If you build it, will they come dump their nuclear waste? Not necessarily, as Dallas billionaire Harold Simmons is learning.
Waste Control Specialists, owned by Simmons, built a new West Texas dump the size of 1,000 football fields, and, according to Bloomberg's Julie Bykowicz, the company will have trouble filling it unless federal restrictions on what kinds of waste it can accept are eased.
Simmons previously has poured cash into lobbying the Obama administration to loosen restrictions on the dump. According to Bykowicz:
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.
Now, Simmons appears to be taking a different tack: Bykowicz noted that Simmons has donated $15.9 millions to campaigns and Super PACs this election cycle, making him the single largest donor. Simmons hopes this cash will "help elect Republicans, who advocate easing regulations on the nuclear industry," Bykowicz wrote.
The legislature had signed off on the plans last session and, in March, the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Compact Commission approved sending radioactive material from 38 states to the Andrews County dump. Currently, only low-level radioactive waste can be buried at the dump, and each application must receive individual approval by the commission, the Associated Press reported. The dump will begin accepting shipments in May, pending final approval from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
The dump is dug into red clay, and the material will be surrounded by concrete and stored one hundred feet underground. Waste Control Specialists maintains this is a safe storage method for the material, which has a half life of 50,000 years. Environmental groups disagree, worrying that water near the site will be contaminated.
A spokesman for Waste Control Specialists put some distance between Simmons' personal giving and the company: “[T]here really is no connection between Mr. Simmons’s personal political giving, which he has said he is doing because he believes very strongly in pro-business and free enterprise, and anything WCS is doing," Chuck McDonald said.
But some think that Simmons will go to great lengths to win this battle: “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 TCEQ employee who resigned in anger over how the permitting process for the Waste Control Specialists site was handled.