Excerpt from Bloomberg: Harold Simmons built a West Texas dump for radioactive waste that is bigger than 1,000 football fields and he can’t fill it.
To turn it into a profitable enterprise, the Texas billionaire hired lobbyists to urge the Obama administration to expand the types of nuclear waste, including depleted uranium, the dump can accept and award his company disposal contracts. If the Nuclear Regulatory Commission changes the rule, it could open access to a market worth billions. The deadline for a decision is in 2014.
Simmons now is spending money in a new way that could improve his business prospects: He’s invested $15.9 million this election cycle in various groups to help elect Republicans, who advocate easing regulations on the nuclear industry. He has vowed to contribute an additional $16 million in order to make sure Obama gets voted out of office. This makes a total of $36 million in political contributions to anti-Obama candidates – more than any other single contributor.
The largest chunk of Simmons’s campaign cash — $12 million — has gone to American Crossroads, a so-called super political action committee that takes unlimited donations and has a stated mission of defeating President Barack Obama. He has given at least $700,000 to Restore Our Future, a super-PAC backing Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination whose call for a fast-tracked permitting process for new nuclear plants could benefit Simmons’s Waste Control Specialists LLC.
“Whatever federal switch has to be thrown to get uranium into the hole, believe me, it will be thrown; that’s how Harold Simmons works,” said Glenn Lewis, a former Texas environmental employee who retired in protest to Simmons’s influence in the state permitting process for his dump.
The only problem – it sits on top of the largest Aquifer in America.
The Ogallala Aquifer
The Ogallala Aquifer, also known as the High Plains Aquifer, is a vast yet shallow underground water table aquifer located beneath the Great Plains in the United States. One of the world’s largest aquifers, it covers an area of approximately 174,000 mi² (450,000 km²) in portions of the eight states of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas. It was named in 1898 by N.H. Darton from its type locality near the town of Ogallala, Nebraska.
About 27 percent of the irrigated land in the United States overlies this aquifer system, which yields about 30 percent of the nation’s ground water used for irrigation. In addition, the aquifer system provides drinking water to 82 percent of the people who live within the aquifer boundary.
Aquifer Contamination Possible?
Excerpt from Tree Hugger: Mother Jones reports, ”State engineers and geologists strongly objected to licensing the the dump. Concerned that radioactive material could contaminate groundwater, three staffers at the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality resigned rather than sign off on the licenses.”
And the fact that private companies should not be disposing of this kind of material without serious government regulations (Mother Jones reports that the licenses for WSC “don’t need detailed approval from federal nuclear regulators because the dump wouldn’t handle the highest grades of radioactive waste”) is only part of the issue. The dump would also sit near a water table, and in 2007, four engineers and geologists suggested the site not be approved because groundwater intrusion into the disposal units would be “highly likely.”
Pushing Political Buttons for A Nuclear Waste Dump
WSC, on the other hand, states that no contamination of the aquifer is possible. But of course, it’s in their best interest to say just that. As Mother Jones reports, there’s is a fat market for radioactive waste disposal, since 36 states lack a permanent location for storage, and Simmons has lobbied to allow other states to petition to have their waste shipped off to his facility in Texas.
The truly frightening part is the amount of political leverage Simmons has for pushing this through, despite serious concerns from experts. Six out of the seven members of the Texas Radioactive Waste Disposal Compact Commission, which approved the import of nuclear waste from other states, were appointed by Governor Rick Perry, who received $250,000 from Simmons for his campaign in 2008.
Should residents, ranchers and farmers be concerned?
Given the amount of money Simmons has spent lobbying and making political donations to politicians, the answer is Yes. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions were given to Rick Perry over the past several years. This project has beed forced through, rules have been changed and the testimony of experts ignored.
If radiation does leak into the aquifer, all agriculture and ranching will end forever for all areas of South Dakota, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Texas that rely on this water.
Simmons’ family stands to make billions on contracts in the next couple years. However Simmons’ license will expire in 15 years. Then Simmons and his heirs don’t have any responsibility for maintaining the mess that they have created. It will be the responsibility of the taxpayers of the state of Texas and the shattered fortunes of everyone who depended on this water.