites because its multi-million dollar characterization study has already been completed.

Andrews County Judge Richard Dolgener has said he feels it's an issue in which Andrews needs to do its homework.

"It would be a lot of revenue and something the community needs to think about," Dolgener noted. "We need to do our homework. Andrews has always done its homework and then said yes or no."